Player-of-the-Year puzzle

By Rex HoggardSeptember 28, 2011, 8:14 pm

Sometime next month, ballots for the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year award will hit electronic mailboxes and, if an informal and highly unscientific straw poll of the circuit’s rank-and-file last week at East Lake is any guide, the collective may opt for an “all of the above” option.

Not since the pre-Tiger Woods era has the Tour’s POY race been this clouded or closely contested.

“Five or six guys had a great year but none of them had a standout year, so I really don’t know,” Phil Mickelson reasoned late Sunday at the FedEx Cup finale.

In Cliff’s Notes form, the leading candidates are Luke Donald, who currently leads the money list, won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and posted a mindboggling 13 top-10s; Webb Simpson, a two-time winner who also added a pair of runner-up showings and could overtake Donald for the money title if he plays a Fall Series event; Keegan Bradley, who won a major (PGA Championship) to go along with his Byron Nelson breakthrough; Bill Haas, who has just one victory this year (Tour Championship) but may get extra credit for winning the FedEx Cup; and Nick Watney, a winner in the spring (WGC-Cadillac Championship) and summer (AT&T National) who didn’t finish outside of the top 15 in his first five events of 2011.

When asked last week his thoughts on the POY race, Geoff Ogilvy, one of the circuit’s most thoughtful types, gazed blankly at your impromptu pollster and sighed, “Player of the Year is pretty interesting now more than it was for about the last 10 years. There's actually a discussion,” he said.

In East Lake exit polling, most players gave the POY nod to Donald, noting his machine-like performance on Tour this year as well as his record in Europe (two wins) and his stranglehold on the No. 1 spot in the world ranking.

“Does (Donald) ever finish out of the top 3 or 4? I mean, every single week, he's there. Last week (at the BMW Championship), he went over par in the first round and he still finds a way to finish fourth,” Ogilvy said.

Since 1997, Woods has clipped all comers for the Jack Nicklaus Trophy 10 times, and on the rare occasions he didn’t win there was a clear-cut Plan B in the form of Mark O’Meara (two majors in 1998), Vijay Singh (nine wins in 2004), Padraig Harrington (two majors in 2008) and Jim Furyk (the FedEx Cup champion and a three-time winner last year).

Yet this year’s vote goes beyond a race that’s too close to call. For players, this year’s contest is a philosophical debate between the value of winning versus consistency.

In short, would you rather have Bradley’s year, complete with that life-changing week at Atlanta Athletic Club, or Donald’s?

“Part of it is consistency over the course of a year,” Charles Howell III said. “(But) winning is the most important thing out here . . . that’s a hard one, especially this year, but I think you have to take a hard look at Keegan. He won a major and that’s such a hard thing to do.”

However, Matt Kuchar – who, interestingly enough, was the only player with a mathematical chance to hoist the FedEx Cup without having won this year – had a different take. “Keegan Bradley, having won the PGA and having won another tournament as well, has thrown his hat in that conversation,” he said. “But I think Luke Donald being so consistent and taking over the No. 1 spot in the world and retaining it, proving that he's been the best player in the world.”

It is telling that a player’s take on this debate was so closely based on his own strengths and weaknesses.

“Consistency to me is always very impressive because it's hard to do that. It's not easy to win one week, but it's probably easier to win one tournament than it is to be consistent,” Ogilvy said. “It blows me away, maybe because it's never been me, but the people that play well every week are incredible. But saying that, we don't play golf to be consistent, we play golf to win big tournaments, so I guess the successful guy is the guy who wins big tournaments.”

Ultimately Donald’s road to the Player of the Year award may be influenced by timing – his lone Tour victory came in February – and a sign of the times in American golf.

When asked his thoughts on the POY race, Chez Reavie began rattling off statistics: “Nick (Watney) is up there, but I’d vote for (Simpson). Two wins and two second-place finishes, a boat load of top-10s. Every time he’s teed it up this year it seems like he could win . . .”

Reavie paused for a moment before finally asking, “What has Luke won this year?” Be it unfortunate timing or the WGC format, Donald’s Match Play victory is often overlooked.

Nor have Tour voters demonstrated an immunity to outside influences.

Last year’s Rookie of the Year award went to Rickie Fowler, who earned a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team but failed to win, over Rory McIlroy, who posted the year’s most-commanding performance (non-major division) to win the Quail Hollow Championship. Some speculated that McIlroy’s snub was player reaction from his decision to forgo membership in 2011.

Donald, who may not play again in the United States this season, could suffer a similar fate in 2011 through no fault of his own.

The Tour Championship may have decided the FedEx Cup, but the POY race may come down to a Fall Finish start (Simpson may play Disney and Watney is playing this week in Las Vegas).

Or maybe the esoteric debate will come down to what players truly value – consistency or major championships. It’s so close, not even CNN would call this race early.

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Dunlap, in 'excruciating pain,' shares early Dominion lead

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:29 pm

RICHMOND, Va. – Scott Dunlap and Fran Quinn shot 5-under 67 on Friday to share the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Fighting a left wrist injury that will require surgery, Dunlap matched Quinn with a closing birdie on the par-5 18th on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''Maybe excruciating pain is the key to playing good golf because I'm not getting nervous on a shot, you're just trying to get through it,'' Dunlap said. ''The worst parts are gripping it and getting the club started ... that's when that bone hits that bone.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

The 55-year-old Dunlap entered the week 29th in the standings. Playing through the wrist injury, he's coming off ties for ninth and seventh in his last two starts.

''I think I finally taped it the right way,'' Dunlap said. ''Or maybe it's the pain meds kicking in. I don't know, one of the two.''

Quinn is 64th in the standings.

''I finished up strong last year, too, kind of secured my privileges for the following year making eagle on 18,'' Quinn said. ''I played solid all day. I had a lot of opportunities. A couple hiccups.''

Jay Haas was a stroke back with Kent Jones, Stephen Ames, Woody Austin and Tim Petrovic. The 64-year-old Haas won the last of his 18 senior titles in 2016.

Vijay Singh and Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, were at 69 with Joey Sindelar, Tom Gillis, Billy MayfairLee Janzen, Glen Day and Gene Sauers.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer opened with a 70. The 61-year-old German star won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the points lead. He has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

Defending Charles Schwab Cup champion Kevin Sutherland had a 71. He's 14th in the standings. No. 3 Jerry Kelly shot 72. No. 4 Scott McCarron, the 2016 tournament winner, had a 74.

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Weather continues to plague Valderrama Masters

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 7:55 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Marc Warren helped his chances of retaining his European Tour card by moving into a tie for second place behind Englishman Ashley Chesters at the rain-hit Andalucia Valderrama Masters on Friday.

Bad weather interrupted play for a second straight day at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain before darkness caused the second round to be suspended until Saturday, with overnight Chesters still ahead at 5-under.

Weather delays on Thursday, including a threat of lightning, had kept 60 golfers from finishing their opening round. They included Scottish player Warren, who went out on Friday and finished his first round with a 2-under 69.

He then made three birdies to go with one bogey on the first nine holes of the second round before play was halted. He joined Frenchman Gregory Bourdy one shot behind Chesters.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

''I'm hitting the ball as well as I have in a long time,'' Warren said. ''Hitting fairways and greens is the most important thing around here, so hopefully I wake up tomorrow with the same swing.''

Chesters and Bourdy were among several golfers unable to play a single hole in the second round on Friday.

Warren, a three-time European Tour winner, has struggled this season and needs a strong performance to keep his playing privileges for next year.

Currently ranked 144th, Warren needs to break into the top 116 to keep his card.

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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.

Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.