Sorry, Boo: Wraparound season creates new realities

By Rex HoggardNovember 11, 2015, 6:55 pm

For all the talk of charity and branding, the PGA Tour primarily exists to run golf tournaments.

It’s in the Tour’s DNA, all the way down to the circuit’s mission statement filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

“The [Tour’s] principal mission is to promote the sport of professional golf through sanctioning and administering golf tournaments,” the statement begins.

It’s a job those who walk the halls of the Tour’s Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., headquarters have gotten very good at; this season’s schedule features 47 events, from October’s season-opening Frys.com Open to the Tour Championship next September.

The docket has become so crowded that some would say the Tour has become too adept at its primary mission. This vocal minority would contend that the wraparound schedule has reached a point of diminishing returns for fans and more than a few players.

“Honestly, this wraparound season sucks. It does, seriously,” Boo Weekley said last week. “It's just, it's stupid. I still ain't figured out this FedEx, what does this FedEx Cup stuff do? It ain't doing nothing, but it is what it is. It's supposed to be the player’s tour. It's [Tour commissioner] Tim Finchem and them's Tour is what it is.”

Although Weekley’s comments were sharper than what one would expect from a player about to tee off in an event with a $4.1 million purse, he’s hardly alone in his assessment of the wraparound season, which began in 2014 and still seems to be searching for an identity.

 It was an interesting sign of the times late last season when Martin Kaymer failed to play his 15-event minimum and lost his Tour card.

While some framed Kaymer’s plight as a hit for both the Tour and the German, Paul Casey had a more nuanced take when asked about the situation.

“It actually may be the best thing for him,” Casey said in August at The Barclays. “He will be able to focus on playing in Europe, build up Ryder Cup points and not wear himself out trying to get his starts in the U.S. He’ll even be fresh for the Olympics.”



When the Tour transitioned to the wraparound schedule, the narrative went that other sports had similar dance cards that spanned calendars. The move also allowed the circuit to fold the “fall series,” a collection of post-Tour Championship tournaments that had largely become a competitive afterthought, into the schedule proper.

Statistically, the move has helped the fall fields. All three full-field events that have been played this fall been benefitted from an increase in competitive strength since the inception of the wraparound season, according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

The Frys.com Open, which has been the leadoff event the last three seasons, jumped to 46 ranking points for the winner, compared to 36 and 28 the previous two years, respectively.

The Shrines Hospitals for Children Open (44 points to the winner) has enjoyed a similar jump, while the Sanderson Farms Championship, which transitioned to the fall in 2014 after being played opposite the Open Championship, has remained largely the same.

Next week’s RSM Classic, which moved to the anchor spot in the fall this season, will likely not be as fortunate, but the fields are certainly better off post-wraparound.

Where the non-stop competitive calendar has started to wear thin, however, is among players and fans who appreciate the benefits of a true offseason. Whether it’s the eternal optimism of Major League Baseball’s spring training or the surreal spectacle that has become the NFL’s scouting combine, there is no time to reflect and recharge in golf.

Where other sports leave fans wanting more, the Tour has gone with just more.

For the independent contractors, the easy answer is to simply skip the fall stops. Except it's not that easy.

With an increased focus on the FedEx Cup and postseason participation, failing to play is a handicap most players can’t overcome.

Of the seven fall champions last season, four advanced to the Tour Championship based at least partially on their performance before the new calendar year.

Players may not like the wraparound season, but the competitive reality dictates at least a modicum of effort in the fall, lest they fall woefully behind in the season-long points dash.

“It's aggravating having to play this much, but it's important to come out and try to get a good start,” Weekley said. “It's just golf after golf after golf. Ain't no time for hunting and fishing, man.”

With apologies to the man from Milton (Fla.), cutting into Weekley’s extracurricular outdoor activities is the least of the Tour's problems. Instead, rest and recovery are in short supply at the highest level and more than one Tour swing coach has lamented that the slim offseason window has made it virtually impossible to institute any meaningful changes to a player’s game.

It’s the Tour’s mandate to create playing opportunities for every member, but as is the case in most businesses, quantity doesn’t always equate to quality.

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”