Golf

Tiger Woods 3rd-USATSI-10453867

Golf Roundup: Frittelli, Snedeker among those in final push for Masters

NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) — Tournaments in two countries last week might have gone a long way toward who finishes in the top 50 of the world ranking at the end of the year and gets into the Masters.

Dylan Frittelli, the South African who holed the winning putt for Texas when it won the NCAA title in 2012, defeated Arjun Atwal in a playoff in the Mauritius Open and moved to No. 55 in the world. Frittelli is playing the Joburg Open this week, the final event of the calendar year on the European Tour. He also is entered in the Indonesia Masters next week on the Asian Tour.

In the final event on the Japan Golf Tour, Sotoshi Kodaira closed with a 67 to tie for 21st. Only the top 22 received world ranking points, so it was a big finish for Kodaira because that allowed him to move up four spots to No. 49. Yusaki Miyazato won the tournament and moved up 16 spots to No. 58. Both Japanese players are entered in the Indonesia Masters next week.

And they will have company.

Brandt Snedeker missed five months with an injury to his sternum and slipped 15 spots to No. 47 before he returned for the PGA Tour’s last official event of the year at Sea Island. He shot 70-70 on the weekend and tied for 29th. Snedeker fell to No. 50 this week and will keep losing ground.

But the American has entered the Indonesia Masters, the last event of the year that offers world ranking points. The field will get a tiny bump because Justin Rose (No. 6 in the world) has decided to play. That would be Snedeker’s last chance to try to crack the top 50.

Players still have until March 25 to get into the top 50 and earn a spot in the Masters, but it would help to have that taken care of going into the new year.

Also playing in Indonesia is Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, who is No. 60.

Among those not playing is Ian Poulter, who is No. 52. Poulter did not play two weeks ago in the Hong Kong Open, where he is a past champion. He said in a text message it has been a long year and he needs time off, but that “I will make the top 50 before the Masters I promise.”

Bill Haas also is outside the top 50. He has not missed the Masters since 2009.

A year ago, 12 players not already eligible for the Masters finished the year in the top 50 to earn invitations. That number will be smaller this year. Players who are assured of finishing in the top 50 are Tyrrell Hatton, Alex Noren, Matt Fitzpatrick, Branden Grace, Ross Fisher, Yuta Ikeda and Bernd Wiesberger.

Among those who will have to earn their invitations in the spring is Lee Westwood, who is No. 66 and not playing the rest of the year. Westwood has been eligible for every major since he missed the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. The last time Westwood failed to qualify for the Masters was 2004.

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JORDAN’S JACKET: Jordan Spieth doesn’t know his jacket size. He only knows one of the jackets he owns — a green one — is too big.

“I never got it tailored, so it’s huge,” Spieth said of his green jacket from winning the 2015 Masters. “I never trusted anybody, never wanted anyone to go do it. I didn’t give them my size originally. I wore the one off the green that day, and I never gave it back to them to tailor or anything. I should now.”

Asked for his jacket size, Spieth wasn’t sure, only that it was somewhere around a 40.

There’s a reason he doesn’t know. Spieth doesn’t own a lot of jackets. He did get a couple of them before the Presidents Cup, and he put it on the tab of Justin Thomas.

“I bought two suits on Justin’s Polo account … and that’s the only nice clothes that I’ve ever bought,” Spieth said. “I bought two suits and the shoes and sweaters and whatnot because he got a discount. So I got some really nice stuff.”

What did Thomas get out of the deal?

“I asked him if he wanted any underwear in return or something,” Spieth said with a smile.

One of his top sponsors is Under Armour.

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TOUR SWITCH: The European Tour has tapped into the PGA Tour to find its latest executive to oversee television production.

Stu Nichol, the senior vice president of broadcasting and programming for the PGA Tour, has left to become head of television production for the European Tour. Nichol is expected to start his new job in January at a time when the European Tour is taking control of European Tour Productions. Previously, it was a shared venture between the European Tour and IMG Media.

Nichol’s decision stemmed from a chance meeting with European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley during the World Golf Hall of Fame induction in New York in late September. Both are Canadians. Nichol’s first job in the late 1980s was at TSN in Toronto, where he was an assignment editor and Pelley was the producer.

Nichol was not looking to leave the PGA Tour, though the move became attractive when the PGA Tour decided not to opt out of its television contracts and consider the possibility of its own network. Nichol had been involved in potential models.

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AILING KOEPKA: Brooks Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan by nine shots, and then returned home for Thanksgiving and to get ready for the Hero World Challenge. Somewhere along the way, the U.S. Open champion felt soreness in his left wrist.

“I have some wrist issues,” Koepka said in the Bahamas. “I want to figure that out. I can’t grip anything strong with my left hand.”

Koepka said he first felt some tightness on Saturday before going over to Albany Golf Club. He has the next month to let it heal or figure out if anything is wrong before starting the new year in Kapalua at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

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TRAVELING MAN: A year ago, Justin Rose withdrew after the first round of the Hero World Challenge with a nagging back injury. This year, he’s stronger than ever, and he has the airline miles to prove it.

Rose won the HSBC Champions in Shanghai and then went straight to the Turkish Airlines Open. He came home to the Bahamas for one week before returning to Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship. Then he went to Hong Kong before going back to the Bahamas for the Hero World Challenge. After a week at home with friends, Rose is off to Jakarta for the Indonesia Masters.

“It’s been a test — I can’t lie,” he said. “But I’m feeling good. I’m feeling really good.”

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DIVOTS: Sony Corp. has agreed to extend its title sponsorship of the Sony Open another four years through 2022. Sony took over as title sponsor in 1999. The tournament has been held at Waialae Country Club down from Waikiki Beach since 1965. … Ian Poulter missed the cut at the Valero Texas Open and thought he had lost his full PGA Tour card until he was spared by a technical oversight in tour regulations. Since then, he has made the cut in 19 consecutive tournaments worldwide to finish out the year. … Scott Reid, formerly tournament director of the RSM Classic, will be the tournament director for the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. … The World Cup returns to Melbourne next fall, only this time it will be headed to Metropolitan Golf Club. Metropolitan held the Match Play Championship in 2001 won by Steve Stricker.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Dustin Johnson will become only the third American to finish the year at No. 1 since the world ranking began in 1986.

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FINAL WORD: “You can’t go through a career without some heartache.” — Justin Rose.

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TIGERMANIA — The latest comeback by Tiger Woods, this one following a 10-month absence from a fourth back surgery in three years, was sure to cause some disruption in the workforce with the weekday television coverage.

That included the commissioner’s office at the PGA Tour.

“I would consider myself to be among the highly distracted as Tiger played his first round,” Jay Monahan said Tuesday.

Monahan was at the Hero World Challenge the day before it began and stayed for the pro-am dinner, where he said Woods spoke from the heart about his foundation, thanked the other 17 players for coming and reminded them they had a chance to compete against a player at No. 1,199 in the world ranking.

“That broke up the room,” Monahan said with a laugh.

Indeed, it’s rare for a player to tie for ninth and move up 531 spots in the world ranking — Woods now is all the way up to No. 668 — but such were the circumstances. The field featured eight of the top 10 in the world, and it included one guy who had earned ranking points at only two tournaments over the last two years.

There’s no way to go but up.

That’s what Monahan took away from the holiday exhibition, only he wasn’t talking about the world ranking.

“We had such a strong year with great, young players stepping forward,” he said. “You add Tiger back in the mix, and we all go away from it with a lot of excitement.”

How much Woods is in the mix remains to be seen, although this was as strong as he has looked in four years. Next up is figuring out a schedule that Woods said would be geared around the four majors. He hasn’t played all four since 2015, and he hasn’t made the cut in all of them since 2013.

Most of the young players at Albany Golf Club — Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger — know more about the legend of Woods than what it’s like to have him at tournaments.

Thomas got a taste of it.

He is the FedEx Cup champion and PGA Tour player of the year after winning five times, including his first major at the PGA Championship. He started the new season by winning the CJ Cup in South Korea.

And when he sat down for a news conference, his first six questions were about Woods.

Thomas was paired with Woods for the first and final rounds, and while Woods had the largest gallery, there was rarely more than about 250 fans. It’s the Bahamas. So when Thomas was asked if felt the effect of Woods on the golf course or in his news conference, he smiled.

“I would say more of the fact that I just won the FedEx Cup, player of the year, and all I get asked about is Tiger Woods,” he said. Thomas was not the least bit irritated, even though this was the 10th out 12 consecutive questions he fielded about Woods on that day.

“I thought it was bad the questions I got asked about Jordan,” Thomas said.

Golf wasn’t suffering without Woods, not inside the ropes.

Dating to when Woods had his first back surgery, Rory McIlroy won two majors in 2014; Spieth got halfway to the calendar Grand Slam in 2015; Dustin Johnson fulfilled his potential with his first major in 2016 and was voted player of the year. And this year brought the emergence of the 24-year-old Thomas.

None can draw attention to golf like Woods — not individually, maybe not collectively. That’s no surprise.

“The keen golf fans will know Tiger moved the needle and brought people in that might be sports fans, but not golf fans,” Henrik Stenson said. “But everyone who follows golf closely, I don’t think they’ve been home thinking, ‘Oh, this is not exciting anymore,’ when all the guys at the top have been winning. It’s been a healthy couple of years, even though he’s not been on the scene.

“I don’t think he can make it less good, having the old Tiger back and trying to charge through the field,” Stenson said. “It would make it even more exciting.”

There’s also the danger, especially in today’s social media climate, to gush so much over Woods that it seems no one else is playing and tournaments that Woods doesn’t play are not worth watching.

This is nothing new. The PGA Tour has been facing questions like this for 20 years.

Monahan sees only an upside now.

“We have such a deep bench of young, international players, combined with a great group of veterans. All have accomplished a lot in their own right, week in and week out. The story lines will be strong,” Monahan said. “You take a strong PGA Tour and just make it stronger. And it doesn’t just apply when Tiger is playing. The fact he’s back is bringing more attention, more eyeballs, and that’s going to benefit everyone.

“It’s great to be back in that situation.”

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