Field of dreams at McGladrey Classic
Can another first-time winner finish first in the second year at St. Simons Island?
St. Simons Island is one of four Georgia barrier islands connected to the mainland by the F.J. Torras Causeway. From the causeway, there are spectacular views of the marshes, the grasslands that separate the coastal islands of the Glynn County coast from the Georgia mainland. The island is ideal for those able to pay a premium for privacy. When the G8 Summit was held there in 2004, the Secret Service shut it down. The usual protesters of the conference couldn't even access the island.
For years it seemed that Davis Love III was the only player on the PGA Tour who dared live in the exclusive enclave. Love had first come here from Atlanta with his late father, Davis Love Jr., who was a teaching pro at the Sea Island Golf Club, the venue for this week's McGladrey Classic. But not many players followed DL3 when he moved his family there in the early 1990s. Orlando and Scottsdale had more golf courses and easier access to major airports.
But over the past 10 years, the players have come with a flourish. Love can now count Zach Johnson, Lucas Glover, Chris Kirk, Jonathan Byrd and Matt Kuchar as neighbors. The draw, many of them say, is the small-town charm, as well as the exclusivity. Still, it's a pretty long way from anywhere and not the most ideal place for a PGA Tour event.
The McGladrey Classic is the brainchild of Love and his brother, Mark, who got the tournament off the ground last year, when Heath Slocum beat Bill Haas by a stroke on the Seaside Course, which was opened in 1928 and remodeled almost 80 years later by Tom Fazio. It's a links-style course with great views of the Atlantic Ocean. Last year, Slocum finished with a 14-under total in windy conditions.
The field was pretty weak then but this year the Loves have assembled the best field of the 2011 fall series. There are 13 winners from this season in the field, including Webb Simpson, who is here looking to snatch the money title while Luke Donald is home with his wife Diane, who is expecting their second child. Rickie Fowler, fresh off his first pro win last week at the Korea Open, is looking to use that momentum to carry him to his first PGA Tour title. Kuchar doesn't have anything to prove, but he doesn't want to finish the year with the distinction of making the most money on tour in a season without a win.
No one has a lock on player of the year honors. The man who gets to three wins is probably going to get the nod from the voters, even if the win comes in the fall. Haas could get it with his double win -- the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup playoffs -- but a three-time winner is very hard to overlook.
Last week at the Frys.com Open, Bryce Molder was the 14th first-time winner on the PGA Tour in 2011. In a six-hole playoff, he beat another guy, Briny Baird, who was also looking for his first tour victory. The week prior to that, Kevin Na got his maiden win at Justin Timberlake's tournament in his 211th career start.
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Six players have won twice this year on tour, but no one has been truly dominant. These 14 first-time winners have truly exemplified the parity on the PGA Tour by demonstrating that the tour is the deepest that it has ever been. It's also fascinating that six of those wins came from rookies.
So who has the best chances this week of joining this august company of first-time winners? Here are my five candidates.
Spencer Levin: In February, the 27-year-old former New Mexico star lost in a playoff at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico. He has top-10s in both Fall Series events in 2011: Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open (T-5) and the Frys.com Open (T-7).
Rickie Fowler: At the Korea Open last week, Fowler had to essentially beat two players -- Rory McIlroy and Y.E. Yang -- to get his first pro win. But it's a win. He shot an 8-under 63 in the third round. A 63 is a 63, no matter where you do it.
Bud Cauley: After his third-place finish last week at the Frys.com Open, the 21-year-old former Alabama star should have locked up his chances of becoming the sixth player out of college since 1980 to get his PGA Tour card without going to Q-school. Now he can just concentrate on playing the rest of the year. He's got a big-time future because there is nothing flashy about his game, which says that he's a good all-around player who can be consistent for a lot of years.
Adam Hadwin: Before his great finish at the RBC Canadian Open this summer, most people had never heard of this Canadian Tour pro, who tied for fourth in his national open. Last week at the Frys, the 23-year-old former Louisville standout was T-7.
Shane Bertsch: The 41-year-old journeyman with two wins on the Nationwide Tour is outside the top 125 on the money list at 140, but he had the best week of his career at the Frys.com Open with a tie for fourth. Another good finish and he could keep his card for next year, despite missing the cut in eight of his 18 starts.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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