Tour notes recap: Tour cards, travel issues, more

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson

For all this talk of the PGA Tour’s first wrap-around season, some will stick to the old-fashioned way and wait for January to roll around.

Not by choice, mind you, but Jim Renner said it doesn’t do any good to sit around and mope about the new landscape. True, he’s got his PGA Tour card for 2013-14, but for Renner and nearly a dozen of his colleagues, that has meant very little.

They’ve remained on the sidelines for the first five tournaments of the season and next week at the Mayakoba Classic will probably be the same story. Too many players for too few spots.

“People kept telling me, ‘You’ll get in maybe four tournaments, but likely two.’ But no one told me it would be zero,” Renner said.

He was driving through the late-autumn dusk, headed to his home in Orlando, Fla., from Brunswick, Ga., where he had failed to make it through a Monday qualifier for the McGladrey Classic. “These Monday qualifiers are not very fun. It’s not the way you want to play the Tour,” said Renner.

But the 30-year-old refuses to dwell on the negative. It’s been frustrating, yes, “but I’m doing everything I can this winter to set up my year and I’ll go from there. I’m just going to try and be ready.”

That Renner finds himself as sort of a poster boy for critics who bemoan the way PGA Tour cards were distributed at the end of 2013 is not something he wants. Fact is, “I don’t disagree with the big picture of the whole thing. I understand the thinking that went behind it.”

At the end of the Web.com Tour regular season, the top 25 money winners were guaranteed PGA Tour cards for 2013-14, but their priority ranking would be determined by how they fared in a four-tournament series that would include the top 75 on the Web.com Tour money list and Nos. 126-200 from the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings.

Having finished 17th on the Web.com Tour money list, Renner saw his standing crash when he played poorly in the four tournaments – two missed cuts, a T-60 and a T-41. When all was done, he has sunk to 44th on the priority list, though his wasn’t the biggest fall.

Kevin Tway was fifth on the the money list, but tumbled all the way to 46th on the priority list thanks to a poor Web.com Tour Finals. It was bad for Mark Anderson (eighth to 45th) and Will Wilcox (seventh to 49th), too, and also for Alex Prugh (11th to 41st).

But if the immediate aftermath of the Web.com Tour Championship was tough, it grew worse when the 2013-14 season commenced and these players found out that it was like having Game 7 tickets to a series that ended in six. Of the 50 players who earned cards through the Web.com Tour Finals, the bottom 12 (Nos. 39-50) have yet to get into a tournament on their number.

True, Renner got into the Frys.com Open via a Monday qualifier, and a sprinkling of sponsor exemptions have gone to Tway, Prugh, Wes Roach (40th), and Jamie Lovemark (39th), but mostly it’s been a lost cause. “A lot of guys on the Web.com Tour go the huge part of the summer playing 13 in a row, 10 in a row, so this is frustrating,” Renner said.

But, again, he appreciates how this all came down. It’s the first year the PGA Tour adopted this system, awarding cards through the Web.com Tour Finals and not through the annual qualifying tournament. And before the wrap-around season, the fall events at Frys and in Vegas had not been huge draws, “but with big purses, full FedEx Cup points, a lot of guys decided they wanted to play in them,” Renner aid. “Fine. Can’t blame them.”

Andy Pazder, the PGA Tour’s executive vice-president and chief of operations, concedes that after all the analysis “in two of the four tournaments (on U.S. soil) we felt comfortable that the entire Web.com list would all get in.”

Wrong.

“At the Shriners,” said Pazder, “we had 25 more exempt players in the field from a year ago. It was shocking.”

Shockingly good for the Tour and the tournament officials, for these early tournaments have been stronger and better. But it’s been shockingly bad for the guys with cards but no tee times.

Compounding the problem is the fact that with daylight at a premium this time of year, the fields are kept to 132 and even then it’s a challenge to get everyone in. Davis Love III the player suggested to the PGA Tour that two courses be used to accommodate fields of 144. Then in the next breath, Davis Love the tournament organizer (he helps run the McGladrey) conceded the problems that would create.

“It would add a lot of stress to tournament organizers, add financial expenses, and TV might not like it,” said Pazder. “But maybe it’s something we can look at.”

Chances are more likely, however, that the Tour will look at how some players crashed down the priority list and consider tweaks to a system that is quite reasonable and sensible, just not perfect. Then again, what in golf is? Guys in the past had miserable Web.com Tour seasons, caught fire in the final stage of Q-School, and rode into the PGA Tour season high up on the priority list. Was that fair? No.

So Renner remains upbeat. He has penciled in the Sony Open in Hawaii, hopeful that he’ll get in on his number for that one. A nice place to be in early January, for sure, and riding optimism that he’ll eventually get a chance to play in 20-22 tournaments, Renner said, “it will be 100 percent on me.”

• • •

HE’LL DOUBLE HIS DUTIES: Jonas Blixt, who in 2013 played in just one pure European PGA Tour tournament (he was second at the Nordea Masters), is nonetheless inside the top 60 and thus will be part of the season-ending DP World Challenge in Dubai (Nov. 14-17).

Blixt piled up enough money at tournaments co-sanctioned by the American and European tours (T-26 at the Open Championship, T-59 at the WGC Bridgestone, fourth at the PGA, T-63 at the HSBC) that he finished 53rd in the Race To Dubai standings.

The Swede qualifies for consideration because he’s an affiliate member of the European PGA Tour who has committed to full membership in 2014. It will be his first season as a Euro member and since he’ll continue with his American membership, here’s wishing him well. Judging by the numbers, he may need it, because it’s clearly become a serious challenge to have dual tours.

In 2013, of those who fulfilled membership requirements on both tours, only Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose could say that they had two terrific regular seasons. Stenson was ninth in FEC points, and is presently first in the Race To Dubai. Rose was seventh in FEC points, and sits third in the R2D.

Stenson, of course, caught fire in the FEC playoffs, won the massive bonus and is challenging to become the first to win both post-season races at season’s end.

Luke Donald (2011) and Rory McIlroy (2012) each won a pair of regular-season money titles, but this year, it sure looked like the strain of keeping dual memberships wore on the best players. Donald, for instance, is Mr. 55 – 55th in the FEC standings and presently in that same position in the Euro standings. McIlroy was 49th in FEC points and is 38th in R2D. Ian Poulter? OK, he is fourth in the R2D, but he was 70th in the FEC standings at the close of the regular season and has never qualified for the Tour Championship. Lee Westwood, presently 20th in Europe, was 35th in the FEC standings and didn’t make it into the field at East Lake.

Martin Kaymer (25th in Europe, 103rd in the U.S.), Ernie Els (14th and 82nd), Garcia (10th, 59th), and Graeme McDowell (second, 28th) all have decent standing in the European race, but had seasons below their standards on these shores.

• • •

WORLD WILL GATHER: Perhaps it won’t appeal to those who live for competition that only involves marquee names, but the upcoming World Cup will be its usual eclectic self. Thirty-three countries will be represented, with 60 golfers coming from six continents.

Though only 14 of the world’s top 50-ranked players will tee it up, the competition will have the added presence of a remarkable stage, Royal Melbourne, and that alone will make many want to watch.

This competition was always about the team race, but no longer. To fall more in line with how the golf will look – for better or worse – at the 2016 Summer Olympics, the 60 golfers will play a 72-hole, stroke-play competition, with serious world-ranking points and $7 million up for grabs. The team portion will have a $1 million purse.

In all, 27 teams are entered, with Australia (Adam Scott and Jason Day) the only one to feature two players ranked inside the top 30. (As of Oct. 31, the cutoff, Scott was No. 2, Day No. 16.) America will be represented by No. 8 Matt Kuchar and No. 37 Kevin Streelman, Ireland by No. 11 Graeme McDowell and No. 84 Shane Lowry, Italy by Nos. 31 and 47 Matteo Manassero and Francesco Molinari, and South Africa by No. 36 Branden Grace and No. 83 George Coetzee.

Elsewhere, the range of entries goes from the somewhat familiar (Spain will be represented by Miguel Angel Jimenez and Rafael Cabrera-Bello; England, Chris Wood and David Lynn; Sweden, Jonas Blixt and Peter Hanson; Denmark, Thomas Bjorn and Thorbjorn Olesen; South Korea, K.J. Choi and Sang-Moon Bae; Japan, Ryo Ishikawa and Hideto Tanihara), to the intriguing (Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Prayad Marksaeng for Thailand), to the unheralded (Felipe Aguilar and Mark Tullo of Chile).

The 27 teams will account for 54 of the 60 players in the field and six more will be play not for national honor but individual pride – Vijay Singh of Fiji, Brendon de Jonge of Zimbabwe, Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium, Bernd Wiesberger of Austria, Espen Kofstad of Norway, and Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh.

• • •

ROAD LESS REWARDED: You’ve probably seen those T-shirts emblazoned with something like “My parents went all the way to Aruba and all I got was this shirt.” Well, some PGA Tour members have a similar sentiment after their lengthy excursion to Malaysia and Shanghai reaped very little reward.

How little?

Consider D.A. Points, who could be called “Mr. T-68.” That’s where he finished at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur and staying consistent, that’s what position he was in at the end of the HSBC Champions. And for his eight rounds of 11-over golf and roughly 18,000 air miles, Points came home with 4.25 FedEx Cup points.

Sure, the prize money of more than $56,000 is nice, but his world revolves around FEC points now and 4.25 isn’t much of a haul.

John Merrick (T-64, T-55) earned just 19 FEC points, David Lynn (T-64, T-39) only 34.

In all, 21 PGA Tour members played in both the CIMB and the HSBC, with Ryan Moore (519 FEC points) returning with the biggest stash. Of course, that’s what winning does.

Graham DeLaet (T-7, T-6 for 185 FEC points) was the only one of the 21 who recorded a top 10 each week, though Sergio Garcia (T-11, 4th) fared well (205 FEC points), and so, too, did Keegan Bradley (10th, T-11, 144 points).

• • •

FINISH LINE? OR STARTING POINT? Ah, only in the world of pro golf circa 2013 could a guy like Rory McIlroy be making his American PGA Tour season debut and winding down his European season at the same time.

The HSBC Champions in Shanghai, last week’s World Golf Championship, served as the fourth tournament at the start of the 2013-14 wrap-around season for the PGA Tour. But since it’s co-sanctioned by the European Tour, it was also the third-to-last tournament to the 2013 season.

This week’s Turkish Airlines Open will be McIlroy’s 13th on the European Tour, and the upcoming DP World Challenge will make it 14.

But if you’re thinking the close of the DP World Challenge Nov. 10 will afford you a chance to sit and reflect on the 2013 European Tour season, forget it. Europe’s 2014 campaign will begin four days later with the South African Open and by the time the American tour plays tournament No. 8 on its 2013-14 schedule, the Sony Open in Hawaii Jan. 9-12, the Euros will be countering with their sixth, the Volvo Golf Champions.

• • •

BOYS, LOOK IN THE MIRROR: If there was entertainment found in the recent Tiger Woods - Rory McIlroy one-day, 18-hole money-grab in China, it related not to the golf but to the conversations they carried on while being wired with microphones.

McIlroy, for instance, moaned about having been paired at the BMW Masters with Padraig Harrington, because the former plays fast, the latter methodically. Woods talked of his inability to get comfortable with the large, 460 cc head of his Nike driver.

But toward the end when they got into their globe-trotting ways, well, it was laughable. “I’m done with hopping around the world,” McIlroy said. To which Woods added: “I have to let a little air out of my career too. I travel too much.”

Guys, get real. You were in China at the time, having gone there for the almighty dollar – millions of them. And two weeks later, Woods would arrive in Turkey, again lured by millions.

They live in Florida and ignore tournaments that require very little travel (Woods’ GPS apparently can’t locate Palm Harbor; McIlroy blew off Arnold Palmer, for goodness sakes) so please, spare us the drama-queen nonsense.

• • •

PLENTY OF ACTION: If this week’s PGA Tour stop, the McGladrey Classic in Sea Island, Ga., isn’t enough to satisfy your appetite, no problem. Proving that pro golf is a global, 24/7 enterprise, there are tournaments in Turkey, Australia, India, and Japan, too – with recognizable names at each stop.

Woods, of course, headlines the European Tour stop, but as Henrik Stenson attempts to nail down a Race To Dubai title, two of his chief pursuers, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, will also tee it up at The Montgomerie Maxx Royal.

The Montgomerie Maxx Royal? Indeed, the host venue is credited to none other than Colin Montgomerie – and to celebrate the occasion, the sour Scot will be on hand to test his game.

At the Australian PGA, Adam Scott will continue to bask in the glow of his much-anticipated homecoming, having made his way Down Under for the first time since winning the Masters. It’s the not the strongest of fields in Queensland, especially with Brandt Snedeker having withdrawn with a knee injury, but Rickie Fowler will be there to offer Scott some competition.

Curious one here, but somehow Michael Thompson has landed at the India Open, where Arjun Atwal, Daniel Chopra, and Robert Rock are among the competitors.

Ryo Ishikawa had toyed with the idea of entering the McGladrey Classic, but he chose instead to tee it up in this week in Japan where his competition will include Ryuji Imada. Having lost his PGA Tour card, Imada is searching for playing opportunities; this will be his fourth start in his native Japan.

• • •

THEY’LL TRAVEL ABROAD, THANK YOU: Phil Mickelson choosing to start his 2014 golf in Abu Dhabi rather than the Humana? Chalk that up as a mild surprise. He’ll end 2013 with stops in Malaysia and China, then start 2014 in the Middle East? Lefty goes globe-trotting. Who would have thought it?

But if you think about it, Tiger Woods bypassing Abu Dhabi (Jan. 16-19) and playing instead at the Dubai Desert Classic (Jan. 30 - Feb. 2) makes sense, given where Woods likely will be a few days later – in Russia, watching Lindsey Vonn at the Winter Olympics. Her specialties are the downhill (Feb. 12) and Super G (Feb. 15). If Woods chooses to be there, it wouldn’t mean much to his PGA Tour schedule, for he doesn’t have much love for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (Feb. 6-9) or Northern Trust Open (Feb. 13-16).

Could it interfere with his participation at the Accenture Match Play Championship (Feb. 19-23)? Time will tell, but consider this: Since that competition moved to the Golf Club at Dove Mountain in 2009, Woods has had a miserable time in this World Golf Championship. In four starts (he missed in 2010), he has lost in Round 1 twice and in Round 2 twice, so maybe Sochi doesn’t sound so bad.

• • •

SCHOOL WORK: Two of four second-stage sites in Spain wrapped up Tuesday and a handful of Americans advanced at the European Tour Q-School.

John Hahn, Jason Knutzon, and Dodge Kemmer all made it through at Las Colinas, though Peter Williamson was done in by a second-round 77 and fell short.

The heartache at Las Colinas, however, belonged to Garrick Porteous of England and the University of Tennessee. Having started the fourth round at 6 under and well inside the number, Porteous ballooned to 80 and missed out on the final stage.

At El Saler, American Eric Cole held on to grab one of the last spots, but Philip Francis was not as fortunate; his final rounds of 79-74 left him packing. Former NCAA champion Thomas Pieters breezed into the final stage out of El Saler and so, too, did veteran journeyman Mathias Gronberg.

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