It's a new year, but not a new PGA Tour season

By Rex HoggardJanuary 1, 2014, 4:09 pm

We knew this was coming but that doesn’t make it any easier. The New Year greeted the golf world this morning with a new calendar and an old season.

Perhaps it’s just semantics. Maybe your average fan will tune in to the Hyundai Tournament of Champions this week oblivious to the nuances of split calendars and “wraparound schedules.” Maybe, with enough time and market testing, the idea of a 2013-14 season on the PGA Tour will feel as natural as April at Augusta National and July in Scotland.

But we aren’t there yet.

The Tour is six events into the experiment of a split-calendar season and so far the new schedule feels like a means to an end, not a meaningful attempt at change.

With the new schedule the circuit cleaned up plenty of loose ends, bringing last fall’s two events in Asia (CIMB Classic and WGC-HSBC Champions) into the FedEx Cup fold and improving the fortunes of former “Fall Series” stops in Sea Island, Ga., and Las Vegas by awarding full points and a trip to the Masters.

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The change was an earnest way to slide from point A to point B without breaking too much china, although those who endured last fall’s new Tour qualifying process probably have a different take on the merits of the Tour Finals. But that’s a column for another day.

Lost along the way, however, was the fresh start this week’s event in Kapalua provided. Where the new schedule created a hard finish at East Lake, a finale unclouded by the presence of a post-Tour Championship hinterland, it muddied the field with what can only be described as a soft opening.

Consider that Jimmy Walker will tee off on Friday for Round 1 at the Tournament of Champions some 684 points ahead of Adam Scott, who traded the chance for a fast start last fall for an Australian victory tour with his new green jacket.

Scott could have played in any number of the Tour’s fall events, although his magical month in Oz suggests he made the right call, and who is to say the FedEx Cup algorithms and arithmetic won’t play out per the cosmic script over the next nine months regardless of what transpired in the fall.

But like most things that are new the talking points seem a tad awkward and overly complicated at the moment.

Essentially, the Tour traded a traditionally clean start for a big finish at East Lake.

“Everything comes together for the first time in this FedEx Cup era at the same time. It allows the fans to get their arms around what a real season means,” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in September at the Tour Championship.

“So we really think that improves things, tidies things up and allows us to promote what a season is and how these players are competing comparatively in a more effective way.”

But that tidy finish came with a cost as the new schedule marginalized an event that was already dealing with its own identity crisis. The Kapalua stop has felt more like spring training than opening day for years, missing the high-profile likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson since 2005, and the recent move to a Monday finish hasn’t exactly been a game-changer.

The wraparound lineup didn’t cause this scenario for the folks in Hawaii, but it certainly didn’t help. And it stands to reason that the bump in field quality enjoyed by the former Fall Series events will have a trickle-down effect as the Tour begins its West Coast swing.

If you’ve already locked up your Tour card for next season, like Walker, why bother wearing yourself out before the major season begins in the spring?

For Finchem & Co. the transition to a wraparound calendar was a hammer and a nail, subtle in some ways to build the circuit’s international portfolio (CIMB Classic and WGC-HSBC Champions), while indiscriminately doling out collateral damage in other ways (Hyundai Tournament of Champions).

On this, time is on the Tour’s side. Given enough traction perhaps the wraparound schedule will settle in as the new normal, but as the golf world welcomes a new calendar it sure seems strange to see the old season still on the wall.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.