To be sure, the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is only one week, an oddity of the competitive calendar that pulls a divergent cast into a capricious format, but to dismiss either Rory McIlroy or Oliver Wilson as one-offs is to miss the subtleties of two remarkable players.
If anyone doubted either players credentials, their play in the Arizona desert finished that conversation. Wilson advanced to the Sweet 16, McIlroy went one better to the Elite Eight, and both established themselves among a corps of youthful climbers that includes Japans 17-year-old phenom Ryo Ishikawa and New Zealand teen Danny Lee.
Its not whether or not we will see more of McIlroy and Wilson on leaderboards in the future, but it's how much of the tandem will we see regularly in the United States which begs an answer.
This is a dangerous business this prodigy management.
Send a 20-year Tour veteran across the globe to collect play-for-pay checks and he comes home with an all-world case of jet lag and an I break for Yaks T-shirt. Run a young gun raged across the four corners and one could inadvertently derail, or even destroy, a career.
The formula seems to be a matter of taste, and when it comes to McIlroy and Wilson, the answer seems to lie in each players personality.
At 19 years old, McIlroys road appears to be one blazed of his own making. The Northern Irishman recorded his first victory as a professional earlier this year at the Dubai Desert Classic and, at least for the foreseeable future, is going to make his professional bones on an international stage.
Theres absolutely no point in him taking out his PGA Tour card, McIlroys manager Chubby Chandler told the Irish Times last week. Suddenly he has got to play 15 tournaments. Suddenly they start dictating to you.
Rorys going to be young for a while yet and hes going to want to go home and have a bit of time out with his pals. The moneys not an issue. I said to him last night. For me with you theres a totally different set of rules than there is with anybody else because weve got time.
Which means McIlroys exposure to American galleries will likely be limited to majors, World Golf Championships and the occasional tune-up event. Instead he will probably follow Padraig Harringtons lead and play more than his European Tour minimum (12 events) and dabble on the PGA Tour when it is convenient, a true international player with a worldwide appeal.
The guys that try and play the two tours, it is quite tough with all the traveling back and forth over the pond. So I just have to weigh all the options, said McIlroy, who is playing this week at the Honda Classic and next week at Doral before heading home to Northern Ireland to prepare for the Masters.
Wilson, however, seems headed down a slightly different path.
The former Augusta State standout owns a home in Charlotte, N.C., and is looking for a new base in Florida. In many aspects, the Englishman also has the type of game that plays well on either side of the pond.
At Augusta State, Wilsons short game was so prolific he was dubbed the Magic Man, but when he turned pro he turned his focus to his full swing and his improved ballstriking was evident last week with clutch victories over Anthony Kim and K.J. Choi.
He has been working so hard on his swing, said Rocky Hambric, the president of Hambric Sports which represents Wilson. Improving his iron play was the most important thing coming out of college.
American galleries got a glimpse of Wilson, 28, during last years Ryder Cup when he and Swede Henrik Stenson stunned Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim during Day 2 foursomes play, 2 and 1, and the matches seem to have sparked him late in the year with a runner-up finish at the HSBC Champions and a tie for sixth at the Hong Kong Open.
The Ryder Cup gave him the confidence he could play with the best players in the world on the biggest stage, Hambric said. It really gave him a boost.
It seems both young stars are ready for the biggest stage. The only question is where that stage may be.
Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook sank a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at RSM Classic.
Cook has gone 36 holes without making a bogey on the Plantation Course or the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.
Cook was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.
Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back.
Bubba (64) fires his lowest round of 2017
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Bubba Watson’s plan when he left the Dell Technologies Championship in September was to take a few months off and come back fresh in 2018
Those plans changed after a few weeks.
“What we figured out was the mental side, preparing for kindergarten - not for me, for my son - preparing for [wife] Angie's knee surgery. It's been a tough go,” Watson said.
“Being home and being with the family and everything, I realized how much I missed the game of golf, and that's why I wanted to come and play in these tournaments.”
The plan has paid off this week at the RSM Classic, where Watson is tied for 12th place after a second-round 64 on the Seaside course moved him to 7 under par.
Watson, who tied for 51st two weeks ago in Las Vegas, got off to a quick start on Day 2, playing the opening nine in 29. Despite a miscue at the 14th hole, when his tee shot wedged into a tree, he was solid coming in for his best individual round this year.
The left-hander was particularly sharp with his ball-striking after what has been a difficult year.
“I want to play golf now and right now I'm swinging at it pretty nicely,” he said.
S.H. Park (65) builds three-shot lead at LPGA finale
NAPLES, Fla. – Golf felt so easy to Sung Hyun Park that only when she took out her card to catch up on her scores did she realize she had closed out the front nine with five straight birdies at the CME Group Tour Championship.
Park kept right on attacking.
The 24-year-old from South Korea added a 30-foot eagle putt late in her second round and finished with a 7-under 65, giving her a three-shot lead going into the weekend at Tiburon Golf Club.
Nothing seems to bother her, even the chance to cap off an amazing rookie season by sweeping all the big awards on the LPGA Tour.
''To be honest, I don't feel quite as nervous as I thought I would,'' Park said through an interpreter. ''After the first shot, after the first hole, I felt a lot more comfortable. I'm not feeling as nervous as I thought I might be going into today.''
Leave that to the players chasing her.
Even with a three-putt bogey on the final hole, Park was at 12-under 132 and was three shots clear of Caroline Masson (66) and Sarah Jane Smith (69).
More importantly, none of the other players in the chase for the $1 million Race to the CME Globe bonus or any other big award was within five shots of Park, who is trying to become the first rookie since Nancy Lopez in 1978 to win LPGA player of the year.
Lexi Thompson, who leads the Race to the CME Globe and the Vare Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average, shot a 67 and wound up losing ground. She was six shots behind and must stay within 10 shots of Park to win the Vare.
So Yeon Ryu, who leads the points-based award for player of the year, managed a 71 with her sore right shoulder but was 11 shots back.
The other two players who need to win the tournament to collect the $1 million bonus also had their work cut out for them. Brooke Henderson had another 70 and was eight shots behind, while world No. 1 Shanshan Feng shot 73 and was 11 shots behind.
Park was in control, only she didn't see it that way.
''I don't think it's quite that far of a lead,'' Park said. ''Two, three shots of a lead can change at any moment. We will have to see what's in store for this weekend.''
Park began her big run with an 18-foot birdie on No. 5, got up-and-down for birdie from just off the green at the par-5 sixth, holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 7, and then closed out the front nine with birdie putts from 8 feet and 15 feet.
''I actually didn't know that I was going five birdies in a row,'' Park said. ''Come hole No. 10, I realized that I hadn't been jotting down my scores as diligently, and so I realized it a little bit later on. And it felt great.''
That gave her the lead by one shot over Suzann Pettersen, except that Pettersen faded badly on the back nine.
Pettersen dropped four shots in a three-hole stretch by getting out of position off the tee and she shot 39 on the back nine for a 70 to fall five shots behind.
''I feel like I'm playing good,'' Pettersen said. ''Three bad drives on the back nine cost me four shots. That should not be possible on this course, where the fairways are about 100 yards wide.''
Park was honored at an awards banquet Thursday night as the LPGA rookie of the year. Now, she has more awards in her sights. A victory would give her the award for player of the year. She would capture the money title, which she leads over Ryu. And depending on how the weekend goes, she might be able to surpass Thompson in the race for the Vare Trophy.
Thompson did well to recover from two bogeys on her opening three holes.
''I hit a few really erratic shots in the beginning. It wasn't a good start to the round,'' Thompson said. ''Just tried to stay positive and find something that could work for the last 14, 15 holes.''
Lydia Ko fell six shots behind in her bid to avoid a winless season. She was one shot behind going into the second round but managed only three birdies in her round of 71.
Park, meanwhile, had everything going her way. Even when she pulled her drive on the par-5 14th into a sandy area with a root next to her ball, she picked it clear and sent it through a goal post of trees back to the fairway. Three holes later, she blasted a drive and had only a 7-iron into the green at the par-5 17th, which she hit to 30 feet and made the long putt.
Does anything make her nervous?
''I hate spiders,'' she said. ''But in terms of golf, I always get nervous to this day on the first tee. I can feel my heart pounding.''
It's a feeling that doesn't appear to last very long.
Korda sisters poised to make a run at CME
NAPLES, Fla. – Jessica Korda wasn’t feeling well making her way around the CME Group Tour Championship battling congestion Friday, but the leaderboard walking to the ninth tee gave her a nice lift.
That’s where she saw younger sister Nelly’s name tucked right next to hers.
They were within a shot of each other amid hard charges up the leaderboard, with Nelly playing just in front of her.
“I was like, 'Dang!’ It was good to see,” said Jessica, 24. “It’s fun to see her playing this well. I know what she puts into it. I’m kind of jealous of the rookie year she’s having, because mine sucked.”
Nelly, 19, is looking to put a special ending on her first year on tour. She posted a 6-under-par 66, good for a tie for fourth, six shots behind Sung Hyun Park (65). Nelly has given herself a weekend shot at her first victory.
Just a year ago, Nelly was here as a spectator, watching her sister.
“I found it funny,” Nelly said. “I was walking to the range on Tuesday, thinking just last year, people were asking me, 'When are you going to be out here?’ It seems surreal to be out here, playing alongside my sister and the best players in the world.
“Being in contention is really, really special.”
Jessica shot 68 and sits a shot behind her sister.
Nelly said seeing the leaderboard gave her a lift, too.
“Maybe it amps me up just a little bit,” Nelly said. “It’s a friendly competition. Even though we want each other to succeed, we also want to beat each other. I think she would say that, too.”
Jessica is seeking her fifth LPGA title. She’s coming off a tie for third at the Blue Bay LPGA last week.
Jessica is 35th on the LPGA money list this year, with $515,521 in earnings. Nelly is 51st, with $388,983 in earnings.
“I definitely look for Jess on the board,” Nelly said. “We’ve very supportive of each other.”