Previewing the 2014 PGA Tour season
Believe it or not, the 2014 PGA Tour season actually starts this week at the Frys.com Open from CordeValle in Santa Clara, California. If you had no idea that this was happening, you’re not alone as many people have been confused over the past few weeks and the PGA Tour, in typical fashion, haven’t really been providing a ton of information to the general public. I’ve answered some questions below and put together a quick preview on what we can expect over the next eleven months.
So, why is the new season starting now?
The official line from the PGA Tour is that they wanted some form of finality to their season, and with the “Fall Series” being played around this time each year, it wasn’t the finish that they wanted. Instead, the tour preferred to end the year with the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Tour Championship, which does make sense, at least when comparing the PGA Tour to other sports leagues.
What does the new schedule look like?
It’s pretty similar to be honest, with the six former Fall Series events simply marking the start of the season. The big change for these events comes in the distribution of FedEx Cup points, as they are getting a bump from 250 to 500 points awarded for whoever comes away with a win. Why did they do this? Well, in theory, it might enhance the quality of the fields in these events if the players know that they’ll be able to get a bit of a head start in these early events. $10 million can be a big motivator.
The other reason is that there was and still is a pretty real threat that if bigger names don’t start showing up to these events, sponsors like Frys, Shriners and McGladrey would pull their names and their money, forcing the tour to find other companies who are willing to spend millions of dollars on these events.
Once the first six are completed on November 17, the World Cup of Golf is back at Royal Melbourne for a week and then they go on a break until the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua in the first week of January. After that, the season picks up as usual and then ends with the FedEx Cup playoffs, which will be making a small change as well, as there will be no break this year between the Deutsche Bank and the BMW.
Are those bigger names going to show up to these six events?
The field at the Frys this week is better than it usually is, but the event is still incredibly short on big name talent. Billy Horschel, Marc Leishman, Gary Woodland, Hideki Matsuyama and Angel Cabrera head it up this week, so it’s not working. Golfers have always been creatures of habit and unless there’s incentive for someone to show up, like the “illegal” PGA Tour appearance fee, there’s almost no chance that they’ll be teeing it up. It’s tough for these events, but the players aren’t going to change their behaviour for tournaments of lower importance.
So, when can we expect to see Tiger Woods?
Well, he’s heading to China for a one-day duel with Rory McIlroy at the end of this month and then he’ll be playing on the European Tour’s Turkish Airlines Open starting on November 7th. Those appearances fees are legal on the European Tour by the way, so I’m sure that Turkish Airlines met Tiger’s alleged $3 million quote. After that, he’ll likely continue his regular PGA Tour schedule by appearing at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in late January.
Are there any new players that I should be aware of?
The PGA Tour eliminated the Q-School entrance to the main tour, opting to make the Web.com Tour the only way to qualify for the biggest professional golf tour in the world. There are 50 graduates from the Web.com Tour who will be joining the PGA Tour this season, some of whom you know already and others that should make some form of impact. Here are the ones I’m looking at for 2014:
- John Peterson: The 24-year old LSU grad made quite the impression at the 2012 U.S. Open, acing the par-3 12th at Olympic and finishing tied for 4th. That finish allowed him to play in the Masters last year.
- Patrick Cantlay: The former number one ranked amateur in the world is still only 21 years old and holds the record for lowest amateur score on the PGA Tour with his 60 at the 2011 Travelers. Played in that same class of American phenoms as Jordan Spieth and Peter Uihlein.
- Heath Slocum: It doesn’t seem that long ago that Slocum finished inside the top-10 of the FedEx Cup after winning the Barclays, but it was four years ago. Slocum’s got four PGA Tour wins in his career and at age 39, he’s back.
- Danny Lee: A lot was expected of Lee after he became the youngest player to ever win the U.S. Amateur at just over 18 years of age. He’s struggled since and lost his PGA Tour card after the 2012 season, but played well enough throughout the 2013 Web.com season to earn his card again.
- Jamie Lovemark: The 25-year old Lovemark was a standout in college at USC, and at the very least, will challenge for the driving distance title in 2014.
- Joe Durant: Durant is 49 years old. He very easily could have given this up or waited for the Champions Tour to come calling, but he went for it and earned his full card back.
- Kevin Tway: The son of 1986 PGA Championship winner Bob, Tway won his first professional tournament last year in Boise.
Others to retain their PGA Tour cards through the Web.com Tour: Seung-yul Noh, Andew Svoboda, Trevor Immelman, Scott Gardiner, Ryo Ishikawa, Brad Fritsch, Sean O’Hair, Troy Matteson, Bud Cauley, Russell Knox, Will Claxton, Jim Herman, Lee Williams, Ricky Barnes and Bobby Gates.
What about players on exemptions or medicals? Anyone stand out?
It’s believed that Stephen Ames and Mike Weir will be using their top-50 in career earnings exemptions to retain their cards for the upcoming season, while Robert Allenby and Scott Verplank can do the same with their top-25 exemptions. Will we actually see Anthony Kim use his major medical? He was supposed to do that last year, but didn’t play in any events and he’s been pretty much non-existent for months since badly injuring his Achilles.
Where are the majors being held this year?
- The Masters: Augusta National, as always.
- U.S. Open: Pinehurst No. 2, host of the 1936 PGA, 1951 Ryder Cup, as well as the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Open’s. Phil Mickelson’s first of six runner-up appearances in this event came here in 1999, as he finished one back of Payne Stewart.
- Open Championship: Royal Liverpool, who will be hosting for the 12th time and first since 2006 when Tiger Woods came away with the win.
- PGA Championship: Valhalla, the Jack Nicklaus design in Kentucky. It’ll be hosting its third PGA Championship, and is most famous for the Tiger Woods/Bob May duel in 2000, won by Woods in the new three-hole format.
Who’s going to win those majors?
Random guesses on my part, but months out, I’ll go with this:
- The Masters: Jason Day
- U.S. Open: Lee Westwood
- Open Championship: Tiger Woods
- PGA Championship: Graham DeLaet
Any other changes?
From the looks of the schedule, I’m only seeing a few minor things. The Sanderson Farms Championship, the tournament played the week of the Open Championship, has been left off the schedule and moved to 2015. The Canadian Open, thankfully, is moving away from Glen Abbey and going to the much nicer Royal Montreal. Also, I mentioned the change in the playoff schedule above, and the reason that happened was because Tom Watson requested the break week after the Tour Championship so the guys could be rested for the Ryder Cup.
Right, the Ryder Cup is back…
There’s no event on the golf calendar, outside of the Masters, that I’m more excited for than the Ryder Cup and even though the Presidents Cup wasn’t nearly as dull and boring as some made it seem, it was really just an appetizer for the main course about a year from now. Tom Watson and Paul McGinley will lead the US and European teams at Gleneagles in Scotland. It’ll be tough to top the drama from the 2012 version at Medinah where the Europeans staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, but it’s definitely going to be a lot of fun.
We’ll hear more about the teams and the players in the coming months, but expect a lot of the same names from Medinah for the Europeans. As for the Americans, it should probably look similar to the Presidents Cup team, but Watson does have three captains picks, so he could decide to go a little off the board.
Players to watch
These aren’t necessarily the best players on the PGA Tour, but here are twenty that I’m going to pay extra attention to this year.
- Tiger Woods: Despite not winning a major in 2013, it’ll be tough for Tiger to have a better year in 2014. Five wins and being pretty dominant at the Presidents Cup is a year that most players would kill to have, but I’m sure he would have traded it all for another green jacket. Expect more big things this year.
- Rory McIlroy: Rory was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum when compared to Tiger, but he did show some signs of life at points during the season and there’s almost no way that he has a similar year in 2014. He’s too talented for that. He’ll get at least one win and probably more.
- Jordan Spieth: What does Spieth do in his first full year on the PGA Tour? Making over $4 million despite not starting the year with any status is beyond impressive, and he’s probably a lock for the Ryder Cup team unless he has a disastrous season.
- Phil Mickelson: Phil winning the Open Championship might have been the most surprising thing that happened in 2013, and the soon to be 44-year old doesn’t appear to be slowing down. He’s already said he’ll play fewer events in 2014, but wherever he goes, he’s going to be a threat.
- Graham DeLaet: It’s amazing what happens when a great ball striker finally learns how to putt, even if it’s just a marginal improvement. That’s what happened to DeLaet in 2013, and he’s on the shortlist of players who had the best 2013 without a win. Big things are coming for him in 2014.
- Bubba Watson: There was a lot of focus on Rory this year for how bad he played, and rightfully so, but Bubba’s year was just as bad. He only had three top-10’s in 21 events played, and it never really seemed like he was a threat. Missing the Presidents Cup team was the ultimate indication of the kind of year he had, and it was unexpected after he won the Masters in 2012.
- Henrik Stenson: Stenson’s return to form was one of the best stories of 2013, and it’s going to be really interesting to see how he handles his most recent success. It was only four years ago that he was pretty much in the same spot he is now and then he was basically invisible for the next 36 months. It’s certainly looking like the European Ryder Cup team found another quality player to fill out the roster though.
- Sergio Garcia: Saying Sergio’s 2013 was interesting would be an understatement. The collapse at the PLAYERS, the feud with Tiger and another year without a major made him one of the year’s biggest stories. With that said, he’s still one of the best players in the world, and it actually looked like he learned how to putt at some point last year. I’ll keep saying it, too: he will win a major championship at some point. Don’t be surprised if it’s this year.
- Ian Poulter: Many were expecting big things out of Poulter after his incredible Ryder Cup performance, but it just didn’t happen. Match play is a completely different beast, and it’s possible that Poulter is one of those guys that will be great in match play and average everywhere else. At the very least, he’ll be entertaining, both on and off the course.
- Gary Woodland: Woodland had a bit of a renaissance late in 2013, winning in Reno and finishing as the runner-up at the Barclays, and shockingly, it was because of his improved short game. He’s still one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour too, so he could be a big threat this year.
- Hideki Matsuyama: It’s still unclear how much of Matsuyama we’re going to see on the PGA Tour in 2014, but let’s hope he decides to come over here and play as much as possible. The 21-year old is up to 30th in the world rankings and has an exceedingly bright future ahead of him.
- Peter Uihlein: Uihlein will be staying on the European Tour for the time being, but he’s on this list because we’ll probably see him at the majors and WGC events, plus I think there’s a good chance that Watson goes with him as one of his captains picks if he continues to play well. Uihlein’s unconventional route to professional golf, at least to those of us in North America, is paying off.
- Boo Weekley: Along with Stenson, watching the return of Weekley was a great thing for golf over the past few months. He’s always been a superb ball striker and now that he’s healthy, people are expecting him to really step it up in 2014.
- Billy Horschel: The emotional Horschel got on the board with a win in New Orleans last year and was under consideration, at least for a little while, for the American Presidents Cup team. If he can keep playing well, he’ll be considered again for the Ryder Cup, and I can only imagine what he would be like in a team match play event. Think Keegan Bradley on steroids, I’d bet. Also, he could single handedly keep me interested in making golf GIFs.
- Dustin Johnson: It looked like DJ was in for a huge year after he won the opener at Kapalua, but that didn’t happen. A long string of bad tournaments was capped off by not even really being thought of as an option for the Presidents Cup. At least he’s got Paulina, though.
- Rickie Fowler: Fowler was primed for a breakout season in 2013 after he got his first win under his belt at the 2012 Wells Fargo, and even though his year wasn’t that bad, he should have finished higher than 42nd in the FedEx Cup. A bounce back year for Fowler is highly likely.
- Angel Cabrera: El Pato is always going to be high on my list of favourite golfers, and his performance at the Masters is the reason why. He always seems to just show up at big events and loaf his way through others, but that’s part of his charm. The game is just better off with him playing a bigger part in it.
- Steve Stricker: The best semi-retired golfer in the world had an incredible 2013 and he’s one of those guys that you just expect will play well every week. I think he’ll reduce his schedule even further in 2014, but if 2013 is any indication, it’s not going to affect his performance at all.
- Luke Donald: Of everyone who played a significant amount of golf in 2013, I think I was most surprised by Donald’s poor performance. Rory’s decline was at least expected on some level with the switch to Nike gear, but Donald has always been incredibly consistent. He made the move to change coaches for the first time as a professional towards the end of the season, and I don’t think anyone has any idea what to expect in 2014. He’s now down to 13th in the world rankings.
- Anyone who uses an anchored putter: When will these guys start to switch from the anchored to a traditional putter? Carl Pettersson already made the move, but more prominent players like Webb Simpson, Tim Clark, Ernie Els, Keegan Bradley and Adam Scott are all still using flatsticks that will be banned in a couple of years. At some point, they’re going to have to start getting used to the more traditional method.
- The PGA Tour banned caddie races at the Waste Management, I think because they hate anything that involves fun.
- The World Golf Hall of Fame cancelled their 2014 ceremony in order to re-evaluate the process.
- Will we see more of a push for a global golf tour? It’s possible, but that’s incredibly complicated.
- Biggest areas of improvement needed? Digital and mainstream media coverage. Chances of that? Nearly zero.
Let’s tee it up.