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Youth - and Sergio! - reigned on Tour this season

By John FeinsteinSeptember 26, 2017, 7:29 pm

It was certainly no surprise on Sunday when one of the game’s talented 20-somethings walked off with the Tour Championship trophy.

After all, they had already won three of the year’s four majors and that didn’t take into account 22-year-old Jon Rahm, who won twice worldwide and, along with Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Marc Leishman came to East Lake knowing a win would guarantee the FedExCup and the accompanying $10 million bonus.

Sure enough, when the dust finally cleared late Sunday, there was one of the 20-somethings being handed a replica of Bobby Jones’ Calamity Jane putter, which is the new winners’ trophy for the Tour Championship.

Congratulations, Xander Schauffele.

Xander, who?

It is a reasonable question to ask, given that a year ago Schauffele had to fight his way through the Web.com Tour playoffs just to get to the PGA Tour. His rookie year was already a success when he won The Greenbrier Classic in July, earning a two-year Tour exemption and an invitation to next year’s Masters.

What’s more, he needed a final-round 67 a week ago in Chicago to finish T-20 at the BMW Championship and sneak into the top 30 for Atlanta. Given the chance to play the last week of the season, he never blinked – except perhaps when he almost punched his two-foot birdie putt for the win at 18 past the cup. The ball did a near-360 but went in, leaving Schauffele laughing in both embarrassment and relief.


Video: Top shots from the 2016-17 PGA Tour season


For Schauffele, it was the perfect finish. For the Tour it was almost perfect. A perfect finish would have been Thomas, who should be the unanimous choice as Player of the Year, rolling in his 25-foot birdie putt at 18 and going on to win the tournament and the FedExCup. Instead, he had to settle for second place in the tournament and the $10 million bonus for the season-long competition.

At 24, Thomas is now one of the sport’s elite players. His 2017 wasn’t quite up to the standard set by Spieth in 2015 when Spieth won two majors, five tournaments and that year’s big-money bonus. Thomas won five times too – including the PGA Championship – and just missed win No. 6 on Sunday.

This was a year filled with eye-popping performances. While Thomas was the clear-cut Player of the Year; Spieth the clear-cut runner-up and Schauffele the slam dunk Rookie of the Year, the moment of the year was just as clear-cut: Sergio Garcia winning the Masters.

There’s a famous opera called ‘The Flying Dutchman.’ It is about a sea captain who is destined to sail the world forever unless he can somehow find true love. Every seven years he finds land and is given the chance to find someone who will love him forever. In the Wagnerian opera, the captain DOES find true love – but only in death. After all, that’s the way all operas end.

Garcia was luckier. After sailing the seven seas of the golf world for 18 years without a major title, he found true love – new wife Angela Akins ­– and lived to win in Augusta this past April, coming from three strokes down on the back nine on Sunday to beat Justin Rose in a playoff. Mercifully, Garcia didn’t start singing an aria when his final putt went in the hole.

As it turned out, Garcia was the oldest of the year’s major champions. Brooks Koepka, who won the U.S. Open with a bravura Sunday performance was 27; Spieth was about to be 24 when he won in July; and Thomas, three months older than Spieth, was 24 when he won at Quail Hollow. Schauffele is 23; Rahm is 22.

That list doesn’t include Jason Day, who turns 30 in November, Rory McIlroy, who won’t be 29 until next May and Rickie Fowler who turns 29 in December. All are still young, it only FEELS like they’ve been around forever.

For all three, 2017 was mostly forgettable. Fowler won early and contended often, but didn’t win again. Neither McIlroy nor Day won at all, a stunning development. Day had to deal with his mother’s cancer and his own various health issues and a year that led to his stunning decision to fire Colin Swatton, his longtime mentor and caddie, although he kept him on as his coach.

McIroy also had injury issues. He never completely recovered from the fractured rib he suffered early in the year and, in 20/20 hindsight, it seems apparent he should have taken more time off before coming back to play. One can only hope he will take a lengthy break now and that we’ll see the real McIlroy again next year. It has now been more than three years since he won his last major in the darkness at Valhalla in 2014.

And Fowler? He is still without a major. No doubt that’s unbelievably frustrating for him and he’s probably pretty tired of giving congratulatory hugs to his buddies as they walk off with major hardware. It is worth noting though that some pretty good players were well past their 30th birthday when they won their first major: Ben Hogan and Phil Mickelson come to mind. Arnold Palmer was 28.

It’s far too soon for Fowler fans to panic. He’s far more likely to be Mickelson than Colin Montgomerie.

And what of Mickelson? His streak without a win of any kind dates now back to Muirfield in 2013, when he had perhaps his most satisfying win since The Open was the one major he honestly believed he might not ever win. He’s still got the U.S. Open left to complete a career Grand Slam, just as McIroy still needs a Masters and Spieth needs a PGA. Don’t think for one second that missing out on one major doesn’t weigh on the minds of those great players who win three of the four.

Palmer was in his 80s when someone asked if he could have won wish fulfilled late in life what would it be? “Win the PGA,” he said. Tom Watson once said he would trade three of his five Opens for one PGA.

McIlroy will still be 28 when he next plays the Masters; Spieth will be 25 at next year’s PGA. Mickelson will turn 48 on the Saturday of next year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock. Clearly, the hourglass for him is close to empty.

In all, 2017 was one of golf’s better years in recent memory. The 20-somethings (19 wins and three of the four majors) dominated. That’s why the combination of Schauffele and Thomas hoisting the big trophies at East Lake was as it should be.

This is the second-to-last year that the Tour Championship will be played in late September. The Tour is already putting together a new, more compact schedule intended to move this event to the last week in August beginning in 2019. In all likelihood, the playoffs will take place in August and should draw more attention without football to compete with.

The change in schedule and format represents a great chance for the Tour to shake up the points system: create a true playoff with everyone starting at zero once the regular season ends.

And so, to put a coda on 2017, how about this: Thomas, Spieth, Koepka and Garcia were the year’s biggest winners, Garcia’s victory the most dramatic. And, it can be argued that Schauffele’s win in the finale was the most surprising. And, in all likelihood, he was the most surprised winner of them all.

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Finau lifts team to opening 62 on improving ankle

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 6:24 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Tony Finau continues to thrive on his injured ankle.

Playing for the first time since the Masters, where he tied for 10th despite a high-ankle sprain, Finau matched partner Daniel Summerhays with six birdies to shoot a combined 10-under 62 in fourballs Thursday at the Zurich Classic.

Finau still isn’t 100 percent – he said he's closer to 70 percent – even after two weeks of rest and physical therapy. During that time he worked with doctors at the University of Utah Orthopedic Center and also the training staff with the Utah Jazz. Before the Zurich, he had played only nine holes.


Full-field scores from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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“Sometimes simplicity is huge in this game,” he said. “There is not a lot of thoughts in my swing in the first place, so there can’t be that many thoughts when you don’t practice. It served me well today.”

Partnering with Summerhays, his fellow Utah resident and a friend for more than a decade, they combined to make 12 birdies during an opening round that left them only two shots back of the early lead.

Asked afterward how his ankle felt, Finau said: “Feeling a lot better after that 62. A great remedy for something hurting is some good golf.”  

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Sources: Woods returning to Wells Fargo

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 26, 2018, 6:07 pm

Tiger Woods is expected to return to competition at next week's Wells Fargo Championship, according to multiple Golf Channel sources. The news of Woods' participation was first reported Thursday on "Golf Central."

Woods has not played since a T-32 finish at the Masters. A winner at Quail Hollow in 2007, Woods has not made the cut there since a fourth-place showing in 2009 and has not played Wells Fargo since 2012. He missed last year's PGA Championship at Quail Hollow because of injury.

Woods has until 5 p.m. ET Friday to officially commit to next week's field. When reached for comment by GolfChannel.com, Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, explained that Woods' plans were not yet finalized.

"We don't know right now (if Woods will play)," Steinberg said. "We'll know later this afternoon. We're working on a couple things."

A trip to Charlotte would be another sign that the 42-year-old is ready to return to a customary schedule, as next week's event would be followed by Woods' expected return to The Players for the first time since 2015. Woods has already committed to the U.S. Open, which will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major victory.

After starting the year ranked No. 656 in the world, Woods is up to No. 91 in the latest world rankings. He recorded three straight top-12 finishes during the Florida swing, including a runner-up finish alongside Patrick Reed at the Valspar Championship and a T-5 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

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USGA receives more than 9,000 U.S. Open entries

By Will GrayApril 26, 2018, 4:31 pm

The field of contestants for golf's most democratic major has been set.

The USGA announced that it received 9,049 entries for this year's U.S. Open, with the deadline for entry expiring at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday. That total includes 515 applications on the final day, 115 in the final hour and a buzzer-beater from Drew Caudill, a 32-year-old pro from Mount Vernon, Ohio, who beat the entry deadline by only 23 seconds.

This marks the seventh straight year that the USGA has received more than 9,000 entries, but the total marks the second straight year of a decline in applications. At least 9,860 players entered each year from 2013-16, topping out in 2014 when 10,127 applications were received. But last year there were 9,485 entries for Erin Hills, and this year's return to Shinnecock yielded only one more application than the USGA got in 2005.

For the vast majority of entrants, the next step is a spot in 18-hole local qualifying which begins April 30 and runs through May 17. The fortunate few advance from there to 36-hole sectional qualifiers, played May 21 in Japan and June 4 across 11 other sites in the U.S. and England.

A total of 54 players are already exempt into the 156-man field, including 12 former winners. The only remaining ways to earn an exemption from qualifying are to win either The Players or BMW PGA Championship next month, or be ranked inside the top 60 in the Official World Golf Rankings on either May 21 or June 11.

The U.S. Open will be played June 14-17 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., which is hosting the event for the first time since 2004.

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Report: Houston Open may move to Memorial Park in '19

By Will GrayApril 26, 2018, 3:48 pm

Still without a permanent spot on the PGA Tour schedule, the Houston Open appears to be on the move.

According to a report from the Houston Business Journal, there is a proposal in place to shift the tournament downtown in 2019, returning to Memorial Park Golf Course which previously hosted the event from 1951-1963.

While formal relocation plans have not been announced, the tournament officially reached the end of an era this week when the Golf Club of Houston, which has hosted the event since 2003, informed the Houston Golf Association that it would no longer serve as tournament host moving forward.

"We received notice this week from the Golf Club of Houston regarding the club's decision to no longer host a PGA Tour event," read an HGA statement obtained by GolfChannel.com. "Currently, the HGA's focus is on securing a long-term title sponsor. The Golf Club of Houston has been a great venue for the Houston Open dating back to 2003 and we look forward to maintaining a great relationship with the club."

Such a move would be a win for Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, who has expressed an interest in returning the tournament within city limits. The Golf Club of Houston is located in Humble, a suburb 20 miles northeast of downtown.

"This move would place the tournament on center stage in downtown Houston, creating a central location for the city to rally around," read marketing materials cited in the Business Journal report. "Houston Proud Partners of the Houston Open would have the opportunity to collaborate with the Houston Golf Association on this historic move and make a lasting statement that would be seen for generations."

The Houston Open's lineage dates back to 1946, but its future remains in question. Shell Oil ended its 26-year sponsorship of the event in 2017, and this year it was played without a title sponsor and financed in part by the HGA.

The tournament has also carved out a niche with its pre-Masters slot on the schedule, where it has been played every year but once since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007. But next year that coveted position will go to the Valero Texas Open, leaving Houston's place on a revamped 2019 schedule in question.

The Houston Open remains one of only two tournaments on the current Tour calendar without a title sponsor. Earlier this week Charles Schwab signed a four-year deal to sponsor the Fort Worth Invitational beginning in 2019, and a report this week indicates the other unsponsored event, The National, may be on the verge of moving from the Washington, D.C. area to Detroit.