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Grading the PGA Tour season at the halfway point

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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – It’s part of the new wraparound reality that this week’s RBC Heritage, the ultimate after-party following last week’s Masters madness, is the halfway house of the 2013-14 season.

Harbour Town Golf Links is the official midpoint of the season, the 23rd of 45 events (including the four playoff tournaments) and that means midterms are due.

Missed opportunities. With the transition to the split-calendar schedule, the Tour also had to adjust its qualifying system to what became the four-event Finals to determine who would earn status.

While the new qualifying format worked well enough, there have been growing concerns that the 50 players who earned cards last fall have struggled to find playing opportunities.

Benjamin Alvarado, who secured the final Tour card at last year’s Finals, has played just one event this season (Valero Texas Open) and Will Wilcox, who took the second-to-last card, has just six starts.

It has become such an issue that it will be atop the agenda at Tuesday’s Player Advisory Council meeting at Harbour Town. Grade: C


Truth in advertising. Seems Patrick Reed’s assessment that he is a top-5 player, which drew the ire of players and press alike, was not that far off the mark.

Reed, a two-time winner on Tour this season, missed the cut at his first Masters last week with rounds of 73-79, while the real top-5 heading into the year’s first major – Tiger Woods (did not play), No. 2 Adam Scott (T-14), No. 3 Henrik Stenson (T-14), No. 4 Jason Day (T-20) and No. 5 Phil Mickelson (missed cut) – didn’t fare much better at Augusta National.

Still, Reed’s play this season, if not his public relations savvy, has been beyond reproach. Grade: A-


Status quo. Up is down, black is white, 50 is the new 30, this season has been the “bizarro world” edition of Tour golf.

Consider that the top 10 players to start the season in the World Golf Ranking have a combined one victory during the 2013-14 cycle and the game’s biggest stars have particularly struggled on Sundays.

Matt Kuchar blew a four-stroke, 54-hole lead on Sunday at the Shell Houston Open; Adam Scott failed to convert a seven-stroke advantage after 36 holes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Rory McIlroy was two clear through three rounds at the Honda Classic and lost to Russell Henley.

And to top it off, the back nine on Sunday at the Masters – normally as automatic as taxes and pimento cheese sandwiches – failed to produce the traditional roars.

Truth is, the only thing that has been a certainty is the top players’ inability to convert. Grade: B-


Mother Nature. While the Northeast continues to await a spring thaw and the season’s first tee shot, the particularly harsh winter has also had a profound impact on play at the highest level.

Perhaps the most glaring blow could be found last week at Augusta National, which played for the first time without the iconic Eisenhower Tree – which guarded the left side of the 17th fairway – along with extensive damage to many of the club’s signature pine trees.

“I got lucky this year because some of the tops of trees were down on 11, so it made 11 a lot easier for me,” Masters champion Bubba Watson said on Sunday. Grade: F


Left out. Perhaps it should have been no surprise that Phil Mickelson missed the cut last week at Augusta National. The 2014 Masters marked the first time in his career he hadn’t driven down Magnolia Lane with at least one top-10 finish on Tour (he did finish runner-up at the European Tour stop in Abu Dhabi) and consequently he failed to advance to the weekend at the year’s first major for just the second time in his career.

“I’ve got some issues,” said Mickelson after an opening-round 76 at the Masters.

And his issues are even more concerning considering what is on the line at June’s U.S. Open. Lefty can complete the career Grand Slam with a victory at Pinehurst, but first he has a lot of questions to answer. Grade: Incomplete


Midterm Most Valuable Player. Dr. Charles Rich, the Park City, Utah, neurosurgeon who performed Tiger Woods’ microdiscectomy earlier this month.

The procedure alleviated pain from a pinched nerve, and while the squeeze is on now to see when the world No. 1 returns, it was, according to fellow Tour player Jason Bohn, the best thing for Woods.

“You don’t understand how much pain you have with a pinched nerve. It hurts just to go to the bathroom,” said Bohn, who had the same procedure in 2008.

It’s also worth noting that Bohn said his recovery from the procedure took about six to eight weeks before he could start hitting golf balls again and another three to four weeks to regain the swing speed and muscle to play Tour golf. If Woods maintains a similar timetable, he could return as early as late June. Grade: A


Pre-matrimonial bliss. Some LPGA Tour types took exception to Golf Digest’s decision to have Paulina Gretzky, Dustin Johnson’s fiancée, on the cover of this month’s fitness issue, but imagine how DJ feels?

The bomber has a victory this season (WGC-HSBC Champions), two runner-up showings (AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and Northern Trust Open) and at No. 3 on the points list is a virtual lock to make this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team, and yet he hasn’t been on the cover of Digest. Grade: B


Midterm Player of the Year. While Jimmy Walker has been the season’s most steady player – three victories and 5 top-10 finishes – the mid-term hardware goes to Bubba Watson.

The small town guy named Bubba has two wins, including a bookend green jacket, two runner-up showings, and perhaps most impressive, he has not missed a cut in nine starts.

Who knew Bubba Golf could be so consistent? Grade: A+