Add Rory McIlroy’s name to the list of big names raising their games leading to the Masters. The Starter just hopes those storylines don’t get crowded out by the Tiger glare after two contending Sundays.
Arnie’s Place has a not-so-sudden international flair, and a Dominican Republic stop steps up.
1. Rory McIlroy rights the ship at Arnie’s Place. While Woods was undeniably the focus as he returned to Bay Hill off his near-miss in Tampa, McIlroy took up a new putter and got a head-clearing tip from Brad Faxon. It ended in a Sunday 64, becoming the latest to end a dry spell.
2. Tiger looks to Augusta still winless, but confident. On one hand, Woods says if you told him in December he’d contend twice in Florida, he’d have taken it “in a heartbeat.” That said, he has to realize three good rounds isn’t going to get the job done against the current PGA Tour generation.
3. Woods and Ernie Els to rekindle rivalry as Presidents Cup captains. Not only that, but Woods even lobbied for the post. The hope is it’ll juice interest in a rivalry growing more stale with each U.S. win. And it’ll give us many a chance to recount that epic Fancourt-at-dusk playoff from 2003.
AROUND THE TOURS
WGC: Dell Match Play Championship
Course: Austin Country Club
Where: Austin, TX
Defending: Dustin Johnson
PGA: Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship
Course: Puntacana Resort & Club (Corales)
Where: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Defending: Debut Event
LPGA: Kia Classic
Course: Aviara Golf Club
Where: Carlsbad, Calif.
Defending: Mirim Lee
Champions: Rapiscan Systems Classic
Course: Fallen Oak Club
Where: Biloxi, Miss.
Defending: Miguel Angel Jimenez
Though Tiger Woods remains winless, back-to-back top-5 finishes this month has now accumulated enough points to lock up a berth in the FedExCup playoffs.
While that may not sound like much, consider that the two-time FedExCup champion hasn’t even sniffed the postseason in five years as he battled through back woes. Moreover, he’s managed to top 400 points in just five starts.
All of which got The Starter to wondering who has been most efficient in stacking up FedExCup points as the season closes in on the halfway point. You’ll see plenty of familiar names on this ranking by points per start.
Though match play still has deep roots in the amateur game, its history on the PGA Tour is fairly short. Even such longstanding stops as the Western Open (now BMW Championship), Phoenix Open, Texas Open and Greater Greensboro Open (now Wyndham Championship) were contested at stroke play from the start.
The PGA Championship was a match-play event through 1957, when PGA of America leadership switched to stroke play in as part of getting its event on TV for the first time. Lionel Hebert won the 1957 crown, as match play vanished from the schedule for more than a quarter century.
The old Tucson Open brought back match play for a brief run in the mid-1980s, unable to avoid the inherent risk of seeing big names eliminated early. Jim Thorpe won two of the three editions, beating Jim Renner and Scott Simpson in the finals.
A new match-play event sprang up in 1995 apart from the PGA Tour, as the Andersen Consulting Match Play conducted regional brackets in different corners of the globe before gathering its final four in Arizona in December. Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie were among the winners before the event was incorporated into the new World Golf Championships series in 1999.
STAT OF THE WEEK
McIlroy’s triumph at Bay Hill made him the seventh international winner in the past 13 editions of what’s now the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
For the first 27 years after Palmer took the old Florida Citrus Open under his wing, just one international player managed to claim the trophy – Ernie Els in 1998.
Likewise, the LPGA’s Founders Cup continued its own international trend with Inbee Park’s romp in Phoenix. The Hall of Famer became the tournament’s fifth consecutive international winner and seventh in its eight-year history. Stacy Lewis (2013) is the Cup’s lone American victor.
HOLE OF THE WEEK
No.13, Austin Country Club
Par 4, 317 yards
2017 average: 3.94 (12th toughest)
Nicknamed “Cape Dye” – Austin CC is a 1984 Pete Dye creation – the 13th is a quintessential risk/reward short par-4 that has the ability to turn momentum at a critical time late in a match.
Teeing off in the shadow of Austin’s famed Pennybacker Bridge, the prudent play is to take a long iron down the fairway that borders a small lake. But the golfer’s eye invariably is drawn further left, where the green sits on a slice of land cutting into the lake.
It’s an eagle opportunity for someone who can drive the green. Even a strong drive and short wedge from just short of the green offers plenty of birdies. The golfer has to gauge how much water he wants to take on.
Though Jon Rahm lost last year’s final to Dustin Johnson, No.13 helped launch a comeback that pushed Johnson to the limit. Staring at a 4-down deficit, Rahm drove the green for the first of three birdies in a four-hole surge that left Johnson just 1-up with two to play.
2017 WGC Dell Match Play: 2 eagles, 107 birdies, 242 pars, 48 bogeys, 7 double bogeys, none higher
LPGA’S OPENING TWIST
After more than a decade’s absence, the Tournament of Champions is returning to the LPGA schedule next year. With a little taste of Pebble Beach thrown in.
The Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions will kick off the 2019 season, bringing winners from 2017 and ’18 together in Orlando to play alongside numerous celebrity and amateur participants. Current projections call for 55 LPGA pros and a like number of celebrities/amateurs.
The tournament is a spinoff from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, which recently completed its third edition with a handful of LPGA and PGA Tour Champions pros joining a celebrity field that included Marcus Allen, John Smoltz, Justin Verlander and Larry the Cable Guy.
The LPGA schedule included a Tournament of Champions from 1994-2007, also launching in Orlando before moving to Fort Lauderdale and eventually Mobile, Ala.
DID YOU KNOW?
The “battlefield promotion” has been part of Web.com Tour protocol for 21 years, giving anyone who wins three times in a season instant PGA Tour status.
The Corales Puntacana Resorts & Club Championship, though, marks the first time a tournament has been given a promotion.
This week’s edition, for anyone who didn’t qualify for the WGC Dell Match Play, is the first on the PGA Tour after two years on the developmental circuit.
Dominic Bozzelli cruised to victory in its 2016 debut, and Nate Lashley was a one-stroke winner last year. Lashley is entered this week.
“It’s a little ironic, yeah, 25th of September 2016 – the last time I won a PGA Tour event and obviously it was bittersweet because we lost an absolute legend (when Arnold Palmer died that night). So for me to get my next win here, it means a lot. … I wish he would have been at the top of the hill to shake my hand when I came off the 18th green there, but hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”
– Rory McIlroy
Credit: Getty Images