1. The Asian swing
Slowly, the PGA Tour has forged its way into Asia, first giving players another option in addition to the World Golf Championship event in China several years ago, and now adding another choice that allows players to compete in three events in a row — although not exactly in close proximity.
This week’s CIMB Classic, which began in 2010 as a small-field event for just 40 players, has been an official tournament on the schedule since the PGA Tour went to a wraparound season in 2013-14 and now has a field of 78 players. Justin Thomas is the two-time defending champion of the Malaysian event.
Next week the tour heads to its first-ever event in South Korea, the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges. Like the tournament in Malaysia, the CJ Cup will have a 78-player field, with 60 coming off the final FedEx Cup points list from last season. Each tournament will also feature players from the host country.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan talked about the event “inspiring a new generation of players,” not just in Asia but around the world. Hence, the tour’s interest in expanding its footprint in the region, even if it is relatively small.
After the event in South Korea, the tour moves to Shanghai for the WGC HSBC Champions. The tournament has been on the schedule since 2005 and is co-sanctioned by the European Tour. It became a WGC in 2009, and it was recognized as an official PGA Tour event starting in 2013.
All three of the Asian events do not have a cut, meaning guaranteed prize money and FedEx Cup points for those who participate.
2. Proximity, or lack thereof
Although the idea of playing three tournaments in Asia sounds good from a logistics standpoint, only the time zones are close. The distance from Kuala Lumpur — it takes approximately 18 hours to get there from the East Coast of the United States — to Seoul is a flight that lasts more than six hours. From Seoul to Shanghai is a little less than two hours.
While nothing seems imminent, the idea of partnering with one of the tournaments in Australia such as the Australian Open or Australian PGA (the Australian Masters is now defunct) or both would be intriguing for the PGA Tour if it wanted to create a true Asia-Pacific Swing of tournaments and market them as such.
You could envision Malaysia, South Korea, China, perhaps an event or two in Australia and even the two Hawaii events making up a strong fall schedule while leaving room for some other domestic events to take the place of the Hawaiian events in January.
Australian golf officials would undoubtedly love the idea of the PGA Tour’s marketing and financial might giving a boost to a golf-strong country that has had difficulty finding significant sponsorship money.
For example, the purse for the Australian Open (where Jordan Spieth is the defending champion) this year is $1.25 million Australian — which is just $970,000 U.S. The winner of this week’s CIMB Classic will get $1.26 million U.S., or more than the entire Australian Open purse.
4. Old Course, ‘new’ record
Ross Fisher went around the Old Course at St. Andrews in a mere 61 strokes Sunday during the final round of the Dunhill Links Championship, missing a 4-footer at the last for 60. Nobody has ever shot 59 in a European Tour event, and the fact that somebody threatened it at the home of golf is another indicator of equipment gains and how vulnerable old courses are today. Rory McIlroy shot 63 at The Open at St. Andrews in 2010.
Not all, of course, are pleased. Gary Player, for example.
Whilst delighted for all the players, it’s quite sad to see The Old Course of St Andrews brought to her knees by today’s ball & equipment.
— Gary Player (@garyplayer) October 8, 2017
5. Phil’s best
Despite missing fairways left and right, Phil Mickelson posted his best finish since the 2016 Open with his tie for third at the Safeway Open. He got within a shot of the lead through 16 holes Sunday, and then bogeyed the 17th after missing the fairway — with an iron. Still, it was an encouraging week for Mickelson, who has not won since the 2013 Open and vows he is getting closer.
“The game has come back,” he said. “My focus is much better. I’m staying in the present and hitting the shots.”
Mickelson is taking the next two weeks off, and then heading to China for the WGC HSBC Champions — which he won in 2009. It will be his last tournament of 2017, with Mickelson expected to return in January at the Career Builder Challenge.
6. No Ryder Cup points
Mickelson missed out on Ryder Cup points at the Safeway — because the tournament doesn’t offer them. In a Phil-being-Phil moment at a news conference in 2015 — when, as part of the Ryder Cup Task Force, he announced Davis Love III as the 2016 captain — Mickelson explained why the fall events would no longer be receiving Ryder Cup points.
“If you count money (points) for those last three or four months, you’re giving the bottom half of the tour a three-month head start over ultimately the top guys,” Mickelson said.
Perhaps a poor choice of words, as numerous top players compete in at least a few of these events fall events.
Later in 2015, Thomas won the CIMB Classic, and had he received Ryder Cup points, he would have made the 2016 team.
Then again, there is a strong reason not to count the fall events. Only the majors, WGCs and the Players Championship give Ryder Cup points in the Ryder Cup off year. Then points are given increased value starting in January with even more value at the majors and WGCs.
Why any tournaments give points in 2017 for an event that won’t happen until September of 2018 is all about marketing, not competition. It is a way to bring attention to the Ryder Cup (not that it needs it) in the off years.
Mickelson, for what it’s worth, is 21st in the points, hurt by having missed the cut at The Open and the PGA Championship and not playing the U.S. Open. Not surprising, Brooks Koepka, Spieth and Thomas — all major winners — lead the standings.
7. Tiger tweets
Tiger Woods‘ agent, Mark Steinberg, said over the weekend that the 14-time major champion had yet to be cleared by doctors to resume full golf activity following fusion surgery in his lower back in April. Woods said at the Presidents Cup two weeks ago that he was “in no hurry” and that he would await a checkup with his surgeon, timed for around the six-month post-surgery mark.
But twice in recent days Woods has posted video of himself taking full swings. While that is a long way away from full-time practice and preparation, it would seem to suggest Woods is at least doing more than should be expected.
Smooth iron shots pic.twitter.com/v9XLROZnfW
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) October 7, 2017
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) October 10, 2017
8. Fighting back
Six-time PGA Tour winner Hunter Mahan, who played on the U.S. Ryder Cup team as recently as 2014, has seen a lot of dark days on the golf course the past two years. With just three top-25 finishes over that period, Mahan found himself at the Web.com Tour finals and was unable to earn his card back by finishing among the top 25.
Mahan got a spot in the Safeway Open via his conditional status (he’ll also seek sponsor exemptions this season) and finished tied for 13th after a final-round 70. That was his best finish in more than two years, since he tied for fourth at the 2015 Deutsche Bank.
9. Back to work
Justin Thomas noted his brief “offseason” before heading to Malaysia, where he will defend his title at the CIMB Classic.
— Justin Thomas (@JustinThomas34) October 8, 2017