Place on Tour schedule hurts Quicken Loans field

By Rex HoggardJuly 29, 2015, 6:27 pm

GAINESVILLE, Va. – Professional golf is often considered the most democratic of all sports.

There are no guaranteed contracts, no rookie minimums, no franchise tags to create competitive safety nets that can ease the transition through bouts of less-than-stellar play. In golf, a player is what his record says he is regardless of name recognition and star power.

That’s not to say, however, all PGA Tour players are created equal, with status determined by a detailed priority ranking based on 37 categories.

Similarly, Tour events are relegated to a less defined yet very real pecking order, although those calling the shots at Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., would be reluctant to concede that point.

Of the 47 Tour events there are varying shades of “haves” and “have nots,” starting with the majors atop that pyramid of influence and working down through the World Golf Championships and assorted invitational events to rank-and-file tournaments, which is where the wheat and the chaff are often separated by the slimmest of margins or, in some cases, a date on a calendar.

As one former tournament director once opined, “I’m just the redneck between the Golden Bear [Jack Nicklaus’ affiliation with the Honda Classic] and the King [Arnold Palmer’s annual stop at Bay Hill].”

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While this has been a reality for some time it’s arguably never been as evident as it is this week as the circuit gathers for Tiger Woods’ own Quicken Loans National just outside Washington, D.C.

In its ninth year, the Quicken Loans has become, if not a “must play” stop, then a mid-summer Tour staple. 

While the event maintained solid fields early in its development, an awkward date combined with an increasingly crowded schedule has eroded the tournament’s competitive turnstile.

Consider that in 2007, the first year the event was played, winner K.J. Choi received 62 world ranking points.

That number hovered around 50 for the next three years before dropping to 44 in 2011. Two years later officials had the Quicken Loans National moved away from the Fourth of July weekend and the field, at least according to the world ranking math, improved.

But this year that number has dropped to an all-time low, with Sunday’s winner projected to earn 34 world ranking points. To put that in context, that’s the same number of points awarded to Fabian Gomez for winning last month’s FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Or, put another way, that’s less than the winners of the Greenbrier Classic or RBC Heritage or Travelers Championship received, and well below the points awarded at the Memorial and Arnold Palmer Invitational, events the Quicken Loans National would be immediately compared to given Woods’ status as the event’s host.

Just two of the top 10 players in the world, defending champion Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler, are in this week’s field at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, and only three of the top 20.

Some will point to the first-year course as a possible reason for the relatively weak field, and while RTJ is no Congressional, the event’s normal Washington, D.C., area home, it has hosted three Presidents Cups and has received widespread praise from players this week.

“I want to thank Robert Trent Jones Golf Club for having us here this year for the first time,” Woods said Tuesday to open his media meet-and-greet.

The real culprit here seems to be math.

When the Tour transitioned to a split-calendar schedule last year it condensed a handful of high-profile events into a small window, leaving top players having to make tough choices.

Consider the plight of Fowler, who took last week off to prepare for a run that will include seven starts in nine weeks, a lineup that includes a major (PGA Championship), World Golf Championship (Bridgestone Invitational) and four FedEx Cup playoff events.

“Really just making sure that I’m well rested,” Fowler said. “It’s going to be a tough little stretch of a lot of golf.”

It will be similar for Rose, who returned from the United Kingdom on Tuesday to ready himself for the grueling closing leg of the Tour season.

“It’s a condensed schedule right now. You’re trying to think about your rhythms and when you play well and what times of year you play well,” Rose said. “It’s about winning tournaments and playing places where you feel you can win.”

Historically, the standard Tour line when it comes to setting a schedule is that the quality of the golf course is the most important element when deciding what events to play. But with the advent of an increasingly busy lineup a new litmus test has surfaced.

For many players, it’s a question of diminishing returns, which largely explains this week’s field at the Quicken Loans National. And it’s a phenomenon that won’t be rectified anytime soon considering an even more crowded schedule with golf’s return to the Olympics next year.

Nothing else would explain how an event that checks off all of the right boxes – high-profile host, endearing golf course, large purse ($6.7 million) – has suddenly been boxed into the wrong corner of the Tour schedule.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, four shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.