2012 a year of change on the PGA Tour

By Rex HoggardJune 27, 2012, 8:15 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – Whether by design or downturn, the PGA Tour finds itself in an unprecedented season of change, so much so that what follows will be of the same DNA but will bear little family resemblance to what came before.

Evolution, be it economic or otherwise, has arrived atop professional golf’s food chain by way of a cascading turn of events that began nearly two years ago when Nationwide Insurance, the longtime title sponsor of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.’s secondary circuit, informed the Tour that they wanted out of the umbrella sponsorship business.

Faced with a big-ticket item and an ailing economy, commissioner Tim Finchem began reinventing the wheel.

In order, the commish set out to overhaul the qualifying process for the PGA Tour to make the secondary circuit the primary avenue to membership, which in theory would make the tour more attractive to potential business partners.

At the same time, the PGA Tour adopted a split-calendar schedule, pulling the Fall Series and an assortment of international events into the FedEx Cup fold and ending decades of January-December tradition.

It was, by any measure, a hectic dance card and on Wednesday at Congressional your correspondent asked Finchem if he could compare the ever-changing Tour landscape to any other period during his tenure.

“The FedEx Cup was sort of an overlay, the World Golf Championships kind of changed the schedule, but this is a lot of change,” Finchem said. “Change is good if it’s done right.”

Whether all this tinkering is being done correctly is for history to decide. Similarly, there’s also the issue of change for the sake of change that is concerning given the current context.

It was curious that on Wednesday when Finchem and David Brown – the CEO and president of Web.com, which signed a 10-year umbrella sponsorship of the secondary circuit this week – were asked how instrumental the new qualifying system was in completing the deal both dismissed the move as a deal-maker.

“It’s very beneficial, but that decision had already been made by the Tour when we engaged,” said Brown, a last-minute suitor in the process who began talking with the Tour about a month ago. “It was nice to have but not a fundamental part of our decision-making process.”

Which leaves one to wonder why change at all, but that’s a column for another day. And at this juncture in the proceedings change seems inevitable. At what pace and cost, however, remains to be seen.

On Monday, the Tour’s Policy Board balked at the three versions of the Web.com Tour/Q-School proposal, which will include the top 75 players from the secondary circuit money list and Nos. 126-200 in PGA Tour earnings playing a three-event series with the top 50 finishers earning Tour cards for the 2013-14 season.

“I was PAC chairman when they hired Tim, so I would say that was as impactful for the Tour as anything we have ever done,” said Davis Love III, who has served four terms as a player director on the Policy Board. “(But) this change has been stressful for the player directors, to say the least.

“We’ve put more time and effort and worry into this than anything we’ve ever done. We just don’t want to go in the wrong direction.”

There is a sense, among all involved, that the new qualifying system needs to be right the first time. Unlike the FedEx Cup, which adjusted its format the first few seasons, there is no room for trial and error.

It’s a reality that Finchem seemed to concede on Wednesday when asked if he expected a consensus among PGA and Web.com tour players on the new plan.

“All the different models are all kind of close,” Finchem said. “I wouldn’t say they are hugely different, and the player directors wanted to make sure the PAC had one more chance to look at them which should happen in the next few weeks. Hopefully bring it to a conclusion.”

It is the final piece of a complicated puzzle, the final shift in what promises to be a tectonic slide at the game’s highest levels.

“One more (Policy Board) meeting,” sighed Love, referring to his final turn as a player director later this year at the McGladrey Classic. “This is going to be big.”

For a sport that has kept time with calendars, not clocks, the extreme makeover is not just big, it’s monumental.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”