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PGA Tour starting to reap benefits of Asian swing

By Rex HoggardOctober 25, 2017, 7:45 pm

The PGA Tour wraps up its global odyssey this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, the final leg in an Asian swing that now includes three tournaments, not to mention plenty of intrigue.

What began as an unofficial experiment in 2009 at Sheshan International Golf Club has evolved into a bona fide cornerstone of the circuit’s schedule, with the Tour adding last week’s CJ Cup in South Korea to the Far East docket this season.

Initially, the idea was to expand the Tour’s lineup beyond the Lower 48 and put the “World” back in World Golf Championship. There was also plenty of talk about growing the game in what is considered an emerging golf market.

“We hope that we are inspiring a new generation of fans and new generation of players by having the best players of the world here in South Korea for the CJ Cup,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said last week in South Korea, which he called a “golf-crazed market.”

It was a simple, if not lofty, mandate, and nearly a decade down the road there are signs, however anecdotal, that the seeds the Tour planted in ’09 are beginning to sow.

There were 16 Korean players in field last week on Jeju Island, and this week in Shangahi, China’s Hao Tong Li continues his climb to stardom following his third-place finish at The Open in July, the best showing ever in a major by a player from China. The Tour will also welcome its first Chinese members this year after Zecheng Dou and Xinjun Zhang advanced to the circuit via the Tour.

Last season there were eight Tour members from Korea, more than Canada (six) or Sweden (five) or Spain (four). Whether that success at the highest level translates into more recreational golfers in the Far East is an altogether different question, but there’s no denying that at the highest quantifiable level big-time golf has produced some big-time players in Asia.

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It’s why Nick Price remained optimistic last month at the Presidents Cup despite another lopsided defeat of the International team. It may not make a difference in two years at Royal Melbourne, or even in a generation, but the three-time captain sees golf’s growth in Asia as an opportunity.

“I’m convinced that one day, because of where we draw from, you look at the part of the world we draw from and where golf is growing, China, anywhere in Asia, South America, from an interest point of view, we are going to grow bigger than the Ryder Cup,” Price said.

If Price’s outlook for the wildly one-sided matches seems a tad overly optimistic, know that there’s more to the Tour’s expansion in Asia than simply building a fan base.

The Tour is a business, a global business, and in Asia officials see virtually unlimited growth potential.

The CJ Corporation signed on to sponsor the South Korean stop for 10 years, and the event’s $9.25 million purse included a $1.665 million payday for winner Justin Thomas. That’s more than the winner received for victory in any WGC or playoff event last season and trailed only the four majors and The Players among golf's richest paydays in 2017.

In fact, the three Asian events make up nearly half ($26 million) of the total fall purse of $56.6 million this season.

“I would say that this is absolutely another step that we are taking to expand our business,” Monahan said. “The PGA Tour is a global organization, we’ve got a global membership and we are an important part of a global sport.

“Typically, when you see great players on our Tour from rabid international markets, we are going to put people on the ground, we are going to take every step that we can to help build the stardom of those players and to build our business accordingly.”

Even more evidence of that commitment was on display on Wednesday when the Tour announced the PGA Tour China Series would resume in 2018 after a one-year hiatus. Next year’s schedule for the developmental circuit will include an increase in both prize money and tournaments, and although Monahan said last week that there’s currently no plans to add more events to the Tour’s Asian swing, he didn’t completely dismiss the idea, either.

“The growth of our players from this part of the world has enabled us to bring a number of tournaments to Southeast Asia and Asia,” said Ty Votaw, the Tour’s executive vice president of global business affairs. “Being able to add this as a third event really is another step forward for us to take advantage of the growth opportunities that are here across this region.”

There are plenty of altruistic reasons for the Tour to continue its expansion into Asia, chief among that list being a chance to grow the game, but as the circuit puts the finishing touches on another Far East swing this week in China, it’s important to note that the Tour’s footprint in the region is now and will always be a business decision - a business decision with plenty of benefits.

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Stricker shares first-round lead in South Dakota

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:48 am

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Steve Stricker shot a 7-under 63 on Friday to share the first-round lead at the Sanford International.

The 51-year-old Stricker was 8 under through 17 holes at chilly, rain-softened Minnehaha Country Club but closed with a bogey to fall into a tie with Jerry Smith, Brandt Jobe and David McKenzie.

Stricker only got to play seven holes in the pro-am because of rain that prevented the field from getting in much practice.

''You've just kind of got to trust your yardage book and hit to the spots and then try to make a good game plan on the way into the green, too, not really knowing where to hit it or where to miss it up there on the green. Sometimes it's good, too,'' Stricker said. ''You go around and you're focused a lot more on hitting it to a specific spot and not knowing what lies ahead in the course. So I guess today was the ultimate 'Take one hole at a time' because we didn't really know anything else, what was coming.''

Full-field scores from the Sanford International

Stricker has two wins and has not finished worse than fifth in six starts this season on the over-50 tour as he continues to play a part-time schedule on the PGA Tour. Next week, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants at the matches outside Paris.

McKenzie, a 51-year-old Australian, had two eagles on the back nine, holing a wedge from 116 yards on the par-5 16th.

''We got told ... to play faster on No. 16, and so my caddie just said, 'Hit it in the hole so you don't have to putt it,' so I just did what he told me,'' McKenzie said.

Smith had eagles on Nos. 4 and 12.

''Honestly, I was just trying to hit some good shots and I really wasn't with the irons,'' Smith said. ''I just really didn't like the way I hit them today. You know, just the putter was the big difference for me. I just felt good with it all day, especially say outside of 10, 15 feet, where I felt like I was a lot.''

Scott McCarron, Lee Janzen and Paul Goydos were one shot back. McCarron came in second in the Charles Schwab Cup money standings behind Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is not playing this week.

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Glover (64) leads Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:12 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover shot his second consecutive 7-under 64 on Friday to take a one-shot lead at the Tour Championship.

The 38-year-old Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, can still regain his PGA Tour card through a medical extension if he fails to earn enough money in the four-tournament Tour Finals. But a high finish this weekend at Atlantic Beach Country Club would take care of everything.

''I've got a lot to fall back on regardless of this week, but any time I tee it up, I want to play well,'' Glover said. ''Tomorrow won't be any different. Sunday won't be any different.''

Glover had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and will have eight starts to earn 53 FedEx Cup points and keep his card. He earned $17,212 in the first three Tour Finals events. The top 25 money winners in the series earn PGA Tour cards, and the final card went for $40,625 last year.

Glover was at 14-under 128. Denny McCarthy, who has already earned enough money to secure a return to the PGA Tour, was one shot back. McCarthy, a former Virginia player, has a shot at winning the Finals money list, which would guarantee him fully exempt status and entry into The Players Championship.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

''There's no secret about it. I'll come out and tell you I'm here to win this tournament and get that No. 1 spot,'' McCarthy said. ''I've been hungry for a while. I have a pretty hungry attitude and I'm going to stay hungry.''

Tour veteran Cameron Tringale, who has earned just $2,660 after missing two of the first three cuts, was 12 under after a 67. Last year, Tringale entered the Tour Championship at 63rd on the Finals money list and finished tied for fifth to get back onto the PGA Tour. He struggled again this season, though, missing 19 cuts in 26 starts.

''Yeah, I was hoping last year was my last time here, but I do have a comfort at this golf course and I'm excited to keep pressing,'' Tringale said.

The four-tournament series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top 25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals.

Sepp Straka and Ben Silverman were three shots back. Each would likely need a top-5 finish to earn his card.

Peter Malnati, who regained his card with a second-place finish in the opening finals event, followed his opening-round 74 with a 9-under 62, shooting an 8-under 27 on his second nine.

Four-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley was among those who missed the cut. He was 22nd on the finals money list going in and likely will fall short of earning his card.

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Thomas (69) only three back with 'C' or 'D' game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTA – Justin Thomas was tied for fourth place following his second-round 69 on Friday at the Tour Championship, which considering the state of his game on Day 2 was an accomplishment.

“I wish I had my 'B' game today. I would say I had my 'C' or 'D' game today,” he laughed.

Thomas’ struggles were primarily with his driver and he hit just 6 of 14 fairways at East Lake, but he was able to scramble late in his round with birdies at Nos. 15 and 18 to remain three off the lead.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

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“I drove it so poorly today, this is probably in my top 5 rounds of the year I'm most proud of just because I easily could have shot 4- or 5-over par today and not had a chance to win the tournament,” he said. “I hung in there and birdied two of the last four, and I have a chance.”

Thomas was slowed the last two weeks by a right wrist injury that limited his preparation for the finale and said the issue with his driver is timing and the byproduct of a lack of practice.

Thomas made up for his erratic driving with his short game, getting up and down four out of seven times including on the fourth hole when he missed the fairway well left, punched out short of the green and chipped in from 81 feet.

“[Rory McIlroy] just kind of said it looked like a ‘3’ the whole day and I kind of laughed because I played with him at The Players and I chipped in three times that first round with him, so I guess he's good luck for me,” Thomas said.

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McIlroy two behind Woods, Rose after 68

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:46 pm

ATLANTA – Maybe it should be no huge surprise that Rory McIlroy finds himself back in contention at the Tour Championship. It is, after all, a Ryder Cup year.

In 2016, McIlroy won the finale before heading to Hazeltine and posting a 3-2-0 record. In ’14, he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel and went 2-1-2 at the Ryder Cup; and in ’12 he finished tied for 10th place at East Lake and went 3-2-0 at Medinah.

“I was on such a high a couple of years ago going into Hazeltine after winning the whole thing, and I felt great about my game that week and played well. I won three matches,” McIlroy said. “I guess it doesn't matter whether it's a match play event or whatever. If you're playing well and you've played well the week before, I think most people can carry it into the next week, whatever that is.”

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy’s performance this week certainly qualifies as “playing well.” He charged out on Friday with birdies at two of his first three holes and bounced back from a pair of late bogeys to shoot a 68 and was in third place and two strokes off the lead held by Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

“I've made 12 birdies in 36 holes, which is really good around here, and that's with not birdieing either of the par 5s today,” he said. “So yeah, just tidy up the mistakes a little bit.”