Time to shine at the Zurich Classic
The PGA Tour has many missions, but among the most prominent is offering playing opportunities to its membership. Where it ranks among other purposes can be debated, but places to play is clearly high on the priority list.
That is why you rarely see the PGA Tour's schedule shortened or events contracted; at all costs, even in a tough economy, commissioner Tim Finchem and his team did everything possible to maintain a full schedule, even when shedding a tournament or two might have seemed more prudent.
It is also why you rarely see field sizes shrink, even though it might help with a huge issue -- pace of play.
Faldo, who spends most of his time these days in the broadcast booth and admits he rarely practices, played out of the past champions category to celebrate his first PGA Tour victory 30 years ago. Faldo won the tournament in 1984. Over the next 12 years, he would win six major championships. (You could argue that if Faldo had not played, someone off the priority rankings would have gotten into the field.)
But Broadaway wasn't impressed, seeing Faldo's spot in the tournament as an opportunity missed for someone trying to find his way. "Get back in the booth and give guys a chance to play that are trying to keep their job!!" was part of one tweet.
And therein lies an issue with no easy answers.
Yes, the tour is about offering playing opportunities. But it is also about putting on a show, about selling tickets and earning sponsorship dollars and donating proceeds to charity. And those issues sometimes clash.
It is true that the PGA Tour is perhaps facing a problem as a good number of players who advanced through the Web.com Tour finals last September are not finding spots in tournaments -- the 2013-14 season is now past its halfway point. This issue was discussed last week at a Player Advisory Council meeting at Hilton Head and is sure to be the topic of further talks.
But it would appear that Broadaway's angst was misplaced in this case. While he clearly has a point about playing opportunities, it seems the wrong road to travel in going after a Hall of Famer.
Yes, Faldo missed the cut and had little chance of playing the weekend. (Tom Watson, also a former champ, played in the tournament, as well.) But the sponsor is given a few spots to use at its discretion. Typically it does so to sell tickets and create attention. And it would seem in this case, that worked.
Unless you want to prohibit sponsors from doing what they please with the exemptions -- a bad business move to be sure, because of the hefty price tag that comes with sponsorship -- it seems they ought to be able to invite who they want. And players looking for those coveted spots can always play better.
That is not to suggest some work can't be done to find more avenues into tournaments for those who seemingly thought the opportunities would be greater when earning their cards. Benjamin Alvarado was 50th and last from the Web.com Tour priority rankings and has played in just one tournament, the Valero Texas Open. That clearly is a problem.
This week, 40 players from that category are in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans field, including Alvarado, who is getting his second start.
At the turn
The U.S. Open/U.S. Women's Open double at Pinehurst No. 2 promises to be a unique two weeks, with plenty of logistical challenges for the United States Golf Association to work through.
• Defending champion: Billy Horschel
• Tee times, leaderboard | Experts' picks
• Venue: TPC Louisiana, par-72, 7,341 yards
• Location: Avondale, La.
• TV coverage: Thu., Fri., 3-6 p.m. ET, Golf Channel; Sat., Sun., 3-6 p.m. ET, CBS
#8226; Monday qualifiers: David Bradshaw, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Morris and Garrett Osborn
• Field changes: Out: Jhonattan Vegas, Kris Blanks, Steven Bowditch, Chesson Hadley, Jason Kokrak; In: Dicky Pride, Fabian Gomez, Chad Campbell, Tag Ridings
• Payout: A 156-man field with winner taking $1,224,000 of a $6.8 million purse
• Format: 72-hole stroke play with 36-hole cut to low 70 and ties.
• Money leaders | Schedule | Rankings
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USGA executive director Mike Davis said this week at a Pinehurst media day that the course will play to more than 7,500 yards and par-70 for the men, with four par-4s measuring more than 500 yards. A week later, the course will max out some 900 yards shorter for the U.S. Women's Open, also to be played to a par-70.
Davis said the goal from one week to the next is to have the greens running at approximately the same speed, but to also have them a touch softer for the women's event. That can be achieved by watering, he said.
One area the USGA cannot control: the weather. If there is bad weather and the course becomes saturated, that will be a problem the following week due to the potential mess that can be created by spectator traffic. And what about a playoff: If the U.S. Open is tied through 72 holes, an 18-hole playoff begins at noon ET on Monday -- when U.S. Women's Open participants would expect to be practicing.
Davis said they would be given access to the facilities and the driving range on the weekend and would be allowed to practice on the No. 2 course before and after the playoff.
It was a nice couple of weeks in Georgia for Miguel Angel Jimenez. The Spaniard earned $432,000 for his fourth-place finish at the Masters, assuring a return in 2015 to Augusta National for the 50-year-old, who has won 20 times on the European Tour. Then he won his Champions Tour debut down the road near Atlanta, pocketing another $270,000.
Jimenez could smoke cigars, drink wine and clean up on the senior circuit, but he's got other ideas. A vice-captain for the European Ryder Cup team at Medinah in 2012, he wants to make the squad that will compete at Gleneagles later this year.
"My goal is not to be part of the Champions Tour this year," Jimenez said at the Masters. "My goal this year is to get in the Ryder Cup ... I'm still going to commit to the European Tour. Obviously I would love to play everything, but you need to rest and you need to commit to something. Then next year I will decide what to do."
After his victory, however, Jimenez said: "Now I don't know what to do."
A place on the European side seemed a stretch a year ago when Jimenez was recovering from an injury suffered in a skiing accident. But he returned, contended at the Open Championship and won the Hong Kong Open late in the year.
In the current standings, Jimenez is just out of the team in the world points list, from which five players are taken. He is ninth in the European points list, from which four players are taken. Jimenez could move up into an automatic spot in either category, his play in the major championships obviously key.
Would Jimenez be an effective player? His overall record (3-7-2) is not impressive, but he was 2-1 four years ago in Wales, including a singles victory over Bubba Watson. And his popularity in a home Ryder Cup for Europe would be off the charts.
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Jimenez has contended in two recent major championships, but there is some stiff competition. Among those who would be among the nine automatic qualifiers today are Victor Dubuisson, Jamie Donaldson, Thomas Bjorn, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose. Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood are among the players on the outside looking in with a long way to go.
>1. Matt Kuchar. After getting beat by a holed-out bunker shot two weeks prior in Houston, Kuchar made a bunker shot for birdie of his own to capture the RBC Heritage.
2. Michelle Wie. A victory in her home state of Hawaii was her first in nearly four years and comes after a runner-up finish at the year's first major, the Kraft Nabisco.
3. Miguel Angel Jimenez. The Spaniard is on a roll after his top-five finish at the Masters and then a Champions Tour victory in his first start.
1. Luke Donald. The Englishman was the 54-hole leader at the RBC Heritage and got overtaken by Matt Kuchar's 64, but he's gone more than two years without a victory. It was his best finish since that win at the 2012 Transitions Championship.
2. Ben Martin. In contention for his first PGA Tour title, Martin made a crucial back-nine bogey on a par-5 at Harbour Town to cost himself a shot at victory.
3. Jason Day. The Aussie won the WGC-Match Play and then hasn't been able to get healthy, his thumb limiting his ability at the Masters before having it immobilized in a cast. He will attempt to return at the Players Championship.
Matt Kuchar might have a simple, repeating golf swing. But nothing in his bag is easy to keep track of because of all the different equipment. Let's see if we can keep this straight: his driver and 5-9 irons are made by Bridgestone; his 3-wood and two hybrids are made by Ping; he carries four wedges, two made by Bridgestone, one by Cleveland and one by Titleist; his putter is a Bettinardi and he plays a Bridgestone ball.
This week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans is the last chance for players to qualify for the Players Championship in two weeks via the FedEx Cup points list or world rankings. Anyone in the top 10 not otherwise qualified or top 50 in the world will get a spot in the Players, which begins May 8. The winner of next week's Wells Fargo Championship, if not in the field, will also qualify for the Players ... With his victory at the RBC Heritage, Matt Kuchar has now made the cut in 10 of 11 starts this season, with eight top-10 finishes including four in a row ... Jordan Spieth, coming off his runner-up finish at the Masters, tied for 12th at the Heritage ... Michelle Wie's victory in Hawaii moved her to No. 1 on the LPGA Tour money list ... Lee Westwood's win at the Maybank Malaysian Open was his first in nearly two years and his 23rd on the European Tour ... Miguel Angel Jimenez became the 18th player to win his Champions Tour debut.
"I heard the crowd go crazy when the thing disappeared. I went crazy myself. It was just an incredible feeling." -- Matt Kuchar, on holing a bunker shot at the 18th hole on Sunday for birdie that helped him to a 1-stroke victory at the RBC Heritage.