Pro notes recap: Trophies, Tiger, more
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
This is not to suggest that the Wanamaker Trophy will lose its showcase position, but the silver cup that will have traveled all the way from Sao Paulo, Brazil? “It will go right in the living room,” Jon Curran said.
Of course first he’ll have to get to his living room, and that might be a while. Living life as golfers of his ilk do, Curran just left Brazil, is in Panama and next week will be in Louisiana.
After that, the 27-year-old Web.com Tour member will be in position to check out the living room in Tequesta, Fla., to see where he wants to put the trophy he earned for winning last week’s Brazil Champions. Curran knows that it won’t outshine the Wanamaker, awarded to his friend and former high school teammate, Keegan Bradley, for his victory at the 2011 PGA Championship. But it’s proof that Curran is progressing in his lengthy pursuit of a PGA Tour career.
“There’s no one direct path onto the PGA Tour. My goals are still what I set up for myself, and I know there are different ways to get there,” said Curran, who 10 years ago was the No. 1 player for the best high school golf team in Massachusetts, Hopkinton. Another standout was Kim Donovan, who would go on to a splendid career at Duke. Oh, and then there was the new kid who had moved in from Vermont, a tall and lanky guy by the name of Keegan Bradley.
They all achieved admirably in college – Curran at Vanderbilt, Bradley at St. John’s, Donovan for the Blue Devils – but the least-heralded of the three is the one who got to the big leagues first. Bradley never had the sort of junior career as did Curran, who was one year older. Although they went in different directions after college, their friendship persevered.
When Bradley stunned the PGA Tour world with a victory at Atlanta Athletic Club in his first major championship, no one cheered any louder than Curran. When Bradley's finances improved dramatically and he bought a home in Tequesta, there was no doubt that Curran still would be his roommate. Though one roommate headed out for million-dollar purses and World Golf Championships in various corners of the globe, the one who packed his car to drive to Hooters Tour and eGolf Tour and Golfslinger.com Tour tournaments harbored no sense of envy.
“I wouldn’t change anything that has happened," Curran said. "Keegan’s been an awesome inspiration.”
Last year, Curran won three times and topped the NGA (formerly Hooters) Tour money list, with $102,965. The success came at a crucial time, yes, but it never led Curran to lose perspective.
“I was staying patient, staying calm," he said. "I was actually enjoying it. I met a lot of great people, and never once did I not that think I wasn’t where I belonged.”
Armed with confidence, Curran played in Q-School, wound up joint 42nd at the final stage, and earned status on the Web.com Tour for the first time.
That it took just three tournaments into his rookie year to post a victory is sweet vindication for Curran’s patience and doggedness. Bradley has long raved about his friend’s wedge game, “but I think one of the best things about my game is my mental outlook,” Curran said.
“I don’t do much to make you think, ‘Oh, my God. That guy is the real deal.’ But I know how to get it done.”
His third stop along a South American swing – Curran was T-21 in Colombia, then missed the cut in Chile – was worth a $144,000 check and a tweak to his expectations. “My goal starting the season was to win the money title,” Curran said, “and now that I’ve won, I know that’s very attainable.”
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RUSTY? OR READY? Missing the Arnold Palmer Invitational for just the second time since turning professional, Tiger Woods is in a precarious position regarding his Masters prep work. Should he sit out the Valero Texas Open and Shell Houston Open, as expected, in the next two weeks, he would have only 14 competitive rounds under his belt headed into Augusta.
Not what he would have planned, but for the Woods of this era – the version who, at 38, is older and more cautious of injury – it’s part of a game plan that doesn’t push too much. He played just 19 rounds before Augusta a year ago, 21 in 2012, 17 in 2011, none in 2010 (the comeback from the infamous personal-life crash) and 10 in 2009 when he was rebounding from knee surgery.
Those numbers are in stark contrast to the Woods of vintage form. In the years when he won the Masters (1997, 2001, '02, '05) he played an average of 29.75 rounds before Augusta.
Which isn’t to say that he is lost when he shows up at Augusta without a lot of work. He has tied for fourth in three of the past four years, including 2010, when he hadn’t played competitively in months.
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LAGGING BEHIND: Give yourself a gold star if you predicted that Woods would be sitting five spots behind Chesson Hadley in the Ryder Cup standings entering this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Hadley is 35th, Woods 40th.
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BACK AND BETTER THAN EVER: Back with full status on the PGA Tour for the first time since 2010, 39-year-old Will MacKenzie looks like a guy determined to stay for a while. His play thus far in 2013-14 has been consistently superb.
MacKenzie’s most recent effort included a closing spurt at Innisbrook that nearly put him in position to win Sunday, but in the end, he settled for a share of fourth. It was his fourth top-10 in 11 starts; if you widen the focus to top 15, MacKenzie has been there eight times already.
Pretty solid stuff, especially considering the financial rewards. With $1,218,174 already, MacKenzie has surpassed his previous best of $1,116,507, in 2007.
Numbers tell the story when it comes to MacKenzie’s productive return to the PGA Tour. In 40 rounds, he has been in the 60s 23 times already; only Harris English and Charles Howell III (26 each) and Matt Every (24) have more. MacKenzie in nine Sunday rounds has yet to shoot higher than 70, and his average of 68.56 is surpassed by only Kevin Na (67.86) and Webb Simpson (68.00) of those who have played at least five final rounds. Overall, MacKenzie’s scoring average is 69.523, sixth best on Tour this season.
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LANGLEY’S TIME: They were making their debuts as card-carrying members of the PGA Tour at the 2013 Sony Open, but it was Russell Henley who made the bucket of birdies to claim victory, with Scott Langley settling for a share of third.
Henley used that as a springboard to a productive rookie season, finishing 44th in FedEx Cup points and earning more than $2 million, and he recently chalked up his second PGA Tour victory, at the Honda Classic.
Langley melted into the landscape for the rest of 2013, though at 122nd in the FEC standings he maintained his playing status for 2013-14. When he was one of two players to shoot par or better all four rounds at the Valspar Championship (David Hearn being the other), the former NCAA champion from Illinois finished third, his first top 10 since that Sony stop.
In the 37 tournaments in between, the left-hander had missed the cut in 20 starts, so clearly he is hoping this is a signal that things are headed on the upswing.
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HE’S GOT STAYING POWER: John Senden’s victory last week at Innisbrook was just his second in 345 PGA Tour tournaments, dating to his debut at the 2002 Sony Open.
To consider how the PGA Tour is constantly changing complexion with the emergence of young talent and international quality, re-visit Senden’s first victory, the 2006 John Deere Classic. Of the 31 names following Senden’s at the conclusion of play, only six have full status on Tour: Jeff Overton, Bill Haas, Bubba Watson, Jason Bohn, Ryan Moore and Ryan Palmer.
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BUT SO DO THEY: Same thought process, different method. When you compare today’s top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking to the one in mid-March 10 years ago, only two names appear on both: Woods and Mickelson.
Woods also was No. 1 at this time in 2004, while Mickelson sat No. 8, as opposed to being fifth now.
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OVER 40 A RARITY: Senden, 42, became the oldest winner since Woody Austin, 49, won the Sanderson Farms Championship and Phil Mickelson, 43, the Open Championship on the same weekend last July.
In between, there had been 25 tournaments played and the winner was in his 20s 11 times, 30-34 six times, 35-37 eight times.
Since the start of 2012, only six players in their 40s have won: Mickelson three times, Austin, Senden, Ernie Els, Ken Duke and Brian Gay.
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RATHER DO IT HIMSELF: Having roared into prominence with very little warning, Victor Dubuisson is still an unknown entity to much of the golf world, and he seems to relish the air of mystery that surrounds him. He embraces his privacy, though he provided a hint into a competitive personality that lends itself to golf.
“I played tennis (and) basketball. I liked basketball, but I prefer to be on my own. I like to be in control. Basketball, it was great, but I don’t really like to depend on other people.”
Acknowledging that he doesn’t mind keeping to himself, even for weeks at a time, Dubuisson seems a perfect fit for golf, which is at its very core an individual endeavor.
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SEPTEMBER TUNEUP: With the September Ryder Cup clearly at the forefront of the European agenda, three likely team members with no experience in the matches gladly accepted the opportunity to play in next week’s EurAsia Cup in Malaysia.
Dubuisson and Wales’ Jamie Donaldson are 1-2 on the European Points List, while Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher would be the last automatic qualifier off the World Points List if the Ryder Cup were held next week. None of them has played in the Ryder Cup, so the Europe-Asia team match will offer a taste of the format.
Another likely Ryder Cupper, Graeme McDowell, also will play for Europe, which will round out with playing captain Miguel Angel Jimenez, Pablo Larrazabal, Thorbjorn Olesen, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Joost Luiten and Thomas Bjorn, who is in prime position to make the Ryder Cup team for the first time since 2002.
Providing the competition for Asia will be playing captain Thongchai Jaidee, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Prayad Marksaeng, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Anirban Lahiri, Koumei Oda, Hideto Tanihara, Hyung-sung Kim, Siddikur Rahman and Nicholas Fung.
OK, so it doesn’t resonate like the sort of lineup the Americans will toss at the Euros come September, but consider it a good introduction for Dubuisson, Donaldson and Gallacher.
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RETURN ENGAGEMENT: Rumors of his retirement have been greatly exaggerated, because Ricci Roberts – Ernie Els’ longtime caddie – worked both recent WGC events, the Accenture Match Play Championship and the Cadillac Championship, for Richard Sterne.
Having been forced to the sidelines when he had a serious leg injury, Roberts had at one point decided to take a job in Els’ wine business. When Roberts showed up at Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz., for the Match Play, it caused a reporter to do a double-take. When asked why he was back, Roberts smiled. “Because I was bored,” he said.
When Roberts opted to get back beneath the strap, one of his first assignments was with a rising amateur star whom he raves about, Dominic Foos. The 16-year-old is Germany’s top amateur and a runner-up at the Junior Orange Bowl tournament in Florida in December.
Foos has accepted a spot into the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley on April 24-26 in Graniteville, S.C.