Driving Off with a Win is Paramount
Lets start with No. 1 Vijay Singh. He ended last year with nine wins and nearly $11 million. Most importantly, he finished the year as World No. 1 and PGA Tour Player of the Year. All thats great, but you can bet hes heard the rumblings that Tiger Woods is more than just close. Vijay would like to have none of that talk as the year gets going. His first-round 66 here gave him the first-round lead and put players on alert that Singh wont surrender the ranking, the accolades or the spotlight without a fight. A Singh win this week would be huge for him ' making a big statement about what his role will be in the 2005 PGA Tour storyline.
As for No. 2 Tiger, he really is close. Im no swing analyst, but I consider myself a good listener. I believe what I hear and what I see makes sense. Having talked with Woods at the Target World Challenge last month, I noticed the smirk of confidence having returned to his face. Newly married and newly 29 years of age, Woods has been on the PGA Tour 10 years now, and until now, has begun each and every season as the man to beat. This years conventional thinking says that honor belongs to Singh. But with apologies to Vijay, I think its Woods. It wont take long to see if he is back. This week presents more than just an opportunity to get an official stroke-play win, it gives Woods and his fans a chance to really do some fist-pumping, and yell look out below to those whod finish below him on the final Mercedes Championships leaderboard!
How about No. 3 Ernie Els. Hes my pick for PGA Tour Player of the Year in 2005 (more on that later). Els is in his mid-30s now and appears more ready than ever to put the job of winning on the PGA Tour at the top of his priority list. Hes been dominant wherever hes played, but skeptics (including PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem) have said he hasnt played enough in the U.S. Well, the other day, Els, who's smoothed things over with the tour, said hell play the first three West Coast events in succession, and if things dont go as planned, may add an event early in the schedule. Ernie came closer than anyone last year to winning all four majors. He walked away with zero. A win this week puts him on the right track. Els and Woods dont play as often as Singh, making each start more critical. Big payday this week ' important if the money title is a goal.
No. 4 in the world is Retief Goosen. His late season win at the Tour Championship capped off a fantastic season. Later he won the big money Nedbank Challenge. Retief isnt the type to trumpet his wins or his goals. But hes the wildcard in all of this. A few early-season wins propel him in the right direction and give him plenty of publicity. A win here at Kapalua over Singh, Woods and Els gives us good reason to shout his name more often -- whether hes comfortable with that or not.
Here are a couple of other thoughts looking ahead this year. This weeks Mercedes Championships give us reason to forecast a little bit. Our 'Sprint Pre-Post Game' producer Eric Saperstein put us on the spot for picks. If you didnt catch them, heres mine.
Player of Year: Els. Easy to go with Woods, which my buddies Brian Hewitt and Mark Rolfing did. I gave it great thought, too. But Player of the Year comes down to major championship wins IF you win more than one. And I think Els gets two this year. I really like him at the Masters, and I like him even more at Baltusrol and the PGA Championship. A few other wins sprinkled in and Els becomes '05s Vijay and maybe World No. 1.
Comeback Player: Rocco Mediate. Id love to see David Duval hit the jackpot. A perplexing story without an ending yet, Duvals confidence will be the deciding factor. Mediate had injury trouble again last year. The back is always a trouble spot. Hes playing '05 on a one-time Top 50 Career Money exemption. Usually when guys dip into that bag to stay afloat they swim hard and fast. Roccos got plenty left in the tank.
First Win/Breakout Player: This is a fun category. Harrison Frazar is more due than a 10-year-old library book and I like his chances. But hes been so close so often its too easy to tab him. I like Briny Baird. A few tours of duty on the Nationwide Tour really seasoned this guy. Hes a straight shooter from the fairway ' one of the best in G.I.R. Hes contended and nearly won (John Deere Classic when David Gossett won), but has always been a consistent money winner. Money is nice; wins get you to Kapalua. Ill plan on seeing Briny here next year.
Thats all for now, gotta get some sun before I go to work. Aloha!
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
LPGA's new Q-Series to offer deferrals for amateurs
The LPGA’s new Q-Series, which takes the place of the final stage of Q-School beginning this year, will come with a revolutionary new twist for amateurs.
For the first time, the LPGA will offer deferrals that will allow amateurs to win tour membership in December but delay turning pro until the following June or July, tour commissioner Mike Whan told GolfChannel.com.
It’s a notable change, because the deferral will allow a collegiate player to earn tour membership at the end of this year but retain amateur status to finish out her collegiate spring season next year, before joining the tour.
“We haven’t done that in the past, because we didn’t want an onslaught, where every player in college is trying to join the tour,” Whan said.
The way it worked in the past, a collegian could advance through the final stage of Q-School, but if that player earned the right to a tour card and wanted to take up membership, she had to declare after the final round that she was turning pro. It meant the player would leave her college team in the middle of the school year. It was a particularly difficult decision for players who earned conditional LPGA status, and it played havoc with the makeup of some college teams.
Whan said the revamped Q-Series format won’t create the collegiate stampede that deferrals might have in the past.
“It will take a unique talent to show up at the first stage of Q-School and say, ‘I’ll see you at Q-Series,’” Whan said. “There won’t be a lot of amateurs who make it there.”
Under the new qualifying format, there will continue to be a first and second stage of Q-School, but it will be much harder to advance to the final stage, now known Q-Series.
Under the old format, about 80 players advanced from the second stage to the Q-School finals. Under the new format, only 20 to 30 players from the second stage will advance to the Q-Series, and only a portion of those are likely to be collegians.
Under the new format, a maximum of 108 players will meet at the Q-Series finals, where a minimum of 45 tour cards will be awarded after 144 holes of competition, played over two weeks on two different courses. The field will include players who finished 101st to 150th and ties on the final LPGA money list, and players who finished 11th to 30th and ties on the final Symetra Tour money list. The field will also include up to 10 players from among the top 75 of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and the top five players on the Golfweek Women’s Collegiate Rankings.
“We feel if you make it to the Q-Series finals as a college player, you are probably among the best of the best, and we ought to give you the opportunity to finish the college year,” Whan said.
University of Washington coach Mary Lou Mulflur said she would prefer amateurs not be allowed to compete at Q-School, but she called this a workable compromise.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Mulflur said. “It’s better than the way it’s been in the past. That was hard, because it broke up teams.”
Mulflur said she disliked the tough position the former policy put college players in at the final stage of Q-School, where they had to decide at event’s end whether to turn pro and accept tour membership.
“I can’t imagine being a kid in that position, and I’ve had a couple kids in that position,” Mulflur said. “It’s hard on everybody, the player, the family and the coaches. You hear about coaches standing there begging a kid not to turn pro, and that’s just not the way it should be, for the coach or the player.”
Mulflur agreed with Whan that the new Q-Series format should limit the number of collegians who have a chance to win tour cards.
“I believe it’s a good compromise, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out going forward,” Mulflur said. “Kudos to the commissioner for giving kids this option.”
Whan said collegians who take deferrals will be counseled.
“We will sit down with them and their families and explain the risks,” Whan said. “If you take a deferral and start playing on July 15, you might find yourself back in Q-Series again later that year, because you may not have enough time.”
Tour still focused on security after death of suspected Austin bomber
AUSTIN, Texas – Although the suspect in the wave of Austin-area bombings was killed early Wednesday, the PGA Tour plans to continue heightened security measures at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.
According to various news outlets, Mark Anthony Conditt has been identified as the bombings suspect, and he was killed by an explosion inside his car in Round Rock, Texas, which is 19 miles north of Austin Country Club.
“We do not comment on the specifics of our security measures, but we are continuing to work in close collaboration with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in Austin to ensure the safety of our players and fans at this week’s tournament,” the Tour said in a statement. “Regardless of the recent developments, our heightened security procedures will remain in place through the remainder of the week.”
Authorities believe Conditt is responsible for the five explosions that killed two people and injured five others in Austin or south-central Texas since March 2.
Play began Wednesday at the Match Play.
Monahan addresses alcohol, fan behavior at events
AUSTIN, Texas – Fan behavior has become a hot-button topic on the PGA Tour in recent weeks, with Rory McIlroy suggesting on Saturday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational the circuit should “limit alcohol sales on the course.”
The Tour’s policy is to stop selling alcohol an hour before the end of play, which is normally around 5 p.m., and on Wednesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play commissioner Jay Monahan said it’s something the Tour is monitoring.
“When you have people who aren’t behaving properly and they’ve had too much alcohol, then I agree [with McIlroy],” Monahan said. “In those incidences those people who are making it uncomfortable for a player alcohol sales should be cut off.”
Fan behavior became an issue with some players when Tiger Woods returned to competition at last month’s Genesis Open. During the final round of the Honda Classic Justin Thomas had a fan removed when he yelled for Thomas’ tee shot at the par-4 16th hole to “get in the bunker.”
Monahan declined to address Thomas’ situation at PGA National specifically, but he did seem to suggest that as interest grows and the Tour continues to attract more mainstream sports crowds, vocal fans will continue to be the norm.
“I believe that there was more that went into it that preceded and in a situation like that we’re hopeful our players will reach out to our security staff and they can handle that,” Monahan said. “[But] yelling, ‘get in the bunker,’ that’s part of what our players have to accept. In any sport, you go to an away game, in any other sport, and people aren’t rooting for you. Sometimes out here you’re going to have fans that aren’t rooting for you, but they can’t interfere with what you’re trying to do competitively.”
Senden playing first event since son's brain tumor
John Senden is back inside the ropes for the first time in nearly a year at this week's Chitimacha Louisiana Open on the Web.com Tour.
Senden took a leave of absence from professional golf in April, when his teenage son, Jacob, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He didn't touch a club for nearly four months as Jacob endured six rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, a gauntlet that stretched from April until mid-November.
But Senden told PGATour.com that his son's tumor has shrunk from the size of a thumbnail to the size of a pinky nail, and after a promising MRI in January he decided to plan his comeback.
"I haven't really played in 12 months, but in that time Jacob has really, really hung tough," Senden said. "His whole body was getting slammed with all these treatments, and he was so strong in his whole attitude and his whole body. Just really getting through the whole thing. He was tough."
Senden was granted a family crisis exemption by the Tour, and he'll have 13 starts to earn 310 FedExCup points to retain his playing privileges for the 2018-19 season. He is allowed five Web.com "rehabilitation" starts as part of the exemption, but will reportedly only make one this week before returning to the PGA Tour at the RBC Heritage, followed by starts in San Antonio, Charlotte and Dallas.
Senden, 46, has won twice on Tour, most recently the 2014 Valspar Championship.