Mid-season grades: Sergio, DJ, Tiger and more

By Rex HoggardApril 19, 2017, 5:06 pm

The major championship season may have just gotten underway and the calendar is still littered with several decisive events, but this week’s Valero Texas Open, the 24th of 47 events, is the official turn of the 2016-17 PGA Tour season and time for the annual mid-term update.

España, A+. On what would have been the 60th birthday for Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia ended almost two decades of major misfortune with his playoff victory over Justin Rose at the Masters.

As if that wasn’t enough to earn Spain high marks, Garcia has been joined on the world stage by fellow Spaniard and first-year Tour player Jon Rahm.

Rahm won in just his fifth start as a Tour member at the Farmers Insurance Open, and dropped close decisions to Dustin Johnson at the WGC-Mexico Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The most-recent Spanish Armada has arrived.

Justin Thomas, A. JT’s repeat performance in this year’s #SB2K17 trip to the Bahamas is certainly a reason to celebrate, but it’s Thomas’ play that’s truly impressed this season.

Before this season Thomas was better known as Jordan Spieth’s buddy, but the 23-year-old proved to be so much more with three victories in his first five starts of the season, including a clean sweep of the Hawaii swing.

Although Thomas has cooled since his torrid start, he has emerged in 2017 as a bona fide world-beater.

Jay Monahan, A-. Officially, Monahan took over as commissioner of the Tour in January, but he’d been handling the day-to-day operations for some time and almost immediately settled in to the corner office in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Dubbed by many as a forward-thinking and dynamic leader, Monahan has shown his progressive side, like the introduction of next week’s team event in New Orleans, and he has been clear that he’s looking to dramatically rearrange the schedule in order to end the season on Labor Day.

That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement. Two World Golf Championships in four weeks earlier this spring impacted fields from Innisbrook to Bay Hill, and continued scheduling conflicts with the European Tour need to be addressed. But those ongoing concerns aside, Monahan’s first 100 days have been impressive.

Rules of Golf, B+. This may not be a popular take given the ongoing rules snafus (see Thompson, Lexi 2017 ANA Inspiration), but the USGA and R&A have actually had a relatively good year.

Earlier this spring, golf’s rule makers unveiled a sweeping list of proposed changes and initiated a six-month feedback period. Among the proposed “modernizations,” are relaxed rules regarding penalty areas and putting greens and a focus on pace of play.

“We embraced these things because people said to heck with the rules,” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director and CEO. “What this has done is gotten people thinking about the rules, and that’s a good thing.”

Golf still has plenty of room to grow on the rules front, but the proposed changes are a good start and by all accounts the current discussion is just the beginning of a fundamental overhaul.

Dustin Johnson, B+. This might seem a tad nitpicky, but the standard for DJ has escalated in recent years.

Johnson won three consecutive starts heading into the Masters, overtook Jason Day at No. 1 in the world and began the week at Augusta National as the easy favorite only to be sent to the disabled list when he injured his back on the eve of the first round.

He’s scheduled to return to the Tour in two weeks at the Wells Fargo Championship, but the real test for Johnson will come at the U.S. Open in June and at the remaining majors.

Tiger Woods, C. Let’s call this grading on a scale. Woods’ grand return ended after just 54 substandard holes and he missed the Masters for the second consecutive year, but there’s no denying the effort.

Maybe his schedule to begin the season was too aggressive, with back-to-back starts in San Diego and Dubai, but the frustration among Woods’ fans has only grown in recent weeks and this current setback appears to be more concerning than simply back spasms.

“I have good days and bad days,” Woods said on Tuesday at Big Cedar Lodge. “I’ve had three back operations, and that’s the nature of the business unfortunately. That’s all I can say.”

Notah Begay III suggested two weeks ago that Woods could return in time for the U.S. Open, which seems overly optimistic given his most-recent update. But right now optimism may be all Tiger has.

Speed control, D. In the annual review of driving distances published by the USGA and R&A in February those charged with keeping tabs on such gains noted that there has been a “slight uptick” in how far current professionals are hitting the golf ball.

Using data collected from five world tours, “between 2003 and the end of the 2016 season, average driving distance has increased by approximately 1.2 percent, around 0.2 yards per year.”

Statistical debates are about as much fun as an Uber driver with personal space issues, but it’s worth noting that there are currently 31 players on the PGA Tour who are averaging over 300 yards off the tee, compared to the ’03 season when there were just nine players averaging over 300 yards.

Whether these distance gains are a real problem is an entirely different conversation and statistically driving averages seemed to have ebbed, but there is no ignoring the fact that long-hitters are now the norm, not the exception.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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.