Fall Series kicks off in Vegas, while celebs take on Old Course at Dunhill Links
In case you somehow missed it amid the excitement of the Ryder Cup, this week's Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open commences the beginning of the end of the Fall Series as we know it. Next year's four-week Fall Series -- or however long it lasts, and whatever it may be called -- will begin the 2014 season in October of 2013 as per the Tour's new wrap-around schedule.
That means the 2013 Shriners tournament will offer points toward the 2014 race for the FedEx Cup. Also, the Shriners will part ways with its host after this week. Although he lent increased visibility to the tournament and raised millions of dollars for charity with his concerts, Timberlake was never able to lure big-name players back to Vegas, and his association with the event will end on not entirely positive terms. Tournament chairman Raoul Frevel was quoted in Monday's Las Vegas Review-Journal questioning the pop star's commitment to the cause.
"Justin's a wonderful person," Frevel said. "But we tried everything we could to get him more involved with our kids and the hospitals. But it seemed that when the TV cameras weren't on, he disappeared." (Thus continues a bad week for "Ryder Cup ambassador" Timberlake, whose golf poem got, um, mixed reviews.)
The changes at the Shriners are merely one part of a totally reimagined end of the season. Also starting next year, the Web.com tour will no longer be a path to the PGA Tour, offering exempt status to the top 25 finishers on the money list, but it will be the path to the Tour, offering exempt status to the top 50 in earnings.
As for this week, the end of the golf season is always a numbers game, and there will be a lot of jockeying for position starting in Las Vegas. First and most important, players in danger of dropping out of the top 125 in earnings will try to stay inside that magic number in order to maintain their playing privileges for 2013. That group includes players like David Mathis (125), Rod Pampling (126), Jerry Kelly (128), Chez Reavie (129) and, yes, John Daly (132).
Other metrics to keep an eye on include top 70 on the final 2012 money list, which is the cutoff to get into next year's Arnold Palmer Invitational and Memorial tournaments, and top 30 in earnings, which earns an invite to the next Masters. Ben Curtis (29), Kyle Stanley (31) and others would seem to have plenty to play for starting this week. Still, not everyone is focused on his number on the money list.
Graham DeLaet (85) won't be in Vegas but instead will play the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship -- a sort of European tour version of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am -- at St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. The Dunhill Links uses a pro-am format, and while Bill Murray and Michael Phelps will be the headliners among the amateurs, DeLaet won't be playing with them.
"I always wanted to take my dad over there," said DeLaet, a long-hitting Canadian who will be making his first Dunhill start since 2009, "so we're going over there together. It should be a lot of fun. At this point I'm leaning toward not playing any Fall Series events, but you never know, I might get the bug."
Invariably the Fall Series features big-name players who have had a less than big season, guys like Jason Day and Sean O'Hair, who will look to reestablish momentum at 7,342-yard TPC Summerlin. Some big-name players simply aren't ready to shut it down for the year. Among those to keep an eye on this week: Nick Watney, who won the Barclays in August, Robert Garrigus and Ryan Moore, each of whom advanced all the way to the Tour Championship. (Both players finished in the top 10 in Atlanta and have earned over $2 million in 2012.)
Davis Love III, one week removed from his role as captain at the Ryder Cup and one week away from his role as host of the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island, will resume his playing career at TPC Summerlin. Vegas is where Tiger Woods got his first of 74 PGA Tour victories, beating Love in a sudden-death playoff in 1996, and the two ran into each other in a McDonald's on Monday, the day after the U.S. team's shocking, come-from-ahead loss to Europe at Medinah.
"I said, 'I am going to Vegas where I should've stopped that Tiger Woods train in a playoff,'" Love said. "He said, 'Well, you had a persimmon driver. You had no chance.' So we're back to moving on. I'm happy to be here.
"I wanted to get back to playing golf, no matter what happened Sunday," Love added. "I'd committed that I needed to get back to my own game and it would be good for me either way. You know, Sunday was not good; Monday was hard for a lot of our players. We packed up and gradually everybody was leaving. It was emotional saying good bye to most of the guys. It was a little surreal."
Love said the Americans were still processing the loss, sending each other texts like the one he got Tuesday from Jason Dufner and Webb Simpson. Some of those players will choose to play through the heartache, others, like Woods, will hang it up for a while before playing the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, Oct. 25-28. (Woods also will play in the eight-man Turkish Airways World Golf Final, a big-money exhibition with Rory McIlroy and four other Ryder Cuppers, next week.)
Others still have reacted to the loss by looking ahead to the 2013 Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village, where there was a captains' press conference Tuesday. Asked what he learned from the topsy-turvy Ryder Cup, Fred Couples, an assistant to Love and the 2013 U.S. Presidents Cup captain, said, "Well, I learned four and a half points is awfully hard to get, I can start with that.
"They took it pretty hard," Couples said of the U.S. players at Medinah. "And oddly enough two of them were actually talking about the Presidents Cup Sunday night and a couple of the players were at my table and telling me, you know, 'The par 3s [at Muirfield Village] are all even numbers and the par 5s are all odd numbers, so can you give me Bubba Watson as a partner.'"
Couples laughed at the memory. As Steve Stricker (0-4 at Medinah) said after losing his crucial singles match to Martin Kaymer, golfers are resilient because they have to be. Life moves on, and the season never really ends.
Short game: Willie Wood has two wins in his last three starts on the Champions tour, which heads to Cary, N.C., for the SAS Championship at Prestonwood Country Club. Others in the field include Bernhard Langer, who is second in the Charles Schwab Cup points race; Michael Allen; Mark O'Meara; and Kenny Perry. … Patrick Cantlay, who hit the Tour by storm while playing as an amateur on sponsors' exemptions in 2011, has struggled since turning pro in June, but is starting to find his game again. He is coming off a playoff loss to Russell Henley at last week's Chiquita Classic on the Web.com tour. The developmental circuit is in Washington D.C., for the Neediest Kids Championship at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm. Jeff Klauk, who has undergone surgery and battled dizziness while trying to manage his epilepsy, is coming off a T14 at the Chiquita.