Drastic Measures

By Rex HoggardFebruary 3, 2011, 4:31 am

The move to May seemed mindless in retrospect. TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course has certainly flourished outside of the perpetual March rain shadow and The Players Championship no longer serves as an “unofficial” Masters media day.

The move to May did not transform The Players into the “fifth major” – there are only four Grand Slam events until the players, no one else, decide otherwise – but it was an unmitigated upgrade. At least it was until Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy decided to make it a “bye” week on their 2011 schedules.

Whatever their motivations, Westwood and McIlroy have, at the least, exposed a flaw in the May Players, as well as a concerning byproduct of an ever-increasing global game.

As former PGA Tour members who forfeited their cards, Westwood and McIlroy, Nos. 1 and 8 in the world, respectively, are limited to 10 U.S. starts plus The Players, a last-minute deviation that failed to lure the two stars back to TPC Sawgrass this spring.

Tim Finchem
PGA Tour membership will likely remain a pressing issue for Tim Finchem. (Getty Images)

That’s down from the normal 12 exemptions most non-Tour members are allowed and although circuit officials say the regulation was not intended to be punitive it sure felt like a swat on the wrist. And The Players move to May is no longer the no-brainer it was originally thought to be.

“Playing the TPC in May puts it in the meat of Europe's schedule, with only one week between it and the BMW PGA, the most important tournament on the European Tour,” one long-time player's manager said.

But then a congested calendar is only a symptom of the greater ailment, at least for players looking to play both tours full time.

“Playing (the PGA Tour minimum) 15 events in the States and 13 in Europe is a big ask,” Justin Rose said last week at Torrey Pines. “The European Tour doesn’t make it easy for me to play so I think (the Tour) needs to stick to your guns.”

Rose should know, he did it as successfully as any in 2007 and has the SkyMiles to prove it. Four years ago the Englishman bounced across the Atlantic Ocean to play both tours, won the European Order of Merit and finished 16th in FedEx Cup points in just 22 total events thanks to co-sanctioned stops like the World Golf Championships and majors.

But since then the European Tour minimum has been raised from 11 to 13 and players have learned that to be competitive in the Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs, unlike college football, the regular season matters.

Balancing a two-tour schedule is not impossible, but neither is it conducive to Transatlantic success which may be the most important lesson learned from the Westwood-McIlroy Players miss.

“I'm not troubled by it. I'm disappointed that they're not playing, but I'm not troubled by it,” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said last week. “My only message to those guys is you're always welcome, and we'd love to have you back.”

Finchem may publically “welcome” Westwood, et al, but his words don’t necessarily dovetail with Tour policy. Even the circuits’ Qualifying School Tournaments have conflicting dates that make earning a card on both almost impossible.

Whether Westwood and McIlroy’s Sawgrass snub is a one-off event or the seeds of a larger problem remains to be seen, but even an aberration, at least one that includes the current world No. 1, is concerning.

Last week Finchem was asked what was stopping the Tour from exempting all top-10 players from any rules that would limit the number of Tour events they can play, a move that was supported by many long-time observers who pointed out it’s in the entire Tour’s best interest to have the best possible fields.

“The rules that we have as it relates to how many (events) a player has to play to be a voting member, 15. How many can you play if you're not a member? How many sponsor exemptions can you accept as a non-member? And all those rules are something that we look at every year. Isn't any right or wrong to it,” Finchem said.

“We're not going to try to juggle the rules to try to make this right now as a result of this. It's a long-term thing. We'll analyze it from a long-term standpoint.”

And the long view is certainly on Finchem’s side considering that even without Westwood and McIlroy The Players will still sport one of the year’s deepest fields. It may, however, ignore an emerging trend at the game’s highest levels.

Six of the top 10 players in the current World Ranking are from Europe and emerging markets in Asia and the Middle East are making it increasingly unlikely a top player will be content plying his trade exclusively in the “Lower 48.” Even Steve Stricker, a confirmed homebody, is starting his season on the other side of the globe this week at the Qatar Masters and Phil Mickelson kicked off 2011 two weeks ago in Dhabi.

“There is so much to balance in world golf and we need to appreciate there are many good places to play,” said Rose, a newly named member of the Tour’s 16-member Player Advisory Council.

Unfortunately for the Tour, May’s Players doesn’t count itself on that list, at least not for Westwood and McIlroy. It’s a reality that may make another drastic move, not on a calendar but in policy, necessary.

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Country singer Owen shoots 86 in Web.com debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Web.com Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Web.com Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.

Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open

Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:

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New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.

The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.

"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."

The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.

"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.

Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.

"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."

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McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 24, 2018, 6:56 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.

Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.

The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.

''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''

McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.

After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.

Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.

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Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 6:45 pm

After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.

The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.

"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."

Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."

Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.

Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.

"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."