FedEx Cup

Golf Roundup: New PGA Tour schedule still has a few moving parts

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —  PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.  — Jay Monahan might have been overly ambitious when he said he hoped to have next year’s PGA Tour schedule ready to announce at The Players Championship. The commissioner is not in a big rush, and there remain a few moving parts.

And it goes beyond finding a title sponsor for the Houston Open.

The Houston Open currently is slotted for the week before the U.S. Open next year, and tour officials remain confident it will be on the schedule. The final piece of the puzzle is the section between the U.S. Open and the British Open.

The John Deere Classic has been held the week before the British Open since 2004, except for in 2016 because of the Olympics.

“Our hope is to keep our traditional date,” tournament director Clair Peterson said.

The PGA Tour wants to wrap up the FedEx Cup playoffs before football season, and not just the start of the NFL. The plan is for the season to end before college football gets started, which means finishing a week before Labor Day.

The FedEx St. Jude Invitational, which becomes a World Golf Championship next year, would be played the week after the British Open. Players would have to get from Northern Ireland (Royal Portrush hosts the Open in 2019) straight to Memphis, Tennessee.

That would be followed by the Wyndham Championship, and then straight into three FedEx Cup playoff events with the Tour Championship ending on Aug. 25.

The Travelers Championship is likely to stay put the week after the U.S. Open. The other three weeks would be filled with the RBC Canadian Open, the John Deere Classic and a new tournament in Detroit. Details are being finalized for Quicken Loans to be the title sponsor, though it would not involve the Tiger Woods Foundation.

Two weeks before the British Open, the tournament dates next year would be July 4-7.

July Fourth has become problematic for some tournaments because family holidays make it difficult to secure volunteers, among other things.

And that’s just next year.

Still to come is the next Olympic year in 2020 when the Summer Games go to Tokyo. Among the discussions is whether the PGA Tour will go dark during the Olympics. Last time, the John Deere Classic was played during the Olympics.

U.S. OPEN EXEMPTIONS

This is the final week for players to avoid 36-hole sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and all Chesson Hadley can do is hope. He is projected to go from No. 62 to No. 60 after this week, but he is not playing the AT&T Byron Nelson and can be passed.

Among those on the bubble are Dylan Frittelli (No. 55), Peter Uihlein (No. 57) and Charles Howell III (No. 59). Frittelli is not playing, while Uihlein and Howell are playing the new Trinity Forest course for the Byron Nelson.

Thomas Pieters also needs a good week. Pieters is the tournament host of the Belgian Knockout, a new event on the European Tour schedule that features 36 holes of stroke play to reduce the field to 64 players, following by 9-hole medal matches. The field is weak and the ranking points are minimal for Europe. Pieters is at No. 60 and projected to drop, so he likely needs somewhere around 10th to remain in the top 60.

Adam Scott is playing in Dallas, and at No. 65 in the world, a ranking specialist who goes by “Nosferatu” on Twitter estimates the Australian would need a two-way tie for ninth to reach the projected No. 60. That could change depending on how others fare.

Scott has not missed a major since 2001. He was entered in U.S. Open qualifying that year, but withdrew.

The good news: The U.S. Open is reserving spots for anyone who cracks the top 60 the week before the championship.

STAYING ON TOP

Justin Thomas reached No. 1 in the world just in time for a two-week break. He is not expected to play again until the Memorial, and while odds are he still will be atop the ranking, it’s possible he could be replaced.

Jordan Spieth is at No. 3 in the world and playing the AT&T Byron Nelson and at Colonial, though he would need to win the Colonial and have somewhere around a top-5 finish at the Nelson to get back to No. 1.

Of the 21 players to reach No. 1, Tom Lehman is the only one never to have played as the top-ranked player in golf.

Lehman reached No. 1 by tying for fourth at Hilton Head in 1997. He did not play the Greater Greensboro Classic the following week, and Greg Norman replaced him by finishing second in the Spanish Open. That turned out to be Lehman’s only week at No. 1.

STAT OF THE WEEK

From August 1999 through October 2010, only two players reached No. 1 in the world — Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh. Since then, 11 players have reached No. 1.

FINAL WORD

“These great championships stand the test of time for a reason, and they’ve gone away from winning formulas.” — Adam Scott, on the USGA’s setup for U.S. Opens.

THE PLAYERS

Webb Simpson popped the cork on a champagne bottle to celebrate his victory in The Players Championship.

Though not by design, the moment also could have signaled the close of an era.

The Players Championship, which has all the trappings of a major except public recognition as one, ended its 12-year run being played in May. Simpson set or tied four records, one of which drained the former swamp of drama the TPC Sawgrass can deliver in any month.

He had a seven-shot lead going into the last day, the largest in the tournament’s 45-year history. No one got closer than four shots Sunday. The only other time that happened at The Players was in 1994 when Greg Norman didn’t make a bogey until the 13th hole of the final round and set the scoring record at 24-under 264.

The idea behind moving to May was to give golf a big event every month starting with the Masters in April, to have better weather and more daylight, and to present a great chance at firm, fast conditions.

This year’s edition was a mystery.

Even without any rain, the course was never on the edge. With minimal wind, at least by Florida’s standards, the scores were unusually low. At one point in the final round, Jason Dufner made a birdie to break out of a 10-way tie for third by reaching 12-under par.

There were 1,754 birdies for the tournament, breaking by 136 birdies the record from 1996.

Simpson tied the course record of 63 on Friday with a double bogey on the 17th hole when his sand wedge hit the wooden frame on the front of the green, landed on the back of the green and tumbled over the back onto the water. Brooks Koepka matched the record on Sunday, though that required an albatross when he one-hopped a 6-iron into the hole for his second shot on the par-5 16th.

Everyone was expecting far tougher.

“This golf course over the weekend will turn into a beast,” Charl Schwartzel predicted on Friday.

Charles Howell III had a bogey-free round of 67 on Friday and expected to see “a lot more brown than green tomorrow afternoon.”

It never materialized.

It was almost as if the PGA Tour wanted players to have their way with the Stadium Course in case there was any debate about moving back to March.

The turf was as pure as it has ever been, lush with grass. Henrik Stenson suspected when he arrived on Tuesday that it was too good, too green, to be able to make it the ultimate test by the weekend.

“It’s the easiest I’ve seen it play,” Stenson said. “Hopefully, in March it gets back to feeling major-like. Because this was more like any other tour event, I think.”

Adam Scott won The Players in March and never has been a fan of the May date.

“I don’t think they ever got the setup right in this date,” Scott said after he tied for 11th at 11-under 277. That was one higher than his winning score in 2004. “It’s in phenomenal shape. I just don’t think they took the risk they should have in preparing the course differently. To see those scores today, it’s too easy. There’s not enough risk and a lot of reward.”

There have been eight rounds of 63 at The Players since it moved to the TPC Sawgrass in 1982 — six of those record-tying scores since 2013.

Mark Russell, vice president of rules and competition for the PGA Tour, said the primary explanation was lack of wind. He also correctly noted that to take Simpson out of the equation, the winning score would have been in the ballpark of recent years.

“That golf course, there’s a disaster at every turn,” Russell said. “But if you navigate it properly, you can score.”

He also said it would be different in March.

The fairways were sand-capped ahead of the move to May, so it should drain better. The problem was having to rely on the weather ahead of the tournament, and a cooler-than-normal spring meant the rough was down.

“I think we’ll have a lot more control over it in March,” Russell said.

What the tour can’t control is the perception of its premier event.

When it last was held in March, it was the anchor of the Florida swing and just two weeks before the Masters. There was much anticipation about Augusta National even as The Players was going on. Next year, there is a bit of a buffer. They Players will be the third of four stops in Florida, and there will be three more weeks (two in Texas) before the Masters.

It still might feel like the undercard to the Masters. But it probably has a better chance of feeling like a major.

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