PGA Tour Goes from Underpaid to Fat and Sassy

By Associated PressJanuary 3, 2006, 5:00 pm
04 Mercedes ChampionshipsKAPALUA, Maui -- On a dreary morning of clouds and drizzle, all it took was a sudden burst of sun for Kapalua to produce a brilliant welcome to the start of the PGA Tour season. Stretching across the horizon was a massive rainbow, a 180-degree arc of colors that poured into the blue waters of the Pacific.
 
The rainbow was gone 10 minutes later, and reality returned to the winners-only Mercedes Championships, which has its smallest field ever because four guys didn't show up.
 
The pot of gold was never there.
 
In this case, that would be Tiger Woods, whose six victories in 2005 included the majors. He decided to skip the tournament for the first time that he was fit to play. He said he needed an offseason after playing five times in five weeks after the PGA Tour's regular season ended in November.
 
Also absent is PGA champion and four-time winner Phil Mickelson, who chose not to play for the fifth straight year, saying he wanted to spend time with his family. That's Leftyspeak for 'I just don't want to play.'
 
Retief Goosen, who once said the best way to start a season was holding a drink with a flower in it, is home with his family in South Africa. Padraig Harrington broke through on the PGA Tour last year with two victories, but he declined his invitation to paradise to recharge from an emotional year.
 
No one has a problem with Harrington staying in Ireland. His father, a former policeman, was diagnosed with cancer after Harrington won the Honda Classic, and died not long after he won the Barclays Classic. No one needs time off to reflect and find closure more than Harrington.
 
And frankly, no one would miss the other stars if the biggest one -- Woods -- had decided to play.
 
The immediate reaction from some of his peers was that was one less player to beat for the $1.08 million first prize, the Mercedes-Benz S500 and a ticket back for next year.
 
'I text messaged Tiger and said, 'No Hawaii for you, more cash for me,' Mark Calcavecchia said.
 
'From a selfish standpoint, that's two people who you know you'd have to beat,' David Toms said, referring to Woods and Mickelson, even though Lefty has never broken 70 on the Plantation course.
 
Both, however, saw a bigger picture.
 
There was a time not long ago when the best in golf were underpaid, especially compared with utility infielders or backup centers who logged five minutes of playing time. When the Mercedes Championships first came to Kapalua in 1999, David Duval won by nine shots and established himself as the best player in the world. He earned $468,000.
 
Now, one can only wonder if the players have become fat and sassy.
 
This is nothing new, of course.
 
Mickelson skipped the Tour Championship and its $6.5 million purse. And five years ago, when a $5 million purse meant something, a dozen Americans didn't go to Spain for a World Golf Championship. They were offered a charter flight, free lodging at a luxurious hotel in San Roque, five days on a picturesque course with views of the Mediterranean and the Rock of Gibraltar, and $30,000 for last place.
 
The Mercedes Championships is not much different.
 
Players are given a free room at the Ritz-Carlton, where it seems every corridor has a red carpet. Tournament host Gary Planos took a morning off to drive Toms and his son to the hill country to hunt pheasant. Others were ferried to the Big Island for a corporate outing.
 
'Obviously, money is not an issue,' Calcavecchia said. 'They don't need the money, which is nice to be in that position. But it's just golf, you know? It's not a marathon. It's not the Ironman out here, swim 26 miles or something. It's just golf. Take next month off.'
 
They could do that. They could skip the whole year except for four big weeks. The tour likes to say its players are independent contractors, and Woods misses more tournaments than he plays.
 
But there are some tournaments where players should feel an extra sense of obligation, this being one of them. It's not easy winning on the PGA Tour, and if you don't believe that, check out the guest registry at the Ritz. Only 11 players qualified who were in the field last year.
 
Bart Bryant had knee surgery two days after winning the Tour Championship, and they cleaned out more cartilage than he expected. The recovery took a little longer, and Bryant could have used two extra weeks to get ready.
 
'But how can you not be here?' he said with a big smile.
 
Mercedes is still deciding whether to sponsor the event the next four years, and the absence of Woods and Mickelson is not helping negotiations. And while there are four fewer players to beat, there is a buzz missing.
 
'It's going to be a great event -- it always is and always will be,' Bryant said. 'But for those four guys not to be here, even as a player it feels like there's a little something missing.'
 
Brad Faxon wasn't supposed to be here. He had knee surgery to repair torn ligaments in September wasn't supposed to play until February, but his victory at Hartford was his first in four years. No way he was missing this.
 
Maybe that's the problem.
 
Woods and Mickelson have 73 victories between them. Throw in Goosen and Harrington, and the four MIAs represent 27 percent of the tournaments last year. The PGA Tour could use a good start to its season, and it's not asking much for its stars to take one for the team.
 
A year ago, all the talk was about the Big Four.
 
Sadly, the Big Four this week takes on a new meaning.
 
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    Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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    Goal for new world No. 1 Koepka: Stay healthy

    By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 1:38 pm

    Last season Brooks Koepka bagged a pair of majors en route to the PGA Tour's Player of the Year award. He started the new wraparound season with an emphatic win at the CJ Cup to reach world No. 1 for the first time.

    But amid the best form of his career, Koepka has a simple goal in mind as he gets ready to turn his attention to the new year.

    "Stay healthy," Koepka told reporters. "That's been the big thing. I need to be healthy to be able to play all these events, play all the majors."

    Koepka's breakthrough year comes despite the fact that he missed four months in the spring, including the Masters, while recovering from a wrist injury. He hit the ground running once he returned, with strong finishes at TPC Sawgrass and Colonial preceding wins at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

    Now Koepka has added a third trophy after cruising to a four-shot win in South Korea on Sunday that allowed him to move past Dustin Johnson at world No. 1.

    "I'm 1-for-1 this year, which is nice," Koepka joked about his undefeated record in the new wraparound season.

    Koepka will be in the field next week in China for the WGC-HSBC Champions before putting the clubs on the shelf. With Justin Thomas paving the way by making the goal-setting process more public in recent years, Koepka explained that even after summiting the world rankings he plans to wait until 2019 to adjust his expectations for himself.

    "I keep the same goals through the calendar year," Koepka said. "On Jan. 1 I go to the beach in the morning and go write down my goals and figure them out for the calendar year, but I just need to finish this year off. I've got next week and I would like to, coming out the first week as No. 1, I'd like to play well."

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    Birdie binge for Woodland comes up short at CJ Cup

    By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 12:52 pm

    Gary Woodland mounted an impressive rally at the CJ Cup, but in the end even 11 birdies weren't enough to catch Brooks Koepka.

    Woodland started the final round in South Korea five shots behind the new world No. 1, but he made the biggest move of the day amid chilly conditions on Jeju Island. With six birdies over his first nine holes, including four in a row on Nos. 6-9, he briefly caught Koepka at the top of the leaderboard.

    But Woodland bogeyed No. 10, and even with five more birdies coming home to finish a 9-under 63 he still finished alone in second, four shots behind Koepka who closed with a bogey-free 29 to put the trophy out of reach.

    "Yesterday I didn't get any putts to go in, and today I saw a lot of putts go in," Woodland told reporters. "Brooks with the lead, not much fazes him. So you knew you had to make a lot of birdies, and I made a lot today. But I was just too far behind."

    It's the second straight strong performance from Woodland to start the new wraparound season, as he tied for fifth at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia after holding a share of the 54-hole lead. A closing 63 would have gone a long way last week, but he was still pleased to be able to make Koepka sweat a little on a day when even the bad holes resulted from good shots.

    "I made two bogeys on the back and I said, 'Be right' on both shots," Woodland said. "I was just maybe a little too amped up, a little excited. I hit them both perfect. All in all, I would have liked for a couple more putts to go in yesterday and been a little closer going into today."

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    Kang (69) wins Buick LPGA Shanghai by two

    By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:11 am

    SHANGHAI - Danielle Kang shot a 3-under 69 on Sunday to win the LPGA Shanghai by two strokes for her second career title.

    Kang, who started the final round one stroke off the lead, offset a lone bogey on the par-5 fourth hole with four birdies after the turn to finish at 13-under 275 and hold off a late charge by Lydia Ko, who had the day's lowest score of 66.

    ''I hope I win more,'' Kang said. ''I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.''

    Ko, who had seven birdies and a lone bogey, tied for second at 11 under with a group of seven players that included Brittany Altomare (71), Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and overnight co-leader Sei Young Kim (72).


    Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos


    Carlota Ciganda, who also held a share of the lead after the third round, shot a 73 to fall into a tie for ninth with Bronte Law and local favorite Lu Liu.

    Paula Creamer carded three birdies against a pair of bogeys for a 71 to finish in sole possession of 12th place.

    The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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    New world No. 1 Koepka already wants more

    By Nick MentaOctober 21, 2018, 8:48 am

    If there is a knock on Brooks Koepka, it’s that he’s a little too cool.

    Gary Woodland, who threw 11 birdies at Koepka on Sunday and still finished four shots back, inadvertently captured that exact sentiment after Saturday's third round.

    “You know," he said, "Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much."

    In context, Woodland meant that there was little anyone in the field could do to rattle the 54-hole leader. (He proved himself right, by the way.)

    And out of context, the comment speaks to the general narrative surrounding Koepka. That he’s just detached enough for fans to have trouble attaching themselves to him. That he’s just a jock here to cash checks and collect trophies, to kick ass and chew bubblegum.

    But for a few moments Sunday in South Korea, it became clear that Brooks Koepka does care. Crouched on the 72nd green with some time to stop and think as Ian Poulter lagged a bit behind, Koepka finally let a moment get to him. Cameras caught the three-time major champion appearing unusually emotional.

    Of course, less than a minute later, those same cameras caught him yawning. The contrast was almost too perfect. It was as if he knew he had just been found out and needed to snap back into character – which he did.

    He promptly poured in an eagle putt to cap off a final-round 64, to win the CJ Cup by four, and to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.


    Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

    CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos


    “To be world No. 1 is something I dreamed of as a kid,” Koepka said on the 18th green, moments after closing out his fifth PGA Tour victory and third this year. “I don't think this one's going to sink in.”

    What is beginning to sink in is that Koepka now unequivocally belongs in the conversation, the one golf fans and analysts have been having over and over since Tiger Woods fell from golf's greatest heights.

    Who’s the best at their best?

    In the two years between his first PGA Tour win and his first U.S. Open victory, Koepka was touted as having the kind of talent to compete with the game's elites. It took a little while for him to get here, but Koepka has taken over as the latest player to look like he’ll never lose again. Just as it was for Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas before him, this is Koepka's moment. This is his run of dominance.

    It’s a run that will have to end at some point. Every one of the guys just mentioned did cool off eventually. Koepka will, too. Maybe it will be fatigue, maybe it will be injury, and maybe it’ll just be golf. This talent pool is simply too deep for anyone to remain on top for too long.

    But what Koepka has done this year – in defending his U.S. Open title, in staring down Tiger at the PGA, in claiming the Player of the Year Award, in ascending to the top of the world rankings – is put his name at the forefront of the conversation. If he was unappreciated at times before, those days are behind him. He's already accomplished too much, proven himself too good to be overlooked any longer.

    And he’s far from done.

    “For me, I just need to keep winning,” the new world No. 1 said Sunday. “I feel like to win a few more regular Tour events and then keep adding majors. I feel like my game's set up for that. I've gotten so much confidence off winning those majors where, it's incredible, every time I tee it up, I feel like I really have a good chance to win whether I have my A-game or not. It's something I'm so excited [about] right now, you have no idea. I just can't wait to go play again.”