Web.com finale isn't Q-School but it's close

By Will GraySeptember 30, 2015, 8:41 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – In a world devoid of PGA Tour Q-School, consider this the next closest thing.

The Web.com Tour Championship is the fourth and final stop of the Web.com Tour Finals, one last chance for players to secure PGA Tour cards for next season.

Play well and you’re plotting a schedule around seven-figure purses on some of the best courses in the country. Miss your chance and you may be investigating budget travel options on a circuit that opened this past season in Panama.

The disparity between the haves and the have-nots on the PGA Tour is stark, but the drop-off from PGA Tour to Web.com Tour is even more precipitous. It’s a notion that tends to raise the stakes for this week’s 72-hole season finale, where one shot can determine your fate for the coming 12 months.

“You treat it a bit like a normal golf tournament, but it’s not, really,” said Roberto Castro, who is making his second appearance. “Just emotions, all the stuff you’re dealing with. I think it really gets down to the nitty-gritty here at the last tournament.”

The contrast is even emphasized at this week’s venue. While the game’s best show up each spring to TPC Sawgrass for the Players Championship, this field will battle it out on the lesser Dye’s Valley Course. The entire purse is $1 million, nearly half of what Rickie Fowler received for his Players win in May.

The vibe is also a bit different on the driving range, where players were hitting balls Wednesday afternoon on the right side of the facility. The left side was reserved for guests who were paying to play the adjacent Stadium Course.

It’s a unique scene for a tournament many in the field had hoped to avoid.

The qualification process for the four-week Finals is about as straightforward as a Congressional budget, but the quick version is that 50 PGA Tour cards will be handed out on Sunday. Twenty-five are already determined based on Web.com regular-season earnings, while the remaining 25 go to the top earners during the Finals.

The field includes the top 75 from the Web.com Tour regular season and those who finished Nos. 126-200 in the FedEx Cup race, a curious intersection of the best from the developmental circuit and those who failed to keep pace in the big leagues.

With many cards essentially clinched by those that played well in the first three events, there are only a handful of cards truly up for grabs. Six players have moved up from outside the bubble each of the last two years at this event.

The margins around that bubble can also be razor thin. Jhonattan Vegas currently holds the 25th and final spot on the Finals money list, only $253 ahead of Billy Hurley III.

A veteran of similar situations in years past, Hurley remains optimistic heading into a decisive event.

“Better than 27th, right?” Hurley said. “You know you have to finish in there somewhere. You can’t finish 40th and get your card here this week. But that doesn’t mean you go try to win the golf tournament on the first day, because that doesn’t work either. It’s still 72 holes and you’re going to have good stretches and bad stretches, and just kind of go with it.”

At No. 27, Scott Langley is one spot behind Hurley and $641 behind Vegas. A return to the PGA Tour is within reach, but this is an opportunity Langley didn’t expect to need coming down the stretch at the Wyndham Championship.

Langley had played his way inside the projected playoff cutoff during the final round in Greensboro, but he stumbled home with bogeys on four of his final six holes. He ended up No. 127 in the FedEx Cup standings, essentially one stroke from retaining his card.

Once again on the outside looking in, the 26-year-old hopes to capitalize on the chance he let slip away last month.

“I probably looked at leaderboards a little too much at Wyndham, that leads me to start thinking about future stuff. Where I may finish in the FedEx Cup or whatever,” Langley said. “I just learned the best thing I can do is go out and play, enjoy the process and not put too much pressure on myself to have certain results.”

Perhaps no one understands the finality of this event better than Castro, who clinched his card last week at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Open.

A year ago, Castro began this tournament on the bubble and believed a made cut would be good enough for his card. With his driving erratic – “I was playing terribly,” he said – he teed off the final nine holes of his second round with a 3-iron.

He ended up making the cut, but it turned out his projections were wrong. Castro missed out on his card by a whopping $32.

“My thinking was good, it just didn’t pan out,” he said.

With pocket change the only thing keeping him from a card, Castro was instead left to build a schedule around Monday qualifiers and PGA Tour events where his conditional status left him as first or second alternate on multiple occasions.

“Every time I was in that position, it was a reminder of how close I was to not being in that position,” he said. “It was kind of a dull, long hangover.”

The numbers dictate that a majority of this week’s field will be left to wonder where things went wrong. But that doesn’t keep them from believing that this could be their chance to redeem a season’s worth of frustrations with a single strong week.

It might not be Q-School, but it sure is close.

“In the midst of a lot of crazy things happening this year, to have four rounds to make this year good again, kind of right a lot of wrongs,” Langley said, “it’s an exciting opportunity.”

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

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

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry