Pro notes recap: 'Offseason' fields, Spieth's outlook, more

Tiger Woods during the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in 2012.

Tiger Woods during the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in 2012.

Feel free to chuckle the next time you hear world-class players talk of their need for an offseason.

This weekend would certainly fall into that time of year considered to be “an offseason,” yet what are 39 of the world’s top 50 players doing? They’re playing golf.

All 18 players in “Tiger’s Tournament,” officially called the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge at Sherwood CC in Thousand Oaks, Calif., are ranked within the top 30, including five of the top 10:

  • 1. Tiger Woods;
  • 6. Rory McIlroy;
  • 7. Matt Kuchar;
  • 8. Steve Stricker;
  • 10. Jason Day.

Not to be outdone, the mega-rich Nedbank Challenge in South Africa has 19 of the world’s top 50, including five of the top 20:

  • 3. Henrik Stenson;
  • 5. Justin Rose;
  • 15. Luke Donald;
  • 18. Charl Schwartzel;
  • 20. Sergio Garcia.

There is one top-50 player (Miguel Angel Jimenez, 48th) teeing it up in Hong Kong, while Hideki Matsuyama, 23rd, will play in the Golf Nippon Series JT in Japan.

The 11 top 50 players who aren’t playing this weekend? No. 2 Adam Scott leads the way, having played four consecutive weeks in Australia, and No. 4 Phil Mickelson is truly having an offseason. Also not playing: Brandt Snedeker (though it’s because of an injury), Nick Watney, Graham DeLaet, Jonas Blixt, Rickie Fowler, Scott Piercy, Peter Hanson, Billy Horschel and Jimmy Walker.

And just so you don’t think this is a one-week deal, consider that come Sunday night, some of the world’s best will head toward the other side of the world to play in the Thailand Open. Mahan, Watson and Fowler are signed on for that tournament, though sources have indicated that there is some concern about the unrest between anti-government groups and police in the streets of Bangkok. The American trio reportedly will monitor the situation this weekend and make a group decision before Sunday.

Should they go, they will have world-class company, because Stenson, Rose, Garcia, Schwartzel, Ryo Ishikawa, and Thorbjorn Olesen also are entered.

• • •

SPIETH'S POST-ROOKIE OUTLOOK: Give Jordan Spieth credit for a lot of things, among them his very sharp sense of gratitude. Many might have overlooked how Spieth earned his way into this week’s Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, but not the kid from Texas.

He knows he got the spot because Brandt Snedeker was hurt. What’s more, Spieth knows he got into the 2012 U.S. Open because Snedeker withdrew with an injury, too.

“I owe him a Christmas present, I think,” Spieth said.

Nice move, young man, but it should come as no surprise because Spieth has re-defined the expression “making all the right moves” since leaving the University of Texas early in his sophomore year.

His rookie-of-the-year prize might have been the biggest no-brainer of the 2013 PGA Tour season, given that Spieth played so superbly he earned a spot on the Presidents Cup team. But always, it’s advisable to embrace a little perspective and in Spieth’s case, that means casting a wide net over the last 10 PGA Tour rookies of the year. If you do that, then Spieth is in crowded company, because eight of them recorded victories in their rookie season and Keegan Bradley (2011) and Todd Hamilton (2004) won twice; only Rickie Fowler (2010) and Marc Leishman (2009) did not.

Spieth finishing eighth in the FedEx Cup standings? Impressive, but Bradley (2011) was fifth and Brandt Snedeker (2007) ninth when they were rookies.

As for talk about the “sophomore slump,” let the record show that Bradley in 2012 won again and finished eighth in the FEC standings and the three ROY winners before him held their own in their second seasons. John Huh won in 2012 and was 25th in the FEC standings and while he didn’t quite match that in 2013, he did well with two top 10s and 65th in the standings. Fowler went from 19th in the FEC standings in his 2010 rookie season to 28th the next year, while Leishman actually improved in 30 sots in the FEC standings in his sophomore season.

Spieth, however, is hardly focused strictly on backing up his rookie season. He’s all about long term, about growing into his game and his career, not reliving the incredible 2013 success.

“It’s great to look back at what happened,” he said, “but all in all, I think the way to have success is to not dwell too much on the past and focus on the best players in the world that I’m playing against now week in and week out.”

One thing is absolute, however. Spieth favors his lot in life right now more than where he was a year ago at this time. Which was where?

“I had (final exams) in english and rhetoric,” he said of his last days at the University of Texas. “I had a big paper and then I had a test, both (subjects) of which are being very useful to me now.”

• • •

CABRERA HEADS HOME TO PLAY: As title defenses go, little spotlight will be provided Angel Cabrera, but trying to win a second straight Argentina Open takes on personal meaning for the proud Argentine.

The tournament tees off Thursday and is the 14th and final tournament of this year’s LatinoAmerica Series. Mexico’s Jose De Jesus Rodriguez has a slight lead over American Ryan Blaum in the battle to be leading money winner. This week's field will include a couple of PGA Tour veterans who are used to making these trips to South America this time of year, Jeff Gove and Scott Dunlap.

• • •

Q-SCHOOL STILL PACKS PRESSURE: There’s admittedly less attention being focused on the final stage of Q-School this year, and for good reason. Those who survive next week’s six-round test in the California desert will graduate onto the Web.com Tour, not the PGA Tour.

Still, when you consider that playing status is critical in today’s professional golf landscape, you can appreciate the pressure that will be in play for youngsters such as Max Homa, Justin Thomas and Michael Kim, or for veterans such as Todd Hamilton, Patrick Sheehan, Steven Allan, Jeff Klauk, Peter Lonard, Ted Purdy and Scott Hend.

If following bloodlines is your thing, there are some notable names who’ll be in the lineup – Olin Browne Jr., Jamie Sindelar, Manny Villegas, Tyler McCumber and Sam Saunders.

• • •

CHOI'S CHARITABLE MOVE: You might say KJ Choi is in the holiday spirit, except that his charitable donation to the victims of the devastating typhoon in the Philippines is more in keeping with his nature. Through his KJ Choi Foundation, the PGA Tour veteran has donated the $100,000 he earned at the recent World Cup of Golf to the American Red Cross to help victims of last month’s disaster.

“I wanted to represent Korea in sharing the sentiment of my fellow countrymen to our friends in the Philippines,” Choi said in a statement released by his foundation.

His actions come as no surprise to those who know Choi. In the spring of 2011, Choi donated $100,000 to relief efforts in the wake of the earthquake in Japan.

Choi finished T-15 in the individual portion of the recent World Cup in Australia, and T-15 in the team competition with Sang-Moon Bae.

• • •

STARS TO SHINE NEAR ORLANDO: While many of his colleagues will be teeing it up at Tiger’s tournament or in South Africa, Brian Gay will spend the weekend putting golf to a charitable cause in Celebration, Fla., near Walt Disney World.

The Brian Gay Invitational will donate proceeds to the Florida Hospital for Children. To help him celebrate the Friday-Saturday-Sunday event, PGA Tour members J.B. Holmes and Nick O’Hern will be on hand. Gay has also received commitments from a wide array of notable athletes, among them Reggie Jackson, Mark Rypien, John Smoltz, Johnny Damon, and Richard Dent.

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