Race to Dubai changes may discourage player participation

By Rex HoggardOctober 23, 2013, 5:42 pm

Early in the FedEx Cup era some scribes took to calling the PGA Tour’s transition to a faux post-season the Fix-it Cup because of the ongoing alterations to the format and formulas.

From point alterations to resets, the Tour found itself trying to please everyone. So when European Tour officials decided to overhaul its Final Series, a four-event, end-of-the-year run modeled after the FedEx Cup, it seemed likely they would fall into the same trap door. But if early reviews of the Final Series’ new format are any indication, the European circuit has succeeded in pleasing few.

To be fair, officials set out to create a system that would assure player participation in as many post-season events as possible – which would definitely please the sponsors of the four events. But the end result is a Draconian system that may actually alienate some top players.

“I think it has been dreadfully thought through,” said International Sports Management’s Chubby Chandler, whose clients include a who’s-who list of European Tour players including Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke and Charl Schwartzel. “They are making it more difficult to play (the Final Series).”

Chandler had just spent the better part of a dinner explaining the new format to Schwartzel last week when contacted by GolfChannel.com so he’d come by his frustration honestly.

In order to qualify for the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai next month, players must play two of the three Final Series events, which begin this week at the BMW Masters in China, leading up to the finale.

That creates a scheduling pile up for players like Schwartzel, who has already played 24 global events this year including all four FedEx Cup Playoff events and the Presidents Cup.

“He has had a horrific run and wants to play (the Turkish Airlines Open) and Dubai but they won’t let him play Dubai unless he plays two of the three before it,” Chandler said.

Schwartzel’s fix is hardly unique. Many of the European Tour’s top players, including Sergio Garcia, face significant schedule alterations if they are going to play the finale in Dubai.

It also doesn’t help that the limited-field WGC-HSBC Champions, the second leg of the Final Series, is co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour. Which means players who qualified for the Final Series, the top 110 from a season-long points list, are not assured a spot in the HSBC field.

“If you are not in the top 20 in the world or so you’re not going to know if you are in some of those events until the last minute,” said Rocky Hambric, president of Hambric Sports Management. “How can you hold someone to that kind of standard? You have to play two out of three and you may not be in one of them.”

Players like Mikko Ilonen (20th on the Race for Dubai list), Thorbjorn Olesen (No. 24) and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (35th) are all deep in the Race for Dubai but currently not in the field next week at the HSBC.

Imagine if Steve Stricker, who finished the 2013 regular season 20th on the FedEx Cup points list, wasn’t allowed to play the BMW Championship but had to participate in The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship just to earn a trip to East Lake.

“They do not have the qualifications correct for the HSBC is the problem,” Chandler said.

To complicate matters even more, some players outside the top 110 on the Race for Dubai can still compete in some of the post-season events, like American phenom Brooks Koepka who was exempt into this week’s BMW Masters, but their earnings would not count toward qualifying for the DP World Tour Championship.

“His money wasn’t going to count, so the European Tour changed their rules and encouraged him to stay in the U.S. and play,” said Hambric of Koepka, who tied for third at the Frys.com Open two weeks ago.

Confused yet?

And if all this sounds like administrative minutia, consider that the top finishers on the season-ending Race for Dubai list qualify for some of the game’s biggest events, like the WGC-Cadillac Championship (top 20), and under the new system the European circuit has started a 20-percent bonus pool for players who participate in all four Final Series events which could skew the final list.

Fundamentally, the European Tour’s new system will likely strengthen the Final Series fields. Some players seemed content to simply add to their schedules rather than miss the finale.

“Some of the new policies on the European Tour, where you have to play certain events leading up to Dubai, (but) you also get a 20-percent hike, so you would probably want to do that,” said Luke Donald, who is 60th on the points list.

But at what cost?

“Even the FedEx Cup doesn’t work like that. If you don’t play Barclays or BMW you can still play (the Tour Championship as long as you are in the top 30 in points),” Chandler said. “Go to Adam Scott and ask, ‘What can we do?’ That’s how they should be doing it. Instead they are making it more difficult.”

In the short term, European officials have, in theory, created a better product, but strong-arm tactics and a confusing post-season lineup could tip the delicate balance for players who ply their trade on both sides of the transatlantic divide. And that’s not good for the tour or its sponsors.

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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.