Stat attack!: Open preview

By John AntoniniOctober 7, 2014, 6:43 pm

For the second straight year the PGA Tour season begins with the Open in northern California. This week’s event, to be contested at Silverado Resort & Spa’s North Course for the first time, hosts 12 tournament winners from the just-completed 2013-14 season. The dozen includes three U.S. Ryder Cuppers – Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar and Jimmy Walker (shown). Walker won the Frys a year ago, jumpstarting a career year that saw him win three times and finish seventh on the FedEx Cup standings for the 2013-14 season.

Also playing this week is European Ryder Cupper Lee Westwood and several players new to the PGA Tour, including regular season money leader Carlos Ortiz and Finals Series priority list co-leader Adam Hadwin.

Wild Walker way-lays CordeValle

When Jimmy Walker won last year’s Frys at CordeValle, he did so despite hitting just 22 fairways for the week. According to it was tied for the third-fewest fairways hit by a PGA Tour winner since the Tour began keeping track in 1983. Walker hit only five fairways during his third-round 62. It was the fewest number of fairways hit by any player who shot 62 or lower on the PGA Tour last year.

Fewest fairways hit by a tournament winner: 1983-2014

 Player Tournament Fairways hit Percentage
 Tom Sieckmann 1988 Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic 19 33.9
 Greg Twiggs 1989 Shearson Lehman Hutton Open 21 37.5
 Jimmy Walker 2013 Open 22 39.3
 Tiger Woods 2005 WGC/American Express 22 39.3
 Johnson Wagner 2012 Sony Open in Hawaii 23 41.1

Who’s this year’s Jimmy Walker?

Walker’s win a year ago was the first of his PGA Tour career. He used the victory as a springboard to two more victories, top-10 finishes in three majors and a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. But his career-year began with the work he did during 2013, when he finished 36th on the FedEx Cup standings after making the cut in his first 15 tournaments of the year. Here’s a list of non-winners who were high in last season’s FedEx Cup standings, who are playing at Silverado and might be ready to follow Walker’s path with a breakthrough win at this year’s season opener.

Winless players ready to move up at Silverado

 Player 2014 FedEx Cup Career best Years on Tour Note
55 Yes 4 Just one top 10 (T-10 Colonial) in 28 starts
37 No 4 Former Presidents Cupper had two seconds in 2014
 Russell Knox 40 Yes 3 T-2 at Honda was one of two top 10s
 Chris Stroud 47 No 8 10 top-20 finishes in 2014
 Brian Stuard 51 Yes 3 Opened last year with 3 top 10s in first 6 starts
57 No 4 Made the cut in 11 of his last 12 starts
20 Yes 5 Barclays runner-up in 2014

Of that group, Stroud is the closest comp for Walker. In his ninth year on the PGA Tour, Stroud has played 217 tournaments without a win (Walker won in his 188th start), but his solid play a year ago included third-place finishes in Malaysia and Mayakoba and a T-4 at Greenbrier. His strong play actually goes back two years, as he was a career-best 43rd on the 2013 FedEx Cup standings.

A flying start

Jimmy Walker wasn’t the only player to maintain his momentum from a strong finish at the Open. Two other top-eight finishers won for the first time later in 2014 – Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman – and every player in the top eight qualified for the PGA Tour playoffs except for nonmember Brooks Koepka, who nevertheless parlayed his T-3 finish into enough FedEx Cup points to gain full status on the PGA Tour for this year.

How the top finishers at the 2014 Open fared during the season

 Player FedEx rank Wins in 2014
 1. Jimmy Walker 7 3
 2. Vijay Singh 87 0
 T-3. Scott Brown 85 0
 T-3. Brooks Koepka N/A 0
 T-3. Hideki Matsuyama 28 1
 T-3. Kevin Na 24 0
 T-7. Brian Harman 36 1
 T-7. George McNeill 46 0

Now on the tee…

The latest Tour graduates will have a chance to test themselves on the PGA Tour for the next few weeks, and there will be plenty of room for good finishes as most of the Tour’s top players aren’t expected to start their seasons until the Asian Swing next month. Because Silverado hasn’t hosted a Tour event since 1980, this week’s rookies and veterans will be unfamiliar with the course that was lengthened by 250 yards in 2010. Still, there are a few players who will have a special brand of nervousness on the first tee Thursday. Of the Tour’s 24 rookies, 16 are playing the Frys, including Whee Kim, who is making his PGA Tour debut.

PGA Tour rookies with the fewest starts on Tour

 Player Starts In Frys? Previous starts World Rank Priority Rank
 Whee Kim 0 Yes None 561 25
 Sung Joon Park 0 No None 176 45
 Carlos Sainz, Jr. 0 No None 512 49
 Byron Smith 0 Alternate None 433 21
 Daniel Berger 1 Yes T-28 2014 U.S. Open 286 28
 Zac Blair 1 Yes T-40 2014 U.S. Open 259 11
 Tom Hoge 1 Yes MC 2011 Canadian 463 19
 Carlos Ortiz 1 Yes T-65 2014 Memorial 130 3
 Zack Sucher 1 Yes MC 2009 John Deere 190 14

Have game, will travel

Having only been held since 2007, the Open doesn’t have a long and storied history, but some players have shown an ability to play well in the NorCal event, whether it was contested at Grayhawk (until 2009) or CordeValle. Among the list below, Molder and Clark were in the top 10 at both of the tournament’s previous stops. Can they make it three in 2014?

Most top-10 finishes in Open history (among players in this year’s field)

 Player Top 10s Best finishes
 Mike Weir 3 Won in 2007, T-4 in 2008, T-6 in 2009
 Alex Cejka 2 T-6 in 2007, T-8 in 2009
 Bryce Molder 2 T-6 in 2009, Won in 2011
 Jimmy Walker 2 T-4 in 2012, Won in 2013
 Pat Perez 2 T-6 in 2007, T-7 in 2008
 Tim Clark 2 T-4 in 2009, T-6 in 2010
 Vijay Singh 2 T-4 in 2010, 2nd in 2013

One final thought: Matt Kuchar, ninth on the Official World Golf Ranking, is the only top-10 player in the field. He’s making his tournament debut at the Frys, but you might expect a good performance. He has been in the top 10 in his season-opening event in each of the past two years (T-9 Hyundai in 2013, T-7 McGladrey last season).

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Dunlap, in 'excruciating pain,' shares early Dominion lead

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:29 pm

RICHMOND, Va. – Scott Dunlap and Fran Quinn shot 5-under 67 on Friday to share the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Fighting a left wrist injury that will require surgery, Dunlap matched Quinn with a closing birdie on the par-5 18th on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''Maybe excruciating pain is the key to playing good golf because I'm not getting nervous on a shot, you're just trying to get through it,'' Dunlap said. ''The worst parts are gripping it and getting the club started ... that's when that bone hits that bone.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

The 55-year-old Dunlap entered the week 29th in the standings. Playing through the wrist injury, he's coming off ties for ninth and seventh in his last two starts.

''I think I finally taped it the right way,'' Dunlap said. ''Or maybe it's the pain meds kicking in. I don't know, one of the two.''

Quinn is 64th in the standings.

''I finished up strong last year, too, kind of secured my privileges for the following year making eagle on 18,'' Quinn said. ''I played solid all day. I had a lot of opportunities. A couple hiccups.''

Jay Haas was a stroke back with Kent Jones, Stephen Ames, Woody Austin and Tim Petrovic. The 64-year-old Haas won the last of his 18 senior titles in 2016.

Vijay Singh and Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, were at 69 with Joey Sindelar, Tom Gillis, Billy MayfairLee Janzen, Glen Day and Gene Sauers.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer opened with a 70. The 61-year-old German star won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the points lead. He has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

Defending Charles Schwab Cup champion Kevin Sutherland had a 71. He's 14th in the standings. No. 3 Jerry Kelly shot 72. No. 4 Scott McCarron, the 2016 tournament winner, had a 74.

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Weather continues to plague Valderrama Masters

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 7:55 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Marc Warren helped his chances of retaining his European Tour card by moving into a tie for second place behind Englishman Ashley Chesters at the rain-hit Andalucia Valderrama Masters on Friday.

Bad weather interrupted play for a second straight day at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain before darkness caused the second round to be suspended until Saturday, with overnight Chesters still ahead at 5-under.

Weather delays on Thursday, including a threat of lightning, had kept 60 golfers from finishing their opening round. They included Scottish player Warren, who went out on Friday and finished his first round with a 2-under 69.

He then made three birdies to go with one bogey on the first nine holes of the second round before play was halted. He joined Frenchman Gregory Bourdy one shot behind Chesters.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

''I'm hitting the ball as well as I have in a long time,'' Warren said. ''Hitting fairways and greens is the most important thing around here, so hopefully I wake up tomorrow with the same swing.''

Chesters and Bourdy were among several golfers unable to play a single hole in the second round on Friday.

Warren, a three-time European Tour winner, has struggled this season and needs a strong performance to keep his playing privileges for next year.

Currently ranked 144th, Warren needs to break into the top 116 to keep his card.

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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.

Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.