PGA feeling major effect of crowded schedule

By Will GrayJuly 27, 2016, 5:56 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Welcome to the traffic-jam portion of golf’s strangest ever schedule.

After months of adjusting routines and estimating burnout, players have reached the crucible of two major championships sardined into a three-week span.

The PGA Championship is, of course, a major, both in the eyes of the players and based on the signage that reminds you of that fact every few hundred yards at Baltusrol Golf Club. One player will hoist the Wanamaker Trophy come Sunday, and it could very well be a life-changing win that will be revered and remembered long after the cramped nature of this summer slate is forgotten.

This week’s field is also the strongest on record for any tournament, at least according to Official World Golf Ranking calculators that date back to 1986, with 97 of the top 100 players in the world.

Despite those credentials, though, it’s easy to feel like this tournament has a very minor spot on the calendar, wedged in between the daunting pillars of The Open and the Olympics.

After all, defending champion and world No. 1 Jason Day hadn’t even seen the course before his Wednesday practice round. While players plan scouting trips to Augusta National and the U.S. Open venue each spring, this week they’re largely flying blind and hoping to find their footing with a quick loop or two around Baltusrol before things get started.

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The PGA Championship is the highest-profile victim of a patchwork 2016 calendar, as event dates have been jostled to accommodate a detour to Rio. Annually a mainstay in mid-August, the season’s final major is now in the sweltering conditions of late July, marking the first time since 1968 that two majors have been held in the same calendar month.

To be fair, this awkward spot in the schedule is not entirely the fault of the PGA of America. It stuck its flag in Baltusrol as a host back in 2008, a year before golf was voted back into the Olympics.

The pile-up that occurred as a result is one in which they had a hand but hardly control, as every governing body involved decided that they could simply shoehorn the Olympics into an already-packed schedule without significant sacrifices or consequences.

Uh, not quite.

“When you have to put an extra week in the middle of the schedule, where that week has to be there, it’s difficult,” said Sergio Garcia. “It’s difficult to kind of rest, or really get in a rhythm of playing. So it’s not ideal, I would say, at least for me.”

Garcia’s views are shared by a number of top players, some of who began altering their schedule months ago to accommodate this torrid stretch. The common sentiment appears to be that, while there’s still a coveted trophy at stake, a better alternative would have included at least one more week off between the third and fourth majors.

“I wish it wasn’t as condensed, especially going Open Championship straight in,” said Rory McIlroy. “I’d like to see the PGA just stay where it is in the middle of August, but if that can’t happen, we’re just going to work around it.”

For their part, the PGA of America has a sunny view of the situation: a compressed schedule does nothing to take away from the prestige of this event, and – as echoed by several players – the quick turnaround could actually benefit those who were playing well at Royal Troon just a few days ago.

“When we thought about it, we knew it was going to be different. We knew the schedule was going to be condensed,” said PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua. “I think it’s worked well. It’s been a stress on the entire golf world, but for good reason.”

The sport as a whole may be shouldering the stress, but only one major championship had to find a new spot in the schedule this year. As Jordan Spieth pointed out, the Olympics are not exactly going to change dates to accommodate the spacing of golf’s majors.

To that end, Bevacqua added that his organization plans to do a thorough analysis of the unique elements surrounding the staging of this year’s tournament. The PGA Championship will be at TPC Harding Park outside San Francisco in 2020, when the Olympics head to Tokyo, and Bevacqua said the PGA is “considering all options” for a possible spot on the calendar.

“I would say it’s on the table in terms of should the date of the PGA Championship move in an Olympic year. We need to analyze that,” Bevacqua said. “We’re going to have to jostle the schedule a little bit. I think everybody is aware of that. We have no conclusions, we have made no decisions, but yes, it’s absolutely on our radar screen.”

In the interim, a championship will be contested this week, despite the fact that Henrik Stenson has barely had a chance to sip from the claret jug he lifted 10 days ago.

It’s a major, sure, and also the shining example of what a major headache this year’s schedule has become.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)