Monday, October 31, 2011

Locals Goggin, Kokrak lock up 2012 PGA Tour spots

   The Charlotte connection on the 2012 PGA Tour grew larger over the weekend with Mathew Goggin and Jason Kokrak officially securing their spots on the big tour through their strong play on the Nationwide Tour.

   Both Charlotte residents had locked up spots on the PGA Tour through their season-long performance and it became official with the conclusion of the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island, S.C.

   Goggin was the Nationwide Tour's dominant player through the first half of the year and finished third on the money list with $378,492 including two victories.

   Kokrak also had two victories and finished fourth on the money list with $338,092 in earnings.

   They will join locals Webb Simpson, Johnson Wagner, Brendon de Jonge and Robert Karlsson on the PGA Tour next year.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Simpson is just getting started

   Luke Donald showed why he's the No.1 golfer in the world Sunday and it cost Webb Simpson the PGA Tour money title and, almost certainly, the tour's player of the year award.

   Simpson can feel disappointed about coming so close to two goals that meant so much but the disappointment will be temporary. It's probably already gone, in fact.

   Nothing can change the fact that Simpson has had a spectacular year, leaping into the game's top orbit with his play. With nine holes remaining in the season's final event, Simpson was in position to win the money title and, by extention, perhaps the player of the year. But Donald made six straight birdies and demonstrated why he's clearly the No. 1 player in the game.

   If you've got to get beat, that's the way to get beat, with the best in the world shooting 64 on Sunday with the pressure on to beat you.

   For Donald, it's understandable that he felt "over the moon" after his performance Sunday.

   For Simpson, the satisfaction comes in all that he's done and the way he forced Donald to do the unlikely to beat him. Simpson isn't a one-season wonder. He's likely to be around for the long run and by the time the Masters rolls around in April, he'll be on the list of contenders.

    It could have ended better for Simpson but this isn't as much about how it ended as it is about what's begun for him.

    He's just getting started.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

2012 PGA Tour schedule looks familiar

   The 2012 PGA Tour schedule was released Wednesday with no dramatic changes but with a handful of significant tweaks to a lineup that will have a familiar feel.

   From a local perspective, the important dates are as follow:

   -- The Masters is April 2-8 at Augusta National;
   -- The RBC Heritage is April 9-15 at Harbour Town Golf Links and back to its traditional date the week following the Masters;

    -- The Wells Fargo Championship is April 30-May 6 at Quail Hollow Club;

    -- The PGA Championship is Aug. 6-12 at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course;

    -- And, the Wyndham Championship is Aug. 13-19 at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro.

   Among the changes next year will be an adjustment to the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua which will end on Monday, Jan. 9 rather than on Sunday. The shift allows NBC to promote the event during its NFL playoff coverage and for the final round to air on The Golf Channel prior to kickoff of the BCS Championship game the same evening.

   The Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia is moving to Fourth of July week and the final event of the fall series -- the Children's Miracle Network Classic -- will be played later, ending Nov. 11.

   With the Ryder Cup matches set in 2012, the FedEx Cup playoffs will be adjusted with an open week preceding the Tour Championship, which is scheduled Sept. 17-23 in Atlanta. The Ryder Cup matches will be played Sept. 24-30 in Chicago.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Player of the year: Simpson or Donald?

   The player of the year battle on the PGA Tour has now come down to two -- Webb Simpson and Luke Donald.

   Right now, the momentum and maybe a shade more votes, are on Simpson's side after he went to the McGladrey Classic to jump Donald on the money list and did it, almost winning his third event in six starts in the process.

   Had Simpson won the Sunday playoff over Ben Crane at Sea Island, he'd be the player of the year favorite going to the season finale at the Disney World this week. As it is, he and Donald will have what amounts to a duel for the season-long money title and POY votes.

   The challenge falls to Donald now, who trails Simpson by $363,029 on the official money list. Donald's goal is to win both the PGA Tour and European Tour money titles this season, something that's never been done and the fact he's so close to doing it speaks to how good he's been. He's the leader in the worldwide player of the year category, for sure.

   To beat Simpson for the money title -- a distinction that carries a bit of everlasting fame with it -- Donald can finish no worse than a two-way tie for second at the Children's Miracle Network event. Since he lives in the top 10 -- Donald has one win, two seconds, two thirds and 13 top-10s on tour this year -- he'll probably be tougher to escape than Mickey Mouse over the next week.

   For Simpson, this has already been a career-changing season. In the ever-popular best American player debate, the discussion may start with Simpson at the moment. It will be fascinating to see how he plays for captain Fred Couples at the Presidents Cup in Australia next month, his first international team play as a pro.

   When Donald committed last Friday to play Disney to chase the money title, Simpson followed suit. He is embracing the challenge and the moment, a hint of his confidence level.

   Both players have had brilliant seasons already. And they're not done yet.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Simpson taking a swing at winning tour money title

   A few quick observations:

  -- Rickie Fowler got his first professional win on Sunday in South Korea and while it didn't come on the PGA Tour, it was an important win just the same. Fowler needed to win someplace and beating a good field that included Rory McIlroy was a substantial step for him.
   As the season wore on, Fowler began to be overshadowed by other players, including Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson. If Fowler can win early on the PGA Tour in 2012, it would be huge for him and the tour.

  -- Speaking of Simpson, he's playing in the McGladrey Classic this week at Sea Island in hopes of making the $60,000 or so he needs to pass Luke Donald to capture the money title on the PGA Tour this year.

    Simpson was at the Panthers' game Sunday in his jeans and t-shirt and a white cap he wore backward, looking totally comfortable which he should be given the breakout season he's had. Winning the money title would put a nice cap on a career-changing season.

  -- What to make of Tiger Woods' week at the event?

   I'm not quite sure. He played well in stretches, hit some funky shots at times and didn't dramatically change anything we know about him and his game at the moment.

   Just making the cut at a Fall Series event isn't what Tiger's about. He was never in contention and we're not going to see him again until he goes to Australia next month. For a guy who says he needs to play to get his edge back, I wish he'd play another tournament or two here. It's not going to happen, however.

    For a guy who's such a controversial addition to the Presidents Cup team, Woods will have all eyes on him when he tees it up at Royal Melbourne for Captain Couples.

   -- There's not a better time to play golf around here than this time of year. The greens are quick, the fairways are running and there's still enough rough to be a bother. It's tough to get frustrated even if you're chopping it around.