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Even if players want a break, most won't take one

By Rex HoggardAugust 30, 2017, 4:56 pm

NORTON, Mass. – It’s whispered about in locker rooms and endlessly, needlessly, editorialized each year as the PGA Tour’s season begins to wind down.

off·sea·son |ˈȯf-ˌsē-zən | noun 
a time of year when a particular activity, typically a sport, is not engaged in

Last week, before he tied for 34th at The Northern Trust, Rory McIlroy perked up when asked about his upcoming schedule. The Northern Irishman played last week and is in the field this week at TPC Boston and hopes next month’s BMW Championship won't be his 2017 swansong.

But if so, so be it.

“I'm excited for it. To have three months where I can focus on myself, my health, my game, and just improvement,” McIlroy said of his impending offseason, a self-imposed hiatus to mend mind and body after what has been a difficult year.

“I don't think I'm ever going to get a chance like this in my career again where I get this opportunity to take three months to re-evaluate things, to work on some stuff, to just try and improve and get better.”

Following his finish in New York, McIlroy remained 43rd on the postseason points list. Without strong performances in his next two starts, last year's FedExCup champion might not make it to East Lake. 

And McIlroy isn't the only player looking for a clean break and a little R&R before getting back to work in ’18.

Bubba Watson, whose tie for 10th at Glen Oaks last week propelled him into the field this week at the Dell Technologies Championship, is equally content to succumb to the competitive misfortunes of an earlier-than-anticipated exit.

“When I'm done with the playoffs, no matter where that is, I'm taking at least 4 ½ months off. I won't play until next year,” Watson said. “I'm looking forward to playing good golf, or I'm looking forward to going home for some vacation. Either way, I'm going to be tee-ball coach. So looking forward to that, being home with the family, and just have a blast.”


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Current FedExCup Playoff points standings


It’s become an annual rite of the Tour’s wraparound season, which began in 2013, to lament the lack of an offseason in golf. When play wraps up on Sept. 24 at East Lake, many of the game’s top players will head directly to the Presidents Cup the next week in New Jersey.

For those who don’t make the U.S. or International team, it’s back to work at the Safeway Open the first week of October to kick off the 2017-18 season.

While the call for a true offseason will become louder over the next few weeks, the Tour doesn’t make anyone play the fall or any portion of the schedule.

In fact, players face very limited requirements. They must play a minimum of 15 events in a season, and those who don’t play at least 25 have to add an event they haven’t played in the last five years. But even that addendum doesn’t dictate where or when that addition must be.

“The players are independent contractors. They choose where they are going to play,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said at last month’s PGA Championship. “Some players go out the first part of our season (October-November). Some step back, rest, and prepare and come back in January. Some do a combination of both. Every player has an ability to decide what’s best for them.”

While players and fans may like the concept of an extended offseason, from the Tour’s perspective, contraction for the sake of rest simply doesn’t make solid business sense.

“We’re not the only tour out there, and if you create openings in our schedule, those openings will be filled. Our job is to maximize playing and financial opportunities and create the platform for our players,” Monahan said.

That means that while players like McIlroy (exempt on Tour through the 2020-21 season) can choose to take a three-month break after the playoffs, other players who don’t enjoy multiple-year exemptions face a risky competitive decision.

“I would like four months off if there were no tournaments scheduled where everybody had to take four months [off],” Paul Casey said. “Your hand is being forced a little bit. If you don’t play any of those fall tournaments you feel like you’re behind.

“These are guys who have multiple-year exemptions. I don’t. If you don’t, you are always having to step up to the plate. I would love to have a multiple-year exemption. Then you wouldn’t see me for three months.”

For the vast majority of Tour players, taking that much time off would mean spotting the field eight fall events to earn points, which count just the same as those events played in 2018.

It’s why, no matter badly players and even some fans may want a few months off to unwind after a long season, there won’t be many that follow McIlroy and Watson into a restful offseason.

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.


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"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.


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"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.

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Vogel Monday qualifies for eighth time this season

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:27 pm

The PGA Tour's regular season ended with another tally for the Monday King.

While Monday qualifiers are a notoriously difficult puzzle to solve, with dozens of decorated professionals vying for no more than four spots in a given tournament field, T.J. Vogel has turned them into his personal playground this season. That trend continued this week when he earned a spot into the season-ending Wyndham Championship, shooting a 5-under 66 and surviving a 4-for-3 playoff for the final spots.

It marks Vogel's eighth successful Monday qualification this season, extending the unofficial record he set when he earned start No. 7 last month at The Greenbrier. Patrick Reed earned the nickname "Mr. Monday" when he successfully qualified six different times during the 2012 season before securing full-time status.

There have been 24 different Monday qualifiers throughout the season, with Vogel impressively turning 19 qualifier starts into eight tournament appearances.

Vogel started the year with only conditional Web.com Tour status, and explained at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May that he devised his summer schedule based on his belief that it's easier to Monday qualify for a PGA Tour event than a Web.com tournament.


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"The courses that the PGA Tour sets the qualifiers up, they're more difficult and sometimes they're not a full field whereas the Web, since there's no pre-qualifier, you have two full fields for six spots each and the courses aren't as tough," Vogel said. "So I feel like if you take a look at the numbers, a lot of the Web qualifiers you have to shoot 8-under."

Vogel has made three cuts in his previous seven starts this year, topping out with a T-16 finish at the Valspar Championship in March. The 27-year-old also played the weekend at the Nelson and the Wells Fargo Championship, missing the cut at The Greenbrier in addition to the RSM Classic, Honda Classic and FedEx St. Jude Classic.

While Vogel won't have another Monday qualifier opportunity until October, he has a chance to secure some 2019 status this week in Greensboro. His 51 non-member FedExCup points would currently slot him 205th in the season-long race, 13 points behind Rod Pampling at No. 200. If Vogel earns enough points to reach the equivalent of No. 200 after this week, he'd clinch a spot in the upcoming Web.com Tour Finals where he would have a chance to compete for a full PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season.

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Woods adds BMW Championship to playoff schedule

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:01 pm

Tiger Woods is adding a trip to Philadelphia to his growing playoff itinerary.

Having already committed to both The Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship, Woods' agent confirmed to GolfChannel.com that the 14-time major champ will also make an appearance next month at the BMW Championship. It will mark Woods' first start in the third leg of the FedExCup playoffs since 2013 when he tied for 11th at Conway Farms Golf Club outside of Chicago.

This year the Sept. 6-9 event is shifting to Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., which is hosting the BMW for the first time. The course previously hosted the Quicken Loans National in both 2010 and 2011. Woods won the BMW en route to FedExCup titles in both 2007 and 2009 when it was held at Cog Hill in Illinois.


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Woods was already in good position to make the 70-man BMW field, but his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship vaulted him from 49th to 20th in the season-long points race and assured that he'll make it to Aronimink regardless of his performance in the first two postseason events.

Woods' commitment also means a packed schedule will only get busier leading into the Ryder Cup, where he is expected to be added as a captain's pick. Woods' appearance at the BMW will cap a run of five events in six weeks, and should he tee it up in Paris it could be his seventh start in a nine-week stretch if he also qualifies for the 30-player Tour Championship.