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Mid-term grades for PGA Tour - and beyond

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Although we are only one Grand Slam into the major championship season, this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans is the 23rd out of 47 PGA Tour events this season, which means it's time for’s annual mid-term grades.

Jordan Rules: Competitively, Jordan Spieth turned the corner from good up-and-coming player to bona fide superstar with his victory at the Masters.

His play at Augusta National capped off a run that included two victories (Masters and Valspar Championship) and two runner-up showings (Valero Texas Open and Shell Houston Open) and moved him to second in the Official World Golf Ranking.

But it was his decision to play last week’s RBC Heritage after his Masters whirlwind that seems to separate the 21-year-old from the rest of the pack.  It would have been easy, and understandable, for Spieth to skip the annual Hilton Head Island, S.C., stop, but then easy just isn’t his style. GRADE: A.

Young and restless: Lydia Ko turns 18 Friday, she’s won six times in the LPGA and is No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings. And just when you thought her tale was too good to be true, she revealed late last year that she will begin studying to be a psychologist.

Not that she seems to be taking anything away from her day job. She’s finished inside the top 10 in six of her seven starts this year, including a victory at the Women’s Australian Open.

Still, it’s good to have a Plan B. GRADE: A.

Task masters: Whatever the outcome of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force, and given the blueprint it may take a decade to fairly judge the moves made by the 11-member committee, there are a few immediate takes worth grading.

Task force member Davis Love III was named the 2016 U.S. captain, and while some questioned giving the 2012 captain a match mulligan he did receive the full support of the players, which may end up being the group’s most influential change.

Unfortunately, there was a fair amount of collateral damage that accompanied the changes. Officials shifted the qualification process away from the Tour’s fall events, robbing those tournaments of some much-needed cachet. GRADE: C+.

Searching for answers: A season that began with a colossal case of chipping woes and another injury-induced withdrawal from the Farmers Insurance Open took a turn for the better at Augusta National.

Although he bookmarked his week with 73s on Thursday and Sunday, Tiger Woods’ tie for 17th at the Masters was his best Tour finish since the 2013 BMW Championship and it was the first time he’d gone 72 holes since last year’s Open Championship.

Maybe most telling, however, was the zeal Woods showed when asked about this most recent hiatus from the game, which was caused by lapses in his game, not his body.

“I worked my ass off,” he said at Augusta National. GRADE: Incomplete.

Shhhh: At the Ryder Cup last fall Patrick Reed playfully silenced the partisan Scottish crowd and so far this season he’s shh’d the metaphorical noise after an eventful few months.

At the WGC-HSBC Champions in November he was criticized for a gay slur during the first round, and earlier this year a published report alleged a series of missteps during his college days, first at the University of Georgia and then at Augusta State involving potential cheating during qualifying rounds.

Reed apologized for the slur via Twitter, “I’m sorry for using offensive language;” lashed out at reports he cheated while in college, and maintained a competitive pace that now includes four Tour victories in the last 24 months. GRADE: B.

Match Play maker: Next week’s WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship will undergo an extreme makeover this year with a new format, venue and date on the calendar.

If early reviews are any indication, two out of three isn’t bad.

While Harding Park is a one-off stop for the event and many have applauded the format changes, it’s the Match Play’s new spot on the schedule, the week before The Players, that has some concerned.

Holding a World Golf Championship on the opposite coast the week before the circuit’s marquee event has likely upended many a travel schedule and adversely impacted the field for the Wells Fargo Championship, which will be played the week after The Players with a less-then-perfect field. GRADE: C+.

Making a statement: Following a six-month, self-imposed hiatus from the game, Dustin Johnson returned to the Tour at the Farmers Insurance Open and quickly quieted any doubters.

In his six starts since returning, Johnson has five top-10 finishes, including his first World Golf Championships victory at Doral, and a tie for sixth at the Masters, his best finish at Augusta National.

When Johnson left the Tour last year amid a cloud of uncertainty generated by a report on that he’d been suspended for failing a drug test, allegations both Johnson and the Tour denied, it would have been easy to expect some early struggles, but DJ’s struggles seem to be behind him now. GRADE: A.

Olympic movement: Although grass is growing at the Olympic golf course in Brazil and officials are confident the construction delays that plagued the project have subsided, the venue is far from tournament ready.

A test event will be played Nov. 26-29 on the Gil Hanse-designed layout, but there is still no word on what that event may be and it’s doubtful officials could make any significant changes before next year’s Games.

Simply put, grass is growing at the Olympic course, but it’s far from grown. GRADE: C.