At Florida Swing, time to take stock of the season

Mike Weir acknowledges the crowd during the Bob Hope Classic.

Back from distant ports of call in Hawaii, California and Arizona, the PGA Tour finally has landed in Florida. So a little of this and some of that to welcome the lads to the East Coast:

SLIDING STATUS: Mike Weir will tee it up at this week’s Honda Classic needing a stellar finish to avoid falling even further down in the pecking order to get into tournaments.

Having cut his 2010 season short to have elbow surgery, Weir started 2011 in Category 21, for those with major medical extensions. Given five tournaments in which he had to earn $227,885, Weir has struggled and earned just $10,788. Thus he needs to make $217,097 this week, which probably translates into at least a share of fourth.

If he were to come up short this week, Weir would fall into Category 28 (non-exempt major medical extension), which means tournament starts would be even tougher to secure.

It just further demonstrates the difficulty of the pro golf landscape. Weir is an eight-time winner – your 2003 Masters champ, for goodness sakes – and for 11 seasons ranked between fifth and 78th on the money list, yet the exemption status can melt quickly when you struggle, as the left-hander did in 2010.

SPRING TRAINING: Speaking of 40-year-olds who won a major in 2003, Jim Furyk seemed disgusted with himself after losing to Ryan Palmer in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, a game in which he went from 1 up after three to 3 down following double bogeys at Nos. 7 and 8.

“My short game was absolutely horrible,” Furyk said. “I had no business being in the match.”

And despite bogeys on eight holes, Furyk was – but only because Palmer bogeyed four of the last 10.

Still, Furyk left in the first round for the fifth time in 11 trips to the Match Play, and on the surface it would appear to be a choppy start to the season. His only good finish is a T-9 in the limited field at Hyundai. He barely made the cut at Riviera, missed at Sony and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and losing in Round 1 at Accenture feels like a missed cut.

Five starts, $235,697 in prize money? Doesn’t appear to be vintage Furyk, but wait. History shows that January and February are spring training months for him. Six times he has made even less than what he has this year in the first five tournaments, and only two of his 16 PGA Tour wins have come in the first two months.

In other words, let’s not cast him aside just yet.

IN KAYMER’S CORNER: Not everyone packed his bags and headed down from Dove Mountain after losing at the Match Play. Fanny Sunesson, for one, had good reason to stick around for a few days, even after the player for whom she caddies, Henrik Stenson, got beat in Wednesday’s first round.

For several years now, Sunesson has offered guidance, encouragement, advice and counsel to Martin Kaymer. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to call her his coach.

“The experience that she had (as legendary caddie for Nick Faldo) and the right questions that she asked me, they made me into the golf player I am today,” Kaymer said.

Devoted to her craft, Sunesson is the quintessential professional, determined to remain in the background. As she walked all 36 holes of Kaymer’s quarterfinal and semifinal wins Saturday, then Sunday’s finale, she kept to herself. But Kaymer certainly knew she was there.

“In the end of the day, I found solutions by myself,” the new World No. 1 said, “but only through talking to her.”

CINK’S WGC STREAK: If you don’t factor in the HSBC Champions in China, Stewart Cink has played in 16 consecutive World Golf Championships, dating to the Accenture Match Play in 2004. But that streak could end, unless Cink finds a little magic this week at the Honda Classic.

Having dropped to 55th in the world rankings, Cink is not qualified for next week’s Cadillac Championship at Doral.

The last time Cink missed one of these affairs was 2003, when the American Express Championship was held at the Capital City Club in Georgia.

You can’t say Cink isn’t trying to keep the steak alive, however. He’s playing for a third straight week and has entered Honda for just the third time since 1998.

THE MEXICAN MAJOR: There may have been a World Golf Championship in Arizona last week, but to players desperate for starting chances, the tournament in Mayakoba felt like a major. Briny Baird could perhaps attest to that, because by finishing in the top 10 last week in Mexico, he’s teeing it up at the Honda Classic, a hometown stop and just his third tournament of the year.

Playing out of the 126-150 money-list category, Baird has previously played only at Pebble Beach before doing well in Mexico. And to get an idea of just how different it is to not be fully exempt, as he has been the past few years, Baird usually makes Honda his sixth or seventh tournament of the season.

SIFTING THROUGH THE SHUFFLE: With the season’s first re-shuffle, there are some winners and losers on the combined list that carries names from last year’s Nationwide Tour money list and Q-School results.

Gary Woodland, Keegan Bradley and Steven Bowditch would have to be seen as big winners. Woodland began the season 21st on the list, but is now first, while Bradley went from 26th to second and Bowditch from 32nd to seventh.

Woodland made the leap thanks to money accumulated by his playoff loss at the Hope and a T-5 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, while Bradley has a top 10 and three top 25s. Bowditch piled up his money with a T-9 at Pebble Beach.

As for significant drops, Hunter Haas has fallen from fourth to 19th, and Ben Martin from fifth to 27th.

FABULOUS 50s: Almost on a weekly basis, Champions Tour players prove they’ve still got game. John Cook finished third at last week’s PGA Tour stop in Mexico, fairly impressive, even if it was an opposite-field event.

Russ Cochran tried to Monday qualify for the Honda Classic, but his round of 68, solid that it was, fell just short. Olin Browne (72) and Dick Mast (72) were others from the over-50 crowd who gave it a shot.

OF COURSE THEY DO: If we say pretty please and place a cherry on top, could folks stop writing about Ryder Cup captains who want to play their way onto the team?

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