A Season of Change Ready to Begin

By Associated PressJanuary 3, 2007, 5:00 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)KAPALUA, Hawaii -- The start of another PGA TOUR season looks like any other.

Only the winners from the previous year are allowed to tee off in the Mercedes-Benz Championship. The view from the first tee on the Plantation Course at Kapalua is a 520-yard stretch of emerald terrain broken by the blue of the Pacific Ocean, with the occasional splash of a humpback whale in the distance.

And Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson stayed home again.

Stuart Appleby
Stuart Appleby has a fourth straight Mercedes win in his sights.
But even with so much familiarity, this is the year of the unknown on the PGA TOUR.

K.J. Choi is to hit the opening tee shot on Thursday, officially launching what the PGA TOUR has dubbed a 'new era in golf.' It is built around the FedExCup, a season-long points race that will pause in August to reset the standings, end with a flourish of four big tournaments and award $10 million to the winner.

'It has more of a fresh feel because it's just different,' Jim Furyk said. 'I think all of us are excited. All of us are apprehensive. All of us are scratching our heads in a few spots trying to figure out how it's all going to work. It's definitely new.'

TOUR officials have spent the last year using power-point presentations and slide shows to explain how the FedExCup works. Furyk was given 2 minutes to offer his version of the new format and broke it down into three areas -- a reorganized, shorter schedule; a way to market golf in a different light, and more excitement at the end of the year.

One thing hasn't changed.

'Whether you're looking at the money list or the points list, what it really boils down to is you need to play well,' Furyk said.

The season starts at Kapalua for the ninth straight year, a course built on a mountain that offers breathtaking scenery, generous fairways and free money at the end of the week. With only 34 players, there is no cut.

As for the 'new era in golf,' that might take time to sink in. Any changes probably won't be felt until the summer, when the tour gets closer to its playoff portion of the schedule.

The top 144 players on the points list on Aug. 20 (one week after the PGA Championship) will reach the playoffs, which start in New York. The field will be reduced to 120 players outside Boston, to 70 players for the tournament in Chicago, with the top 30 advancing to the TOUR Championship in Atlanta. The player with the most points gets $10 million.

Because the points are reset before the playoffs, it's impossible for a player to clinch the cup before September. And all that is eight months away, which is why there isn't a sense of urgency at laid-back Kapalua.

'I think everything will be pretty much normal through the year,' Stuart Appleby said. 'There will be some discussion, but I think the real crux of where the Cup is going to come is the last five weeks. Otherwise, it's just a horse race. Get out of the gates, get our position and get going. We have to play hard.'

Appleby has had no trouble getting out of the gates at Kapalua.

He is the three-time defending champion of the Mercedes-Benz Championship, and will try this week to tie a PGA TOUR record by winning the same event four straight times. Woods was the last player to do that at the Bay Hill Invitational (2000-2003).

Appleby won in 2004 by building a six-shot lead and holding off a furious charge from Vijay Singh for a one-shot victory. A year later, he let Singh, Ernie Els and a host of others make mistakes on the back nine for another one-shot victory. And last year, he birdied the last hole twice, the second time in a playoff, to beat Singh again.

Appleby has taken 825 shots on the Plantation course the last three years. Singh has taken 829 shots. Those four shots are the difference between one guy driving off with three new sports cars and the other guy taking a shuttle.

Except for playing in Australia during the offseason and not having as much rust as some other players, Appleby can't figure out why he has won nearly half his PGA TOUR victories on this island.

'There's nothing typical about this golf course that says I should do well,' he said. 'It's hilly -- I didn't grow up on hilly golf courses. Windy, yes, I'm used to wind. Bermuda (grass), I never grew up on that. I just feel comfortable here. I can play well here, and usually I'm playing well when I come here.'

Singh is back for another try at the tournament that has brought nothing but frustration. The 43-year-old Fijian has seven consecutive finishes in the top 10, his worst showing a tie for eighth in 2000.

Appleby will have plenty of challengers from the half-dozen Australians in the field, many of whom have been playing into December. U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy was runner-up to Woods in the Target World Challenge, John Senden captured the Australian Open and Adam Scott won the season-ending TOUR Championship at East Lake.

Woods, who won at Kapalua in 2000, is skipping the tournament for the second straight year. He was on a skiing vacation with his family and said he didn't have the time he wanted to prepare for this tournament, putting on hold his streak of six straight PGA TOUR wins.

Mickelson hasn't played the Mercedes-Benz since 2001.

The FedExCup will start without them, although no one in the field is terribly concerned. That leaves two fewer players to beat, and it shows that the FedExCup is about eight months, not one week.

'It's like Ryder Cup points,' Davis Love III said. 'It's in the back of your mind.'

Related Links:
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    Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

    NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 146th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

    Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

    Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

    1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.

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    Knox relishes round with 'mythical figure' Woods

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:48 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Russell Knox was expecting the worst and hoping for the best Thursday at The Open.

    Playing with Tiger Woods tends to have that effect.

    The native Scot received a treat earlier this week when he saw his name on the tee sheet alongside his boyhood idol, Woods.

    “Felt good out there, but obviously my swing, it was just like I had too much tension,” Knox said after an opening 73. “I just wasn’t letting it go as normal. First round with Tiger, I expected to feel a little bit different. The way I felt was better than the way I swung.”

    Knox said that he was nervous playing alongside Woods, a player he’d only encountered on the range. “He’s almost like a mythical figure,” he said.

    But after a while, he settled into the rhythm of the round at Carnoustie.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I thought it would be worse,” he said, “I feel like I should know what I’m doing. It’s cool playing with Tiger, but I’ve got to get over that. I’m here to win, not just enjoy my walk around the course.”

    Knox probably had more interaction with Woods than he anticipated, if only because the third member of the group, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, keeps to himself because of the language barrier.

    “It’s kind of a blur,” Knox said. “It’s like, Oh, I’m chatting away with Tiger here like normal. I don’t even remember what I was saying.”

    There have been countless stories from this year as the next generation of players – guys who grew up watching Woods dominate the sport – get paired with Woods for the first time.

    It was no less special for Knox on Thursday.

    “It’s nice for him to say things like that,” Woods said, “and we enjoyed playing with each other. Hopefully we’ll play a little bit better tomorrow.”

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    Rain expected to shower Carnoustie Friday morning

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:43 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – By the end of the day Friday, we’ll be able to determine which side of The Open draw ended the first two rounds at Carnoustie with more favorable conditions. With rain expected for most of Friday morning, it seems those who played early/late may be more pleased.

    According to Weather.com, there is a 75 percent chance of rain beginning at 2 a.m. local time Friday here in Scotland. That percentage vaults up to 95 percent by 7 a.m., with the first tee time scheduled for 6:35. At 11, the number drops to 55 percent. After 2 p.m., the percentage chances of rain are 25 percent and below for the remainder of the day.

    Temperatures during the day are expected to be from the low 50s to the low 60s and winds will vary between 14-18 mph, again per Weather.com.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    This is The Open’s official weather report for the weekend:

    Saturday: A dull start with some drizzle possible. Staying cloudy for much of the day but gradually becoming brighter with a chance of some sunny intervals during the afternoon and evening. Winds light and variable in direction but should predominantly settle in to a SSE 8-12mph during the afternoon. Max temp 20C (68F).

    Sunday: Often cloudy but mainly dry. A better chance of some decent sunny spells compared to Saturday. Most likely the windiest day of the Championship; SW 12-18mph with gusts 20-25mph. Feeling warm, especially in any sunshine with a max temp of 23C (73F).

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    Bandaged Woods 5 back after even-par 71

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:38 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods arrived Thursday with therapeutic tape on the back of his neck.

    Carnoustie’s back nine inflicted even more pain.

    Playing in the most difficult conditions of the day, Woods’ progress was stalled by two late bogeys as he settled for an even-par 71 that left him five shots off the lead at The Open.

    “I played better than what the score indicates,” he said. “It certainly could have been a little bit better.”

    Woods created a stir when he showed up with black kinesiology tape on his neck. Afterward, he said that his neck has been bugging him “for a while” and that Thursday was merely the first time that the tape was visible.

    “Everyone acts like this is the first time I’ve been bandaged up,” he said, smiling. “I’ve been doing this for years.”

    Woods said that the discomfort didn’t really affect his swing, other than a few shots “here and there.” It didn’t seem to affect his score, either, as he went out in 2 under before a few stumbles on the back nine.

    On the fast, baked-out turf, he played conservatively off the tee, using driver only once and 3-wood just twice. Apparently he didn’t need the added distance, not with his 6-iron traveling 240 yards. He tried to play to his spots, even if it routinely left him more than 200 yards for his approach.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    That’s the strategy he employed at Hoylake in 2006, where he hit driver just once and captured the third of his Open titles. Despite some of the similarities in firmness, Woods said that Carnoustie presents a different challenge off the tee.

    “These fairways are very small,” he said. “They’re hard to hit right now. They’re so fast, and they’re so moundy.”

    Finding the fairway wasn’t the chief problem for Woods on Day 1, however. He missed just four fairways but found only 11 greens.

    More damaging to his score was his play on the par 5s. Despite having only an 8-iron in, he failed to birdie each of the two par 5s and then bogeyed Nos. 10, 13 and 15 to squander his early momentum.

    Though the draw here won’t be a significant factor – or at least not like in recent years, with a wide range in scores from morning to afternoon – it’s clear that Woods (in game 47 of 52) encountered the most difficult of the conditions Thursday, with the wind gusting to 20 mph and the fairways running even faster after another sun-splashed afternoon.

    Still, his opening 71 was one of the better scores in the late wave.

    “He hit it good,” said playing partner Russell Knox. “He plotted his way around, which I expected him to do, and he was very conservative off the tee. It’s kind of fun to watch him do that, to be honest.”

    Even more fun would be a major with Woods in contention.

    He hasn’t broken par in the opening round of his last eight majors. Indeed, for Woods, these slow starts have been the real pain in the neck.