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PGA Tour starting to reap benefits of Asian swing

By Rex HoggardOctober 25, 2017, 7:45 pm

The PGA Tour wraps up its global odyssey this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, the final leg in an Asian swing that now includes three tournaments, not to mention plenty of intrigue.

What began as an unofficial experiment in 2009 at Sheshan International Golf Club has evolved into a bona fide cornerstone of the circuit’s schedule, with the Tour adding last week’s CJ Cup in South Korea to the Far East docket this season.

Initially, the idea was to expand the Tour’s lineup beyond the Lower 48 and put the “World” back in World Golf Championship. There was also plenty of talk about growing the game in what is considered an emerging golf market.

“We hope that we are inspiring a new generation of fans and new generation of players by having the best players of the world here in South Korea for the CJ Cup,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said last week in South Korea, which he called a “golf-crazed market.”

It was a simple, if not lofty, mandate, and nearly a decade down the road there are signs, however anecdotal, that the seeds the Tour planted in ’09 are beginning to sow.

There were 16 Korean players in field last week on Jeju Island, and this week in Shangahi, China’s Hao Tong Li continues his climb to stardom following his third-place finish at The Open in July, the best showing ever in a major by a player from China. The Tour will also welcome its first Chinese members this year after Zecheng Dou and Xinjun Zhang advanced to the circuit via the Tour.

Last season there were eight Tour members from Korea, more than Canada (six) or Sweden (five) or Spain (four). Whether that success at the highest level translates into more recreational golfers in the Far East is an altogether different question, but there’s no denying that at the highest quantifiable level big-time golf has produced some big-time players in Asia.

WGC-HSBC Champions: Articles, photos and videos

It’s why Nick Price remained optimistic last month at the Presidents Cup despite another lopsided defeat of the International team. It may not make a difference in two years at Royal Melbourne, or even in a generation, but the three-time captain sees golf’s growth in Asia as an opportunity.

“I’m convinced that one day, because of where we draw from, you look at the part of the world we draw from and where golf is growing, China, anywhere in Asia, South America, from an interest point of view, we are going to grow bigger than the Ryder Cup,” Price said.

If Price’s outlook for the wildly one-sided matches seems a tad overly optimistic, know that there’s more to the Tour’s expansion in Asia than simply building a fan base.

The Tour is a business, a global business, and in Asia officials see virtually unlimited growth potential.

The CJ Corporation signed on to sponsor the South Korean stop for 10 years, and the event’s $9.25 million purse included a $1.665 million payday for winner Justin Thomas. That’s more than the winner received for victory in any WGC or playoff event last season and trailed only the four majors and The Players among golf's richest paydays in 2017.

In fact, the three Asian events make up nearly half ($26 million) of the total fall purse of $56.6 million this season.

“I would say that this is absolutely another step that we are taking to expand our business,” Monahan said. “The PGA Tour is a global organization, we’ve got a global membership and we are an important part of a global sport.

“Typically, when you see great players on our Tour from rabid international markets, we are going to put people on the ground, we are going to take every step that we can to help build the stardom of those players and to build our business accordingly.”

Even more evidence of that commitment was on display on Wednesday when the Tour announced the PGA Tour China Series would resume in 2018 after a one-year hiatus. Next year’s schedule for the developmental circuit will include an increase in both prize money and tournaments, and although Monahan said last week that there’s currently no plans to add more events to the Tour’s Asian swing, he didn’t completely dismiss the idea, either.

“The growth of our players from this part of the world has enabled us to bring a number of tournaments to Southeast Asia and Asia,” said Ty Votaw, the Tour’s executive vice president of global business affairs. “Being able to add this as a third event really is another step forward for us to take advantage of the growth opportunities that are here across this region.”

There are plenty of altruistic reasons for the Tour to continue its expansion into Asia, chief among that list being a chance to grow the game, but as the circuit puts the finishing touches on another Far East swing this week in China, it’s important to note that the Tour’s footprint in the region is now and will always be a business decision - a business decision with plenty of benefits.

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After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 3:17 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...

Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner

On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...

Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.

After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.

Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.

A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray

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Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 3:06 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.

“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”

Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.

Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.

“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

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Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 2:40 am

PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.

Laura Davies won the day.

It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.

Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.

Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.

For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.

In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.

“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”

At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.

“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”

Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.

“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.

With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.

“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.

“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”

She also relished showing certain fans something.

“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.

In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.

Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.

“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.

After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.

“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”

Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.

In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.

“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”

And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.



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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”