5 Things: Rory vs. Rickie

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Who deserved PGA Tour rookie of the year more - Rory McIlroy or Rickie Fowler?

Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell showed just how closely knit the European Tour is when they came out strongly against the PGA Tour’s announcement of Rickie Fowler as its rookie of the year instead of Rory McIlroy.

To them, McIlroy seemed a better candidate after winning a PGA Tour event and finishing third in the British Open and PGA Championship.

Westwood called the outcome an act of “protectionism,” while McDowell was more diplomatic.

“You can’t really compare Rickie Fowler’s season to Rory’s. . . I certainly think he was deserving,” McDowell said. “But, at the end of the day it’s just a title – it’s nothing. Rory McIlroy will go on. I believe he will become one of the best players in the world, if not the best player, and win major championships.”

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Michael Putnam

Congratulations to Michael Putnam and Justin Hicks who toughened it up and endured the PGA Tour Q-School grind – even when they didn’t need to attend.

Courtesy of finishing in the top 25 of the Nationwide Tour money list, they had already earned their 2011 PGA Tour cards. So, why play 108 holes in a grueling six-day stretch?

They had nothing to lose and something to gain: They improved their PGA Tour status going into the 2011 season by finishing among the 29 players who earned their Tour cards. As a result, they can expect to get into a few more early-season events on the West Coast based on their priority number for tournament eligibility.

Because they had fully-exempt status, Putnam and Hicks didn’t count among those seeking cards that were available via Q-School. As a result, Billy Horschel, Scott Gordon and Will Strickler snagged cards.

The Nationwide Tour is supposedly the breeding ground for the stars of tomorrow. Q-School grads need all the luck they can get as Tour rookies as history suggests that they may be better served getting a year of seasoning. Evidence shows Nationwide Tour alumni have a better track record of sticking than Q-School grads.

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Graeme McDowell

You’ve no doubt heard stories over the years about Masters rookies who had turned down invitations to Augusta National, not wanting to go there unless they had qualified for the iconic tournament?

Well, Graeme McDowell had taken that tale and put a twist to it.

He will make his debut as a PGA Tour member Jan. 6 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Can’t wait, in fact. And just why is that?

“I’ve never been to Hawaii,” said the man from Northern Ireland. “I always promised myself that I’d go to Hawaii for the first time when I won a PGA Tour tournament.”

That first time was a beauty, too, because McDowell won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach last summer. Throw in a T-6 at the CA Championship and McDowell made enough money to secure PGA Tour membership for the next year, something he is definitely looking forward to.

He said he’d pretty much keep the same schedule – heavy with the majors and World Golf Championships – but add a few like the Northern Trust Open (“I love Riviera, a great course,” McDowell said) and probably the Memorial.

“I take comfort in the schedule I had and that I won’t be changing a lot,” McDowell said. “I don’t see any reason to change it up.”

After saying “Aloha,” of course.

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Se Ri Pak

When Se Ri Pak felt a mental drain set in late this fall, she decided to take a break. So the 13-year LPGA veteran disappeared from the game for the better part of two months to focus on family.

It was an up-and-down season for Pak. She won the Bell Micro LPGA Classic on May 16 for her 25th career victory, but missed the cut or withdrew in four consecutive events from mid-June to mid-July. After missing the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open, Pak didn’t return until late August at the CN Canadian Women’s Open (T-8). She then closeted the clubs again until October.

Pak, 33, can’t point to one specific experience during the first seven months of the season that caused her to take a break, but she knows it was the right thing to do even if it did mean missing the Women’s British Open and the Evian Masters.

“If your mind won’t be there, then you shouldn’t be there,” she said. “I just decided it was OK; I’m still going to come back next year.”

Pak tied for 11th at the LPGA Tour Championship.

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Alexandre Rocha of Brazil

After passing PGA Tour Q-School, Alexandre Rocha joins the short list of Latin American players that will compete next year on the top tour – and as only the second Brazilian in history.

But he has higher aspirations:

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“I want to play that tournament like it is a major,” said Rocha who shot 10-under 419 and finished T-22, “because I think it is going to be.”

Rocha competed in only six events on the Asian Tour this year and Monday-qualified at the Honda Classic while retooling his game.

“We planned this a year ago,” he said. “We didn’t know it would take only a year.”

Rocha paid tribute to his two coaches. His first instructor, Jaime Gonzalez, who was the first Brazilian to play on the PGA Tour in the early 1980s, inspired Rocha’s interest in the game. His current coach, Jason Birnbaum, guided Rocha’s wholesale changes to his swing.

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