Players skipping TOC overshadowing those playing event

By Jason SobelJanuary 2, 2013, 11:38 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – There’s trouble in paradise. And it isn’t the blew-out-my-flip-flop, stepped-on-a-pop-top kind of trouble.

This week marks the beginning of the PGA Tour season, with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions taking place here on the island of Maui, against the backdrop of breaching whales, resplendent rainbows and abundant palm trees. If that doesn’t sound appealing enough, players are shuttled back and forth from the nearby Ritz-Carlton, which isn’t exactly a Motel 6.

“I was walking around near the hotel yesterday and I looked around and told my wife, ‘I want to be here every year,’ said Webb Simpson, who finished in a share of third place last year. “To be able to start your year in Hawaii, it doesn’t get any better.”

Even aesthetically challenged competitors can find beauty in the tournament’s format. After many of them had shut it down during the holidays, they can now enjoy the relaxed nature of this week’s four-round, no-cut, guaranteed money setup. Consider it the Tour’s version of a holiday bonus.

So where’s the trouble? Check the numbers.

Of the 37 players who qualified for this event by winning in 2012, only 30 are here, leaving the rest to cruise on back home.

Hyundai Tournament of Champions tee times | Featured pairings

That number may provide an above average percentage for greens in regulation, but it denotes a problem for what should – or at least could – be one of the crown jewels of the annual schedule. In effect, those here are being overshadowed by those who chose to stay away.

Especially because the Magnificent Seven is a who’s who list of special talents: Rory McIlroyLuke DonaldTiger WoodsJustin RoseSergio GarciaPhil MickelsonErnie Els.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s the top four players in the world ranking and three others who are 24th or better. They have accounted for 156 career PGA Tour victories and two dozen major championship titles.

In other words, they’re really good.

And none of them are here.

Aloha really does mean goodbye.

It’s easy to place blame on the players themselves for being too greedy/lazy/apathetic/inflexible. Choose your favorite adjective. But that is too narrow of a view. Many of those seven were competing into December and five retain membership on other tours, which requires widespread travel throughout the year.

The fact is, there are many other tournaments throughout the season for which all seven of those players will technically be eligible – including next week’s Sony Open – but won’t play due to other commitments or family priorities or simply needing a week of rest.

It’s also not as if this is a new issue, either. This tournament has been losing superstars on an annual basis for the past decade, yet has continued in its current form. All of which could translate to the Tour being labeled more inflexible than any of the players.

If anything, it’s a shared blame here, but there is no apparent solution.

Change the date? Change the venue? Offer more prize money? Increase the field size? Decrease it?

Quite frankly, none of those factors would ensure the A-listers return to this event. It says less about the TOC, though, than it does the rest of the schedule. When the likes of Woods and Mickelson first played this tournament, there were no World Golf Championship events, no FedEx Cup playoffs and less of an importance on other late-season global events.

“It is far to come,” Simpson explained, “but so is Abu Dhabi, Qatar – those places are pretty far, too. So I don’t know. I think the way the game is changing, it’s becoming more global. Guys are playing around the world more than they used to.”

As if to further complicate matters, this tournament will remain in its current slot going forward, despite the impending wraparound schedule. What it means is that PGA Tour winners during each calendar year will earn invitations to an exclusive event that will now fall as the seventh tourney of the season, but first of the actual year.

Still, it doesn’t solve any of the issues about getting those Magnificent Seven to the Aloha State.

“Our season is so long now. You basically play all year, right to the end of the year and I think guys need some time away,” said defending champion Steve Stricker. “It’s just a tough spot for some guys. Others, we love being here. I hear the field is better this year, so I think it’s going in the right direction.”

There’s still trouble in paradise, with so many elite players skipping the festivities. The other 30 who are here will just have to make do with four rounds earning guaranteed money adjacent to the mighty Pacific.

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Haas nearly shoots age in taking Champions playoff opener lead

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 10:05 pm

RICHMOND, Va.  -- Jay Haas shot a 7-under 65 - missing his age by a stroke - to take a two-shot lead Saturday in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Trying to become the oldest winner in tour history, the 64-year-old Haas birdied the par-5 16th and 18th holes to get to 11-under 133 on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''I've been out here too long to know that I can learn to expect anything,'' Haas said. ''While I'm hopeful every day and I've been playing OK, the last couple weeks have not been very good, but this week has been much better. I love this golf course and it looks good to my eye. Most of the holes look like I'm going to hit a good shot, so I enjoy playing here.''

Mike Fetchick set the age record of 63 years to the day in the 1985 Hilton Head event. Haas is second on the list, taking the 2016 Toshiba Classic at 62 years, 10 months, 7 days for his 18th senior title.

''That's a good way to say I'm old, 'experience,''' Haas said. ''I think I'm very nervous most of the time when I play and today was no exception, but I continued to hit good shots and, hopefully, I can put one foot in front of the other, one shot at a time, do what I tell my son to do every time, you know? See if I can put some of those adages to work tomorrow.''

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

Stephen Ames and Scott Dunlap were tied for second after the round that started in light rain. Ames had a 67, and Dunlap shot 68.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer had a 66 to join Billy Mayfair (67) and Woody Austin (68) at 9 under. Langer won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the season points lead. The 61-year-old German star has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

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, California, and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, was tied for 23rd at 4 under after a 71.

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Sergio leads by 4 entering final round at Valderrama

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 20, 2018, 9:26 pm

Sergio Garcia closed with three straight birdies to shoot a 7-under 64 on Saturday, taking a four-shot lead into the third and final round of the Andalusia Valderrama Masters.

The tournament, which Garcia has won  twice (2017, 2011), was reduced to 54 holes because of numerous weather-related delays.

With his bogey-free round, Garcia moved to 10 under, four shots clear of Englishman Ashley Chesters, who shot a 1-under 70.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

"Hopefully we'll be able to play well tomorrow and get another win at Valderrama," Garcia said. "Hopefully I can finish it in style."

Chesters, however, is conceding nothing. "There's always a chance," he said. "There's not a lot of pressure on me."

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain shot a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Ciganda is attempting to win her third LPGA title and first since the 2016 season, when she won two tournaments in a one-month span. Kim is chasing her eighth career LPGA win and second title of the 2018 season.

''I want to win because I didn't win last year,'' Ciganda said. ''I love playing in Asia. It's good for long hitters, playing quite long, so I'm quite comfortable.''

Full-field scores from the Buick LPGA Shanghai

Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).

Yin and Altomare have yet to break through for their first LPGA win. A win in Shanghai would make either player the ninth first-time winner of the 2018 season, which would tie 2016 for the third highest number of first-time winners in a season in LPGA history.

''I love competing,'' Yin said. ''That's why I'm playing, right? I'm excited to be in contention again going into Sunday.''

Local favorite Yu Liu was seventh after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

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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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

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"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "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."