Questions still abound about new playing privileges

By Rex HoggardApril 18, 2012, 8:59 pm

The news that emerged from last week’s Player Advisory Council meeting on Hilton Head Island, S.C., was that the current fall series events that will join the FedEx Cup fold in 2013 likely will be awarded full points.

That the circuit had no update on the new Nationwide Tour/Q-School qualifying system was not news, at least not to anyone with at least a passing interest in the dramatic makeover.

When the Tour announced in March its plan to nip/tuck the current competitive calendar and the decades-long process of earning playing privileges there was no shortage of concern or commentary, particularly for the latter.

Why, for example, would the Tour – which preached for decades that the Nationwide Tour’s yearlong race was a better judge of long-term ability over the capriciousness of a three-week Q-School – seemingly reverse course and revert back to a three-week sprint?

Even more concerning was how the Tour would devise a system that would adequately pair the top 75 players off the current Nationwide Tour money list with Nos. 126 to 200 in PGA Tour earnings, which would be the basis of the circuit’s three-event finals series which will become the primary avenue to Tour membership in 2013?

“There is no comparison between No. 26 (in Nationwide Tour earnings) to No. 126 (in Tour earnings),” reasoned one Tour type, who requested anonymity.

“The only comparison is that they don’t have a PGA Tour card. But at least 126 (currently) has conditional status. In their mind that makes them a better player. They spent all year playing against tougher competition. How can you compare apples to oranges?”

Heavy stuff. By comparison awarding the Open full FedEx Cup points must have felt like low-hanging fruit to the 16-man PAC.

“(Seeding) seems to be the $64 million question and I don’t know the answer to that,” said Bill Calfee, president of the Nationwide Tour. “We looked at several different models and the PAC rejected a few different concepts. One of the thoughts was to use the Nationwide Tour money list and just deciding where the players were comfortable in seeding players into that money list (For example, granting No. 126 in Tour earnings with the amount No. 26 on the Nationwide Tour made and so on).”

According to Calfee the PAC largely rejected the idea of creating a FedEx Cup-type points system for the finals series as well as a “jump ball” model that would feature every player starting the series at zero.

That, Calfee explained, would ignore the season-long body of work of the top Nationwide Tour players. But how many secondary circuit players should be assured Tour cards also remains a topic of much debate.

“The players do feel there will be some seeding, but it’s a question of whether we use money or points. (Do we) give the top 10 or 15 or 20 Nationwide Tour players a head start based on their season?” Calfee said. “I think we’re getting close to coming up with a solution.”

The Tour may be close to a solution, but not a consensus. Nor does such an accord seem likely considering that a player’s point of view on finals series seeding is normally based on where they are in their careers.

Players on the PGA Tour contend that playing against the world’s top competition every week is more grueling than a Nationwide Tour schedule, while top money winners on the secondary circuit would argue that they’ve proven themselves worthy of elevated status.

For Calfee, a former Tour player who forged his career the traditional way through Q-School but has become an advocate of the secondary circuit as the Nationwide Tour chief, it’s a double-edged sword.

“If I wear my Nationwide Tour hat I’d like to see No. 25 (in earnings) safe,” said Calfee, echoing a theme that would guarantee Nos. 1-25 off the Nationwide Tour money list entering the finals series a Tour card. “If I wear a PGA Tour hat I’d have a different number. There should be some seeding and I think players agree with that.”

Ultimately it will be the Tour Policy Board that will decide the numbers game, likely when they meet in June at the AT&T National. But the pressure is mounting considering that the new system will begin in 2013 and there is a growing undercurrent among player directors and Tour officials to get this right the first time.

A misstep, like the variety that haunted the FedEx Cup points process the first few years, could be devastating to potential pros and possibly the Tour.

There are already concerns in some circles that the new system could have the unintended consequence of driving young American players away from the PGA Tour and toward the European circuit.

When asked how he would advise an up-and-coming college underclassman – a player like super UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay – to proceed given the realities of the new system one longtime player manager offered a chilling glimpse into what the developmental process may look like in coming years.

“I would definitely go to (Q-School) this year. If I didn't make it, I would go back to school until I graduated, then try to get a card in Europe through the Challenge Tour, build my world ranking and walk onto the PGA Tour without ever going to Tour School or playing the (Nationwide Tour),” he said. “I hope this plan helps the (Nationwide Tour) as much as it will help Europe and hurt college golf.”

Calfee said the Tour has considered the “European” option but officials are “comfortable we won’t be pushing players toward Europe.”

Given the complexities and competing interests of the issue it’s understandable why the Tour is slow-playing the process. There will be news, just don’t expect it anytime soon.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”

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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.

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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.

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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).