Money, points, futures on the line at Wyndham

By Rex HoggardAugust 14, 2013, 3:28 pm

Midnight awaits many a PGA Tour player at this week’s Wyndham Championship, a hard deadline for all manner of professional benchmarks, not to mention cash flow concerns for those who end up on the wrong side of the season-ending points crunch.

Gone is the ambiguity of a regular season followed by a post-season followed by something called a fall season. The rolling cut off that beset golf with the invention of the FedEx Cup playoffs has been replaced by this week’s regular-season finale in Greensboro, N.C.

For many at this week’s Tour stop there is no tomorrow, at least not without a trip through the circuit’s new qualifying system, but that’s a column for another day.

The top 125 in FedEx Cup points following Sunday’s final round will advance to the playoffs and secure their Tour card for the 2013-14 season. In the past, if you didn’t make the playoffs you went home and waited for the fall series, a collection of events adrift in the post-Tour Championship haze that gave new meaning to the concept of competitive confusion.

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Now, those events begin the 2013-14 season, which leaves only the Wyndham and a surprisingly deep field this week at Sedgefield Country Club.

In this case, one man’s crossroads is another’s keepsake.

Along with players vying to secure their spot in the top 125 in points – players in the top 125 in earnings will also earn exemptions for the 2013-14 season – there are those trying to pad their position heading into the playoffs or meet their Tour-mandated minimum number of starts (Martin Kaymer), or in some cases, like with Hideki Matsuyama, just secure a future.

Matsuyama, the Japanese phenom who has four top-10 finishes in six Tour starts this season, has earned enough this year ($676,240) as a non-member to rank 113th in earnings and requested a sponsor exemption into the Wyndham to assure his status for next season.

Kaymer, who is exempt next year via his victory at 2010 PGA Championship, added the Wyndham to assure he plays his Tour minimum of 15 events.

“If you are a member and you don’t fulfill your 15 (event minimum) you lose your card,” said Kaymer, who made his 14th start of the season last week at Oak Hill. “I don’t know where I’m going to end up on the points list and if for whatever reason I don’t get in all the playoff events I wanted to make sure I had my 15.”

Whatever myriad reasons that draw players to the Triad area, the result is one of the deepest fields in years for Wyndham tournament director Mark Brazil.

“There are some big stories now with money, we’ve always had the FedEx Cup points story, but now it’s about money as well,” Brazil said. “I love counting big names, household names, that’s the way I gauge it. I don’t gauge it on rankings. You get a Fred Couples here, he’s not ranked, but he’s still one of the top draws. A guy like Padraig Harrington, name recognition is huge.”

The Wyndham field has been improving since the Tour began the playoffs in 2007 thanks to its position just before the post-season opener next week in New Jersey.

In 2010, just 10 of the top 30 players from the previous year’s points list played Sedgefield, but that turnout has gradually improved to 11 of the top 30 in 2011, 12 of the top 30 in 2012 and half of last year’s Tour Championship field this week.

“It’s been a gradual uptick over the last few years, as players began to focus on getting into the playoffs and for those in the middle of the pack it’s an opportunity to solidify their spot in the playoffs,” said Andy Pazder, the Tour’s executive vice president and chief of operations. “Players have latched onto the idea they have to do whatever they can do to get into the playoffs. It’s even more compelling this year because it’s the last opportunity to keep a job for next year.”

For Brazil, that means a tee sheet with names like Ernie Els, Harrington, defending champion Sergio Garcia and reigning FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker.

And if playing for one’s job or a better spot in the playoffs isn’t enough to draw the golf world’s gaze to Greensboro, this year’s race to the Presidents Cup has also added another level of urgency to the regular-season finale.

Tim Clark (No. 10 on the International points list), Brendon De Jonge (No. 16) and Ryo Ishikawa (No. 36) are all in the field in an attempt to make this year’s team, which will be announced on Sept. 2.

“If one of these guys plays well, (International captain Nick) Price or (U.S. captain Fred) Couples is going to look and see a hot player as far as picks go,” Brazil said.

As difficult as the Tour’s transition to a split-calendar schedule has been – limited starts for many in 2013, the likely loss of at least one long-time stop (Disney), the loss of direct access to the Tour with the new qualifying system – the Wyndham has emerged from a relative afterthought on the Tour calendar to something approaching an “A” list stop.

For Brazil & Co. it is a simple equation, this year’s hard deadline equals a deeper field.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.