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New US PGA Tour opener waiting on the big names

October 8, 2013

SAN MARTIN, California (AP) — The U.S. PGA Tour season gets underway this week at the Frys.com Open, the first time the tour has gone to a wraparound season. And while the field might not look that strong on paper, odds are that will change.

The tournament has three players from the Presidents Cup (Hideki Matsuyama, Angel Cabrera and Marc Leishman — along with assistant captain Davis Love III). It has two from the top 50 in the world (Matsuyama at No. 30 and defending champion Jonas Blixt at No. 34), and two players who were at the Tour Championship (Billy Horschel and Gary Woodland).

How might that change?

A year ago, eight U.S. PGA Tour members took part in an exhibition in Turkey called the World Golf Finals, held the same week as the Frys.com Open. In exchange for a release from the tour, they agreed to play the Frys.com Open at least once over the next three years.

Those players were Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan, Charl Schwartzel, Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar.

Frys.com Open president Duke Butler recalls a similar situation nearly 30 years ago. The tour granted releases to four players to play the Australian Skins Game in 1985 when it was held the same week as the Houston Open. The players agreed to play Houston at least once over the next few years.

Those players could be called headliners — Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman.

The next year, the Houston Open included Nicklaus in his first start since winning the Masters for his sixth green jacket, one of the most popular wins in golf.


DUF & VIJAY: For all the attention on Phil Mickelson and his money games to get young players prepared for big moments, Jason Dufner had his own tutor when he was just starting out on the U.S. PGA Tour. He went about it quietly, and it was a learning experience.

Dufner secured his tour card for the first time in 2003 through the Nationwide Tour money list. He was at the TPC Sawgrass preparing for his rookie season when he saw Vijay Singh on the back of the practice range.

“I just went up to him. I said, ‘Hey, my name is Jason Dufner, I’m going to be playing the tour next year, and if I could play some practice rounds with you, that would be great. And if not, I understand,’” Dufner said last week at the Presidents Cup. “I was there for four or five days, pretty much practicing the same schedule he was. So maybe he took notice and respected that I was working and trying to get better.”

They played plenty of practice rounds in 2004, and it turned into a banner year for the Fijian. Singh won nine times and $10.9 million.

“Every event that he won, except for the PGA, I played a practice round with him that year,” Dufner said. “So I got a lot of valuable experience. A little lighter on the wallet from all of that — I took my lumps. But I’d like to think that some of the things he shared with me and some of the knowledge he gave me helped me to where I am now.”

Dufner didn’t fare so well as a rookie, returning to the minor leagues for two years before he went back to the tour for good. Now he is a three-time winner, a major champion and has a 6-2 record in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.

Dufner recalls beating Singh out of some money just one time during that 2004 season. He shot a 63 at the old 84 Lumber Classic. Singh shot 64.

“I had nine birdies, no bogeys. He had eight birdies, no bogeys,” Dufner said. “He was playing pretty good on Tuesdays that year, too.”


PRESIDENT CUP FIXES: Nick Price wants to see the Presidents Cup follow the Ryder Cup format by playing only 28 matches instead of 34, which would allow teams to disguise weaknesses and at least increase the odds of the matches being close going into singles.

U.S. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is on the side of more playing opportunities — no one sits the opening two sessions.

Just because the International team keeps getting smoked is not an indication that there are too many matches. The current format of 34 matches was introduced in 2003 in South Africa. The Internationals had a three-point lead going into Sunday. Thirteen of the 22 team matches reached the 17th hole. The Presidents Cup ended in a tie. So maybe it’s not the format.

Here’s one suggestion for a compromise.

Have six matches on Thursday and Friday (fourballs and foursomes). Have one session of six matches on Saturday with three matches for each format. The captains will have to decide which three teams play foursomes and which three play fourballs. That’s 18 matches going into singles, for a total of 30 points.

“Unless it’s broken, don’t really mess with it,” Finchem says.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be changed to make it better.


HALL OF FAME: The World Golf Hall of Fame is taking a year off from inducting anyone to review its selection process.

One of the longtime sticking points of the Hall of Fame is inducting players still in the prime of their careers. Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson each won major championships after they were inducted. Vijay Singh won the FedEx Cup two years after his induction.

Currently, male players are eligible for the ballot when they turn 40. The U.S. LPGA Tour has its own criteria based on points. Se Ri Pak was inducted at age 30.

The Hall of Fame said the “strategic review” has been going on since the 2013 induction ceremony during The Players Championship in May. Because the election (U.S. PGA Tour, International ballots) and selection (veteran’s Category, lifetime achievement) takes several months and involves other golf organizations, the Hall of Fame has chosen to skip the 2014 induction ceremony.

The next ceremony is planned for May 4, 2015, on the Monday of The Players Championship.

The Hall of Fame said its review was expected to be completed early next year.

Tiger Woods is eligible to be on the ballot at the end of the 2015 season. If the age limit is pushed back to 50, he would not be eligible until 2025.


STAT: Henrik Stenson of Sweden was chosen as the Race to Dubai golfer of the month for September on the European Tour based on his two wins in America.

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