Easing into the Season

By Mercer BaggsJanuary 8, 2006, 5:00 pm
The Mercedes Championships played much like a major championship. The conditions were quite difficult, no one ever reached double digits under par, many of the top names were in contention, and Sergio Garcia wasn't a factor on Sunday.
 
It really had the feel of a U.S. Open, minus everyone complaining about the layout ' and minus the drama.
 
While the tournament was tightly contested throughout, and the top of the leaderboard featured names like Appleby and Campbell and Furyk and Singh, there wasnt a lot about which to get excited.
 
Some of it might have had to do with the absence of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but there was more to it that just that.
 
Woods and Mickelson complained last year that the season is too long, and in a way they were right. The PGA Tour season is not too long; the golfing season is too long.
 
The final official tour event of 2005 concluded on Nov. 6. Had that really been it, we ' at least I ' would have been jonesing for the return of golf in 06. I would have needed a fix. Instead, there was the Franklin Templeton Shootout and the WGC-World Cup and the Target World Challenge and the Skins Game and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. Not to mention the Father/Son Challenge and the Wendys 3-Tour Challenge and the Tommy Bahama Challenge. And events in China and Japan and South Africa and Australia.
 
It was an off-season overdose.
 
And when I returned to the office this past week I felt like I was in some kind of suffocating relationship. I just wanted to tell Golf: Hey, I think we need a break. Some time away from one another ' just a week, maybe. Its not you; its me. Actually, its you.
 
But this did turn out to be a pretty good tournament to kick-start the season. And now I think Im ready. Ready to make commitment to the 2006 season. If not this week, then maybe when they hit the mainland. Certainly by the Florida Swing.
 
Maybe I'm just bitter because my Cincinnati Bengals lost Sunday. Or maybe I'm just bitter because I didn't get to go to Maui (more likely). But while I wasnt geeked up about this past weeks tournament, I did find plenty things that provoked thought:
 
  • Being that the Plantation course played much like a major venue, will this be the year that Appleby nets a maiden major championship? And for that matter, will it be the year for Garcia? Though the two are separated by nine years in age (Garcia turns 26 Monday, by the way), the elder Appleby has competed in only seven more majors. Garcia has played in 29, Appleby 36. You could say that with such experience that its time for one or both of these two to finally win one. But first they have to start contending. Appleby lost in a four-man playoff in the 2002 Open Championship. That, however, is just one of three career top-10s for the Aussie in major competition, compared to 15 missed cuts. Garcia will point out that he has five top-5 finishes, two of which came last year. But in only two of those did he actually have a chance to win, the 1999 PGA and 2002 U.S. Open. In the other three, he finished an average of six strokes behind the winner.
     
  • Singh said Saturday evening that he felt like he had a good round in him for Sunday. He was right. Singh's 66 was the lowest score all week by three strokes, and one of only two sub-70 scores by the entire field. He said at the end of last year that he kind of coasted to the finish line, didn't put forth his normal 100-percent performance off the course. Refocused and rededicated ' he reportedly spent eight hours practicing on Christmas Day, he may be in store for another monster campaign. But this year is already looking more like '05 than '04. He had a chance to win last year's Mercedes, only to blow a 54-hole lead with a closing 74. He then blew chances to win The Honda and Bay Hill at the buzzer. This time, he lost yet again with a game-ending mistake.
     
  • Just about everybody with a forum to do so has offered up their opinion on whether or not Woods, Mickelson, Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington should have made the trip to Kapalua. I wont belabor the issue, but I do think they should have gone. Im aware that they are independent contractors and can pick and choose which events they want to play. But they should support the tour ' the one that has provided them with the lifestyle that affords them the luxury to pass on the opportunity for a $1.08 million paycheck ' by playing in a premiere event like this one ' especially considering Mercedes-Benz is undecided on whether or not they want to renew their sponsorship with the tour.
     
  • We know that Appleby is in the field for the 07 Mercedes. But who will join him in the winners-only event? You would have to think that Singh, Furyk, Garcia and David Toms will likely be back. But for most everyone else, its a complete toss-up. Michael Campbell, not being a PGA Tour member, will have difficulty earning a return trip, unless he should win another major or a WGC event. He was one of 11 first-timers in this years field. Of them, I would give the best chance for a repeat appearance to Lucas Glover, Geoff Ogilvy and Carl Pettersen.
     
  • You would have to think that Woods and Mickelson will again have the chance to turn down a trip to paradise. Goosen, too. It will be most interesting, however, to see if Goosens countryman, Ernie Els, can punch a ticket. Els, the 2003 Mercedes champion, missed 4 months last year due to knee surgery. He returned in December and promptly won in just his second start back. According to his website, Els is scheduled to compete in 18 tour events this season, but none until the Nissan Open in mid-February. Prior to Riviera, he is slated to play three consecutive tournaments in the Middle East, beginning in two weeks.
     
  • There were only 28 players in this weeks field, so it didnt take long to scan the list from top to bottom. Bringing up the rear on the final leaderboard were 05s two most compelling stories. Last year was like a Cinderella tale for Sean OHair and Jason Gore. It may now be 12:01 in the a.m. It will be very difficult for the two to match their precedent campaigns. Fortunately for both, they have a year of grace before they have to worry about holding onto their tour cards. This certainly isnt to say that these four rounds are a harbinger of things to come. Having talked with both players at the end of last season, it didnt seem like either one had planned on playing too much over the final two months. They likely entered this event with an accumulation of rust and just werent able to shake it under the trying conditions. Plus, Im sure that both were more interested in enjoying this experience than worrying about where they would ultimately finish.
     
  • Of course, the tour will next hop over to Oahu for the upcoming Sony Open. And, of course, Michelle Wie will be the center of attention. I understand that there are people unhappy about her inclusion, and plenty of others who feel saturated in Wie coverage. Well, get used to seeing her ' more and more and more of her. With two LPGA tournaments in Hawaii to start their season and the Kraft Nabisco Championship beginning at the end of March, youll be getting more Michelle over the first quarter of this year than you could ever have asked for. My advice: just sit back and enjoy it. Lets see what shes got.
     
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    Goal for new world No. 1 Koepka: Stay healthy

    By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 1:38 pm

    Last season Brooks Koepka bagged a pair of majors en route to the PGA Tour's Player of the Year award. He started the new wraparound season with an emphatic win at the CJ Cup to reach world No. 1 for the first time.

    But amid the best form of his career, Koepka has a simple goal in mind as he gets ready to turn his attention to the new year.

    "Stay healthy," Koepka told reporters. "That's been the big thing. I need to be healthy to be able to play all these events, play all the majors."

    Koepka's breakthrough year comes despite the fact that he missed four months in the spring, including the Masters, while recovering from a wrist injury. He hit the ground running once he returned, with strong finishes at TPC Sawgrass and Colonial preceding wins at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

    Now Koepka has added a third trophy after cruising to a four-shot win in South Korea on Sunday that allowed him to move past Dustin Johnson at world No. 1.

    "I'm 1-for-1 this year, which is nice," Koepka joked about his undefeated record in the new wraparound season.

    Koepka will be in the field next week in China for the WGC-HSBC Champions before putting the clubs on the shelf. With Justin Thomas paving the way by making the goal-setting process more public in recent years, Koepka explained that even after summiting the world rankings he plans to wait until 2019 to adjust his expectations for himself.

    "I keep the same goals through the calendar year," Koepka said. "On Jan. 1 I go to the beach in the morning and go write down my goals and figure them out for the calendar year, but I just need to finish this year off. I've got next week and I would like to, coming out the first week as No. 1, I'd like to play well."

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    Birdie binge for Woodland comes up short at CJ Cup

    By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 12:52 pm

    Gary Woodland mounted an impressive rally at the CJ Cup, but in the end even 11 birdies weren't enough to catch Brooks Koepka.

    Woodland started the final round in South Korea five shots behind the new world No. 1, but he made the biggest move of the day amid chilly conditions on Jeju Island. With six birdies over his first nine holes, including four in a row on Nos. 6-9, he briefly caught Koepka at the top of the leaderboard.

    But Woodland bogeyed No. 10, and even with five more birdies coming home to finish a 9-under 63 he still finished alone in second, four shots behind Koepka who closed with a bogey-free 29 to put the trophy out of reach.

    "Yesterday I didn't get any putts to go in, and today I saw a lot of putts go in," Woodland told reporters. "Brooks with the lead, not much fazes him. So you knew you had to make a lot of birdies, and I made a lot today. But I was just too far behind."

    It's the second straight strong performance from Woodland to start the new wraparound season, as he tied for fifth at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia after holding a share of the 54-hole lead. A closing 63 would have gone a long way last week, but he was still pleased to be able to make Koepka sweat a little on a day when even the bad holes resulted from good shots.

    "I made two bogeys on the back and I said, 'Be right' on both shots," Woodland said. "I was just maybe a little too amped up, a little excited. I hit them both perfect. All in all, I would have liked for a couple more putts to go in yesterday and been a little closer going into today."

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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.

    ''I hope I win more,'' Kang said. ''I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.''

    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.”