Notes: 2015 Masters field could exceed 100 players

By Doug FergusonDecember 24, 2014, 12:16 am

Here's a new tradition unlike any other – the race to see if the Masters can keep its field under 100 players by April.

For the fourth time in the last five years, at least 90 players already have qualified for the Masters at the end of the year with three months of opportunities remaining before the field is set. Each time, Augusta National managed to achieve its objective of keeping the number of competitors in double digits.

By far the smallest field of the four majors, the Masters has not had more than 100 players since 1966.

That's what Augusta National prefers. Club chairmen have talked about a small field creating a better experience. Remember, the original name of the Masters was the Augusta National Invitation Tournament.

But if the last eight months were any indication, this could be the closest call yet.

Of the 90 players who are eligible and expected to compete, 17 earned invitations by winning PGA Tour events that award full FedEx Cup points. That's up from 12 a year ago, a reminder not only that winning is difficult for everyone but that the PGA Tour is stronger and deeper than ever.

There are 13 chances for players not already in the Masters to win a full PGA Tour event and get in. And because the Match Play Championship has been moved from its traditional late February slot, top international players such as Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Adam Scott are not expected to play much (if at all) before the Florida swing.

The other way to qualify is to move into the top 50 in the world ranking published on March 30. Among those on the outside is Brandt Snedeker (No. 58) from the PGA Tour. Tommy Fleetwood (51), Alexander Levy (53) and Francesco Molinari (55) are also outside the top 50, though they will face some of the European Tour's stronger fields during the Middle East swing.

Also, the Masters had created a new spot for the winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship, to be played in January in Argentina.

A year ago, 90 players were eligible after the first cutoff in December. Seven players not already eligible won PGA Tour events, and Stephen Gallacher was added from the world ranking. Then again, one spot was reduced when Tiger Woods had back surgery a week before the Masters.

This year? Stay tuned. It starts with the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, a field that includes four players who won before last year's Masters - Scott Stallings, Matt Every, Steven Bowditch and Matt Jones - and are not yet eligible at Augusta.


FALL OPPORTUNITIES: Two years into a wraparound schedule is too soon to analyze trends, though there was one significant change this year.

A year ago, Chris Kirk had the worst world ranking of the six winners in the fall. He was at No. 93 when he won the McGladrey Classic. Dustin Johnson had the highest ranking (No. 23 when he won he HSBC Champions), and the others were scattered in between. Jimmy Walker at the Frys.com Open was the only first-time winner.

This year provided more opportunity.

There were three first-time winners – Ben Martin, Robert Streb and Nick Taylor – among the seven tournaments. The player with the worst ranking? That would be Taylor at the Sanderson Farms Championship (played opposite Shanghai), who checked in at No. 594.

Bae Sang-moon was at No. 195 when he won the Frys.com Open, while Streb was No. 177 before winning at Sea Island.

The best ranking belonged to Bubba Watson, who was No. 7 when he won the World Golf Championship in China.


SCHEDULE SWAP: It's always good to have solid title sponsors, even better to have sponsors who are flexible.

The European Tour discovered that anew when the Turkish Airlines Open – typically the third of four events in the Race to Dubai final series – ran into problems for 2015. The G20 Summit starts in Turkey on Nov. 15, the same day as the final round of the golf tournament. The Turkish Golf Federation feared it would be exceedingly difficult for the events to clash and asked to change the date.

The BMW Masters in Shanghai - typically the Final Series opener - agreed to swap.

That means the Turkish Airlines Open will be the opening Final Series event, followed by the HSBC Champions in Shanghai and then the BMW Masters. The final event is the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

''We are a dedicated partner of golf worldwide, and we were keen to act in the interest of golf,'' Thorsten Mattig of BMW said.

BMW also sponsors European Tour events in Germany and at Wentworth, along with a FedEx Cup event on the PGA Tour.


REACHING OUT, GIVING BACK: The PGA Tour already is involved with military outreach with its ''Birdies for the Brave'' program. It added another layer for 2015 by offering military members complimentary or discounted tickets to its tournaments.

Starting with the Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, the ''Birdies for the Brave Military Ticket Program'' allows active duty and reserve military members, retired military and their dependents to get free admission to 30 PGA Tour events.

Discounted tickets to other tournaments also will be available to nonretired veterans.

The program is supported by Quicken Loans, the Detroit-based company that sponsors Tiger Woods' tournament in the Washington area in the summer. Military personnel only have to visit www.birdiesforthebrave.sheerid.com to access tickets to various tournaments.

''The Military Ticket Program ... is just one way we express our gratitude to those who put their lives on the line every day to keep America safe and free,'' said Charlie Zink, the co-chief operating officer for the PGA Tour.

Zink is a former Navy officer.


DIVOTS: Waialae Country Club has agreed to host the Sony Open for four more years. This will be the 50th straight year at Waialae. Only Colonial and Augusta National have hosted PGA Tour-sanctioned events for more continuous years. ... Bubba Watson donated his winnings from the Thailand Golf Championship to the Thongchai Jaidee Foundation, which is helping children with scholarships, golf lessons and accommodation. Watson tied for 25th and sent Thongchai a check for $9,250. ... Half of the 84 professionals who already have qualified for the Masters are Americans. ... Medinah Country Club has approved a $3.6 million project to restore the No. 2 course to its original character and upgrading standards of greens, bunkers and drainage. That means Medinah will have invested $14 million since 2008 to upgrade three courses, including the No. 3 course that has held majors and the Ryder Cup.


STAT OF THE WEEK: The Masters currently has 23 players from outside the top 100 in the world – 12 are former champions and six are amateurs.


FINAL WORD: ''It's as good. I can't believe that I'm saying that, comparing it to my lifetime goal to win on the PGA Tour. ... Because the way things went the last two years, I didn't think I would play again or compete again.'' - Arjun Atwal after winning the Dubai Open.

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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.

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 him 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.”

Watch: Koepka holes out from off the green at 16

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 21, 2018, 5:36 am

Brooks Koepka faced a stiff challenge from Gary Woodland on Sunday in South Korea, but eventually it came time to end the suspense.

Having clung to a slim lead for much of the back nine, Koepka looked as though he was going to have to scramble just to save par when he missed the green at 16. 

Instead, caddie Ricky Elliott was able to leave Koepka's putter in the bag.

That holeout combined with a bogey from Woodland at 17 put Koepka ahead by three, allowing him to walk to victory and to the top of the world rankings.

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Koepka wins CJ Cup, ascends to world No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 21, 2018, 5:07 am

Brooks Koepka eagled the 72nd hole Sunday to cap off a final-round 64, win the CJ Cup and supplant Dustin Johnson as the new No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here's how Koepka took over the golf world Sunday in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-21), Gary Woodland (-17), Ryan Palmer (-15), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-15), Jason Day (-12), Scott Piercy (-12)

What it means: This is Koepka's fifth career PGA Tour victory but only his second in a non-major, following his maiden win back at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open. Up four to start the day, Koepka saw his lead evaporate as Woodland rocketed up the leaderboard and kept pace with him for much of the back nine. But every time Sunday's result appeared in doubt, Koepka reclaimed his lead in dramatic fashion. He nearly aced the par-3 13th to go ahead by two and later holed out for birdie at the par-4 16th to go up three with two to play. He finished par-eagle at 17 and 18 to shoot a back-nine 29 and close out his third victory in the last five months. With the win, Koepka ascends to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.

Round of the day: Ryan Palmer set a Nine Bridges course record when he birdied his final seven holes in a row en route to a bogey-free round of 10-under 62 and a solo third-place finish.

Best of the rest: Woodland played his first 16 holes in 9 under par to storm from five back and catch Koepka atop the leaderboard. But his furious Sunday charge finally came to an end when he failed to get up and down for par from the back bunker at 17. He carded his 11th birdie of the round at the 18th hole to sign for 63 and finish solo second.

Biggest disappointment: In retrospect, Woodland called it correctly on Saturday when he said: "You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can. You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number." Woodland put as much pressure on Koepka as he could. He went out and posted that number. Koepka never blinked.

Shot of the day: Koepka's holeout at the par-3 16th, which put him ahead by three, unofficially ending the proceedings:

Quote of the day: "To be world No. 1 is something I dreamed of as a kid. I don't think this one is going to sink in." - Koepka