World Golf Championships Losing Some Sizzle
Even some of the players at the Bridgestone Invitational wondered who he was.
Instead of checking out his swing -- a dead giveaway that Kapur was a player -- they looked on his bag for a name.
That didn't help, either.
Kapur is a 24-year-old from New Delhi, polished and polite. He plays primarily on the Asian Tour, where his victory late last year in the Volvo Masters made him eligible for a World Golf Championship that included 48 of the top 50 in the world.
He checked in at No. 192.
But it's players like Kapur who make these different from run-of-the-mill PGA Tour events.
With so much money on the PGA Tour, and so much global competition everywhere from Torrey Pines to Warwick Hills, the identity of the World Golf Championships now comes from players no one can identify.
'There are a lot of guys I've seen this week that I didn't know who they were,' David Toms said. 'But that's part of world golf now. And it is a World Golf Championship. More power to them. If they can qualify, everybody else on our tour has a chance to qualify, too.'
A year ago, the mystery man was Mark Cayeux of Zimbabwe.
He qualified for Firestone by winning the Tour Championship in South Africa, and his first trip to America was unforgettable. He barely had found his locker when the pairings were released, and Cayeux was in the first group off No. 10 with Tiger Woods.
It wasn't nearly as nerve-racking for Kapur, nor was it his first trip to the United States.
'I spent four years at Purdue,' he said. 'I'm a Midwestern boy.'
How he got from India to Purdue is another story, although it was amusing to hear Shapur tell how he expected to go a few months during the winter with limited golf, only to find out his first year that the ground didn't thaw until April.
'It was a bit of a rude welcome,' he said with a laugh. 'But it was OK. I was able to catch up on my studies.'
Kapur kept a bad start from getting worse with birdies on his last three holes in the first round for a 72, but that was his best score of the week. He wound up at 13-over 293 and finished 65th out of 78 players, earning $35,000.
His next stop is the European tour, with the ultimate goal of joining the PGA Tour.
Chances are, you will hear from him again.
As for the international players with more cache -- Padraig Harrington, Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjorn, Trevor Immelman -- they have become part of the PGA Tour landscape.
And they don't stand out at the World Golf Championships the way they once did.
There were 25 international players who had their PGA Tour cards in 1999, the first year of the World Golf Championships. Now there are 69 foreign players on the PGA Tour
Prize money was $7.5 million at Firestone. It was $6 million at the Wachovia Championship.
There are times when it's hard to tell the difference between the two.
Sure, the WGC events are top-heavy with the best players because at least the top 50 in the world are eligible for them. But with limited fields, that means fewer players for Woods to beat. And you have to wonder how hard some of them are trying, especially since there is no cut and the money is guaranteed.
Mark Hensby withdrew from the PGA Championship with a foot injury. A week later, he managed to tee it up in the Bridgestone Invitational, finished 19 shots behind and took home $39,500.
The acronym is WGC. Maybe it should be ATM.
The Bridgestone Invitational still feels important, for no other reason than Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and all the best players were in the field. The buzz came from Woods winning his fourth straight tournament, and from a course like Firestone South, universally accepted as one of the best tracks on tour.
But the WGCs no longer feel as unique as they once did.
'We've got more top players here on a regular basis. Everybody in the world is wanting to get here,' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. 'That has changed the face of the tour a little bit. The number of times during the year the vast majority of players are competing against each other is different than it was eight years ago. That was one of the purposes.
'From a player perspective, I could see why it's a little less unique,' he added. 'But that's what they wanted. Tiger talks about it all the time. We're getting our mission accomplished.'
Finchem sees no decrease in support or interest, and the 5.9 TV rating in the final round was the highest of any event this side of a major.
Woods says it's easy for him to get fired up for the WGCs because the best in the world are competing. Or maybe because it has become his annual annuity. He has played in 23 of them (including two World Cups) and earned more than $15 million.
The next one is the American Express Championship outside London the last week in September (Woods is the defending champion), and if the trend continues, expect a number of Americans to decide that's either too far away or too dangerous.
Next year, Amex becomes the CA Championship and will be played every year at Doral.
Think that won't look and feel like a regular PGA Tour event?
And with so much emphasis on the FedEx Cup next year, the WGCs are likely to slide even further into obscurity, notable only because of a large purse, a small field and players like Shiv Kapur.
Rosaforte Report: What makes Wise so good, while so young
Is Aaron Wise the real deal?
It may be too early to answer that question – or even make that proclamation; after all, the baby-faced 21-year-old had zero top-10s in his first 15 starts as a PGA Tour rookie. Now, one month after a missed the cut in the Valero Texas Open, Wise is being associated with phrases like “phenom” and “It kid,” thanks to a strong showing at Quail Hollow and a victory at Trinity Forest.
But that’s how it works in this transient time of golf, where there’s always room to join the party and become one of the guys hanging out with Rickie Fowler. You watch: Next we will see Wise playing practice rounds with Tiger Woods, next to Bryson DeChambeau. It would be the wise thing to do.
We really won’t know about Wise until he’s played some majors and established himself beyond this two-tournament stretch. Had he not turned pro, he would have been a college senior leading Oregon into the NCAA finals.
But what we do know, based on the opinions of those closest to him, is that Wise has the “instinctual” and “emotionally strong” qualities of a great one – the “real deal” qualities, so to speak.
From “knowing how to win” (college coach Casey Martin), to “being a natural in picking the right shot” (swing instructor Jeff Smith) to “the way he embraced mental training, very much like Tiger.” (sports psychologist Jay Brunza), Wise ranks high in all the nuances required of greatness.
Asked if he was surprised with Wise’s second-place finish at the Wells Fargo Championship and win at the AT&T Byron Nelson, Smith said without hesitation, “Not at all. The tough part as a coach was tempering expectations. I have to keep reminding him over and over and over, you’re only 21 years old.”
This week’s Fort Worth Invitational will provide further opportunity to gauge where Wise ranks in the spectrum of potential greatness. One of the elements that surfaced in his last two starts: While not physically imposing, the kid’s athleticism is a noticeable byproduct of the tennis he played during middle school and early high school growing up in Lake Elsinore, Calif. Wise was good enough to be “pretty highly ranked,” and was torn between a golf coach that wanted him to quit tennis, and a tennis coach that wanted him to quit golf.
Golf won out, but what we have seen recently is Wise’s hand-eye athleticism at work, the ability of knowing what shot to hit and how to hit the off-speed and stroke-saving shots that are necessary under the gun. “He’s like a natural in the feel side of the game,” says Smith.
In the mental game, there are even some intuitive comparisons to Woods drawn by Brunza, who started working with Tiger when he was 13. The best example, thus far, of those qualities was the fifth shot Wise holed for bogey to close out his third round at Wells Fargo. After whiffing his third shot and blading his fourth, it was the most meaningful shot in Wise’s short time in the big leagues.
It was what Brunza would so aptly describe as “managing the nervous arousal level within.” Instead of being rattled, Wise chipped in for bogey. He would call it “huge,” and “awesome,” and made the promise that it would carry him into the final round – which it did.
Wise closed with a 68 that Sunday and lost by two strokes to Jason Day, never appearing to be nervous or out of place. After a week off for not qualifying for The Players, that relaxed confidence carried over to Dallas, to the point where closing out a PGA Tour win for the first time felt like it did at the NCAAs, Canada and the Web.com Tour.
“To not only compete, but to play as well as I did, with all that pressure, gave me confidence having been in that situation (with Day at Quail Hollow),” Wise said on “Morning Drive.”
Wise was accompanied at Trinity Forest by his mother, who engaged in what Wise characterized as a joking conversation Sunday morning of just how much money Aaron would make with a win. It was a reminder of the short time span was between winning on Tour, at 21, and not being able the handle costs of playing on the AJGA circuit. Showing poise and patience with the last tee time, Wise did the smart thing and went back to sleep.
Wise didn’t come on radar until he won the 2016 NCAA Men’s DI individual title and helped lead the Ducks to the team title.
Playing mostly what Oregon coach Martin calls local events in Southern Cal hurt his exposure, but not his potential. “He came on really fast,” Martin remembers. “He was a very good junior player but wasn’t the greatest and he didn’t come from a ton of money so he didn’t play AJGA [much] and wasn’t recruited like other kids.”
Instead of pursing pre-law at Oregon, Wise went to the tour’s development schools and won the Syncrude Oil Country Championship on PGA Tour Canada and the Air Capital Classic.
Before Quail Howllow, there was nothing to indicate this sort of transcendent greatness. Statistically, none of numbers (except for being ninth in birdies) jump off the stat sheet. He’s 32nd in driving distance and 53rd in greens hit in regulation. But there are no strokes saved categories for the instinctual qualities he displayed on the two Sundays when he’s had a chance to win. “He’s a really cool customer that doesn’t get rattled,” says Martin. “He doesn’t overreact, good or bad.”
Lately, it’s been all good.
NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times
The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.
After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.
- Finals: Alabama vs. Arizona
- Semifinals: Alabama def. USC, 3.5-1.5
- Semifinals: Arizona def. Stanford, 4-1
- Quarterfinals: Alabama def. Kent State, 4-1
- Quartefinals: USC def. Duke, 3.5-1.5
- Quarterfinals: Arizona def. UCLA, 3-2
- Quarterfinals: Stanford def. Northwestern, 3-2
- Individual stroke play
TV Times (all times ET):
4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)
Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title
STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.
Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?
The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.
“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.
Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.
“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”
Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.
Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.
“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”
After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.
And the Wildcats better rest up.
Alabama looks unstoppable.
“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”
Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.
After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.
They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.
Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.
“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”
They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.
“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”
That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.
The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.
“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.
It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”
Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.
They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.
Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.
“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”
Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.
Pairings, tee times set for championship match
STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.
Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.
“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”
Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.
Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.
Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.
“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.
Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)
3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)
3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)
3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)
3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)
4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)