Around The Tours: Top Storylines This Week

November or not, professional golf is heating up. The Champions Tour crowned a controversial Charles Schwab Playoff Cup Winner, Kevin Sutherland, who had six fewer wins, and three fewer majors on the season than Bernhard Langer.

For two of the other major tours: the European Tour and the LPGA Tour, playoff championships arrive this week, and a lot of money is going to be awarded.

Things might not be quite as intense on the PGA Tour, but The RSM Classic marks the last official tournament of an incredible 2017. A motivated field will be looking to slide into their extended break on a high note.


PGA TOUR: THE RSM CLASSIC

The PGA Tour’s fall series concludes this week as a talented field takes their shot at one of their more popular regular venues, Sea Island Golf Course, the gem of Georgia’s St. Simons Island, for the RSM Classic.

The RSM Classic

Newly minted Hall of Famer Davis Love III hosts this year’s anticipated eighth annual edition, and if it is anything like the first seven, fans are in for a treat.

Of those seven past RSMs, only one was decided by more than one stroke, with last year’s being the most memorable of all as five players battled in extra holes to crown a champion.


1. RETURN OF MAC

Emerging from that legendary five-man playoff at last year’s RSM Classic was young Canadian Mackenzie (now ‘Mac’) Hughes, who surprisingly needed just a par on the third extra hole to better the trio of Camilo Villegas, Henrik Norlander, and Blayne Barber, who all put together a valuable clinic on how not to putt.

Now playing his first tournament as a defending champion, Hughes is hoping that confidence and course familiarity will help him go back-to-back.

Mackenzie Hughes

Hughes has played just two tournaments in the new 2017-18 PGA Tour wraparound season, missing the cut at both the Safeway Open, and at last week’s OHL Classic at Mayakoba. That recent form could be considered discouraging, but Hughes should be comforted and motivated by the fact that coming into last year’s victory at St. Simons Island, he was playing only marginally better, with a missed cut and a T68 as his two previous starts.

The final 2017 tally for Hughes, his rookie season on Tour, looks good: in addition to the win, he made a very respectable 22 cuts in 31 events, with nine finishes inside the top 25, and $2.3 million in earnings.

While he consistently made weekends, however, he did not really contend anywhere after the RSM, with a T10 at Pebble Beach in February being his only other top 10. He is hoping to shake off his MC-MC start to the season and spend more time on the first page of leaderboards this year.

2. KIZZIRE FLYING HIGH

In last year’s fall series, Pat Perez, the winner of the 2016-17 OHL Classic at Mayakoba, used the victory as the springboard to, hands-down, his best 12 months as a professional golfer.

Patton Kizzire

Hoping that history repeats itself is 31-year-old Patton Kizzire, who became a first-time Tour winner just last week when he outlasted a formidable challenger in world No. 7 Rickie Fowler and took top honors at Mayakoba.

It was an extremely encouraging performance from Kizzire, who dazzled with an opening round 9-under 63, and refused to wilt to pressure on a marathon 36-hole Sunday, despite his primary challenger outranking him by 229 positions in the world rankings.

While the vertically-gifted Kizzire is coming into the RSM red-hot (his Mayakoba triumph marked a third consecutive top 10 finish), the current early leader in the FedExCup Standings has yet to see a St. Simons weekend, missing the cut in his two previous RSM attempts. That is just barely the case though, as his second-round 65 in last year’s tournament got him to 4-under over after Friday, a number that makes the cut in 95% of PGA Tour events, but was a single stroke short of what he needed. Regardless, he will not be coming into this year’s edition overlooked.


3. SEASON DEBUT: KEVIN KISNER

In seven previous RSM Classic’s, just one champion was decided by more than one stroke: Kevin Kisner’s six-shot dismantling of the 2015 St Simons field. In that obliteration, Kisner reached 22-under for the four days, a tournament record by an incredible five strokes.

KEVIN KISNER

The win had to feel especially good, as it was his first career victory, and came fresh off a season where he had finished runner-up three times.

What did not feel good, however, was missing the cut in his RSM defense, as a surprising 68-72 start left him two strokes below the cut line. While it remains to be seen which version of Kisner shows up at Sea Island Golf Club this year, there is one thing that cannot be questioned: he is very well-rested.

This will be the the season debut for the man who sits at No. 26 in the world rankings, making him one of the last great players to tee it up for the first time since the President’s Cup nearly six weeks ago.

Despite his difficulties at last year’s RSM, Kisner’s 2017 season was phenomenal. Among his 28 starts, 25 of which lasted into Sunday, Kisner notched his second career victory, two runner ups, and eight top 10s.

He earned $4.8 million, and prodigiously increased his profile when he made the final Sunday pairing of 2017’s final major, the PGA Championship. His play dropped off dramatically after his major contention, but he got it back together in time to finish T3 at the Tour Championship, and become a useful player for the victorious American side at the President’s Cup, as one of just four players to not be defeated (2-0-2 record).


4. WELCOME BACK, BRANDT

If Kevin Kisner is well-rested, there is not a term that adequately describes the state of Tour veteran Brandt Snedeker, who is making the RSM his first start since a T14 finish at the Travelers Championship in late June.

Brandt Snedeker

However, unlike Kisner, whose absence was voluntary, Snedeker’s layoff was due to a slow-healing rib injury. In the prime of his career at 36 years old, it was an extremely frustrating way for his 2017 season to end.

While he did manage four top 10s in 15 events, Snedeker is hoping to chalk up a winless 2017 as something of a lost season as he looks to rediscover the form that led to seven victories over his previous six seasons.

This will be the second consecutive season that Snedeker begins at Sea Island, and he is hoping this year’s debut will go better than last season’s, where a pedestrian weekend led to a T45 finish. He will be relying heavily on his first-class short game and keeping his fingers crossed that his health cooperates.


EUROPEAN TOUR: DP WORLD TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP

While the PGA Tour is seeing an end to their fall series this week, the stakes are much higher for the finale in Europe.

DP WORLD TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP

This is the week of the DP World Tour Championship, the closing tournament of the 48-week European Tour Race to Dubai.

The 60-man field comprised of 58 of the top 60 in the Race to Dubai standings (only No. 11 Rory McIlroy and No. 13 Henrik Stenson are sitting out, both due to injury), will be playing under the inimitable backdrop of Dubai’s skyline, fighting for the last trophy of an unforgettable season. Held at Jumeirah Golf Estates, the DP World Tour Championship has consistently been one of the most entertaining dates on the Europe schedule.


1. RACE TO DUBAI FINALE

Unlike the playoff finales for the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour, there is no points reset for the DP World Tour Championship; players tee off with the points they earned over the previous 47 weeks.

While that system ensures a champion that played well over the course of an entire season, it means that fewer players have a mathematical chance of winning the Race to Dubai in the final week. In fact, only three players are still alive for the title:

1. TOMMY FLEETWOOD

TOMMY FLEETWOOD

Fleetwood, the 26-year-old from England who is best known in the U.S. for contending at this past season’s U.S. Open (he played in the final Sunday pairing and finished T4), currently holds a large lead in the Race to Dubai standings.

While he boasted quality play for a large part of the season, what stands out when comparing Fleetwood to the other two players still in the championship picture is quantity. His 23 starts actually match the number of the other two players combined.

Fleetwood has not been as tremendous in recent months as he was earlier in the season, when he won twice, once in January and once in early July, but with five consecutive top 25s, including a T6 at the recent Italian Open, he is not exactly limping down the stretch either.


2. JUSTIN ROSE

JUSTIN ROSE

Rose only entered 11 Race to Dubai tournaments in 2017, compared to Fleetwood’s 23, but due to incredible recent form, the 37-year-old from England is No. 2 in the standings, and has a great chance of finishing the season No. 1.

Rose is coming off back-to-back victories, the first being an unfathomable eight-shot final round comeback victory over world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and the second being a triumph at the Turkish Airlines Open two weeks ago.

Mathematically, Rose has to finish in the top 5 to have a chance. A win would put him out front, as would a runner-up, as long as the man he is runner-up to is not Tommy Fleetwood.


3. SERGIO GARCIA

SERGIO GARCIA

The Masters Champion Garcia has just a small chance of taking the Race to Dubai title, but it is a chance nonetheless.

The 37-year-old Spaniard made just 12 starts in qualifying events this season, but he is aided greatly by the fact that three of those starts were victories, including his most recent event, the Andalucia Valderrama Masters last month.

Not only does Sergio need to notch victory No. 4 on the season, he also needs Fleetwood to not finish in the top 11, and Rose to fail to make the top four. That could be a tall task for a man who finished 19th at Jumeirah Estaast season.


2. PAYDAY POSITIONS

While just three players have a shot at finishing No. 1 in the final Race to Dubai standings, 45 of them remain in the running for a top 10 spot, all of which earn a piece of a $5 million bonus pool, giving extra motivation to a large percentage of the field.

Alex Noren

This is what the top 10 bubble currently looks like:

No. 8 Alex Noren
No. 9 Branden Grace
No. 10 Francesco Molinari
——————————
No. 12 Matthew Fitzpatrick
No. 14 Bernd Wiesberger
No. 15 Paul Dunne

Other notables who still have a mathematical chance of landing in the final top 10 include Thomas Pieters (16), Li Haotong (17), Charl Schwartzel (30), Patrick Reed (31), Martin Kaymer (35), and Martin Kaymer (45).


3. DEFENDING CHAMPION IN TOP FORM

It was not enough to overtake Henrik Stenson for the 2016 Race to Dubai title, but it was a fantastic finale for Matthew Fitzpatrick last year, who edged Tyrrell Hatton by one stroke to take the DP World Tour Championship, the third career victory for the now 23-year-old.

Matthew Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick is not going to win this year’s Race to Dubai either, but the defending tournament champion is on the top 10 bubble, and is coming into Dubai in tremendous form. After a surprise summer slump, Fitzpatrick got back into the winner’s circle when he finished atop the final leaderboard at the Omega European Masters in September.

In six starts since, he has not cooled, finishing in the top 15 of all six, and making a precipitous jump up the standings.

At last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa, Fitzpatrick shot a second round 77 and STILL finished inside the top 10 (T8). Everything seems to be lining up for another spectacular week in Dubai for one of the European Tour’s best young players.


LPGA TOUR: CME GROUP TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP

It is also Championship Week on the LPGA Tour, as 72 of the world’s best female golfers are at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida for the CME Group Tour Championship, the final event of the 32-tournament Race to CME Globe season.

CME Group Tour Championship

The ladies finale more closely follows the paradigm set by the PGA Tour and Champions Tour, as there is a points reset, but unlike in those two championships, where everyone in the field has a mathematical path to the title, only the current top 12 in the standings have the chance to finish No. 1, preventing the chance of a Bill Haas kind of winner.


THE TOP FIVE

For those currently in the top five of the Race to CME Globe, the championship path is simple: win the tournament and the CME Globe title is theirs.

Those in the 6-12 range need a win and help. Here are the five ladies who control their own destiny in Naples:

1. LEXI THOMPSON

LEXI THOMPSON

In a season largely dominated by international players, South Koreans in particular, it says a lot about the kind of season the American Thompson had that she comes into this tournament in the No. 1 slot.

Thompson has struggled in her last three starts, but she has a win as recently as September, in addition to another win and five runner-up finishes.


2. SUNG HYUN PARK

SUNG HYUN PARK

The South Korean super rookie recently made headlines when she became the first rookie to rank No. 1 in the Rolex World Rankings.

That stint was short-lived, but she has had a phenomenal season nonetheless, with two wins, including the U.S. Women’s Open, among nine top-5 finishes.


3. SHANSHAN FENG

SHANSHAN FENG

A Chinese sensation, Shanshan Feng is now ranked No. 1 in the world after wins in her last two starts.

Each of her last four starts have resulted in top 3 finishes, and she has just one start in her last 10 outside the top 10. If someone is considered the golfer to beat right now, it is Feng.


4. SO YEON RYU

SO YEON RYU

Finishing in the top 10 of her first eight events of the season gave Ryu a big cushion that now allows her to control her own championship destiny.

Two wins highlighted an incredible season, with her most notable victory coming at the ANA Inspiration, the first major of the year.


5. BROOKE HENDERSON

BROOKE HENDERSON

The young Canadian Henderson did not quite have the dominant season many expected was coming after an incredible 2016 season, but she still managed two wins and took runner-up honors at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

Notables in that coveted 6-12 range include Christie Kerr (No. 7), Ariya Jutanugarn (No. 9), Stacy Lewis (No. 11), and Lydia Ko (No. 12).

Ryu, Feng, Park, and Thompson (in that order) are also in the mix to claim the Rolex Player of the Year award. All four clinch with a victory this weekend, but can still win with a good finish and some help.


Joel Cook

Joel Cook is Pro Golf Weekly's Lead Writer. He is a member of the Golf Writer's Association of America.



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