HONOLULU (AP) — The start of the European Tour season in Abu Dhabi is a resumption of the Ryder Cup points race, and European captain Padraig Harrington made it clear he is looking for players in form for the September matches.
Europe changed its points system because the tour was shut down for four months by the COVID-19 pandemic last year. The new model multiplies points by 1.5 from Abu Dhabi through May 9, and then points are doubled until qualifying ends at the BMW PGA Championship on Sept. 12.
The leading four players from the European Tour points, then the leading five players from the world ranking points, automatically are on the team.
That leaves Harrington with three captain’s picks, compared with six wild-card picks for U.S. captain Steve Stricker.
In an interview with RTE Radio in Ireland, Harrington said he sees that as an advantage.
“I chose three. I wanted three,” Harrington said. “You’ve got to understand, picks only complicate it. You want situations where you’ve got guys who qualify, and then a limited number of picks to strengthen the team you have. You can cause dissension in the team if somebody doesn’t get picked that the rest of the team thinks they should have been picked. When there’s so many options, you’re going to disappoint a lot of people.”
Both teams each had two picks from 1995 through 2006. That changed when U.S. captain Paul Azinger wanted four picks for his “pod” system in 2008. Tom Watson went to three picks in 2014, and then it was restored to four picks. Europe has never had more than three captain’s picks.
“The less picks you have ... you have less doubt in your mind about the picks, and it brings less doubt to the team,” Harrington said. “It brings more confidence to the guys who automatically qualify. I can tell you, getting a pick and having people second-guess why you got that pick brings enormous pressure to the player during the event. Whereas, qualifying by right, you deserve to be there. And we will build a team around guys who qualify.”
If that’s the case, Stricker could have his hands full deciding on his six picks. The Americans have a wealth of talent going into the year of the Sept. 24-26 matches at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. Currently, 12 of the top 16 players in the world ranking are American.
The U.S. is sure to be favored again. Europe has captured the cup nine of the last 12 times.
“The reality of the situation is they’re incredibly strong,” Harrington said. “But Europe will work a way to get the best out of its team.”
NO PAR 3
Augusta National announced last week that the Masters will be run in April with similar health and safety protocols as in November, except with limited attendance.
The big difference is the Augusta National Women's Amateur and the Drive, Chip and Putt Finals will be held in the days leading up to tournament week, both with a small number of spectators.
But for the second straight year, it appears there will not be a Par 3 Tournament.
Several players who already have qualified for the Masters said last week they have received correspondence from the club indicating the Par 3 won't be held. That makes sense considering the Par 3 is a smaller arena that invariably would be more crowded, and the traditional Wednesday event is a showcase for spectators.
Players often dress up their children in coveralls to be their caddies for the Par 3.
Meanwhile, players will be allowed to bring spouses or parents. They also said Augusta National is allowing them four tickets, another example of limited attendance. Players typically get eight tickets, with an option to buy four more.
Bryson DeChambeau keeps chasing a faster swing speed to hit the ball even farther, leading to an interesting question.
How would he Bryson-proof a golf course?
The short answer from the U.S. Open champion is that there is no answer.
He mentioned Harbourtown and Colonial, two PGA Tour courses renowned for being short, winding and tight. He also mentioned East Lake, with its cross bunkers in front of greens.
“That’s really the only way to combat it on any level,” DeChambeau said last week in a conference call ahead of the Saudi International. “But I would say still, if I’m hitting a 4-iron off the tee when somebody is hitting a 3-wood, I would still classify that as a pretty good advantage.”
DeChambeau said a course can be set up for strategy when he would have to hit irons off the tee and keep it in play. Even then, his length would be an advantage because he can hit less club than everyone else.
“So it’s really tough to combat distance,” DeChambeau said. "You can kind of mitigate it a small amount with the types of courses you build and the way you put in these hazards. But it’s a very difficult thing to do and I don’t think it will ever fully be figured out.”
ANOTHER HAWAII SWING
Jim Furyk had taken part in the Hawaii Swing 10 times in his career, most recently in 2011, always starting at Maui with the rest of the PGA Tour winners. This will be the 11th time, and it’s a different variety. He’s going from the Sony Open on the PGA Tour to the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai on the PGA Tour Champions.
Just like the previous swing, he’s only guaranteed money at one stop.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Furyk said after he shot four rounds in the 60s at the Sony Open and tied for 47th. “Everyone tells me how beautiful Hualalai is, how great the hotel is, the tournament itself. I don’t know anything about the golf course. I have an open mind going in.”
Furyk already has won twice on the PGA Tour Champions after turning 50 in May. He isn’t alone. Vijay Singh and Jerry Kelly have been going from Oahu to the Big Island for years.
Mike Weir is doing a Hawaii swing for the first time. The former Masters champion has six trips to Kapalua for winning, but he never played the Sony Open the following week. Now he’s playing two weeks in Hawaii on two tours. He also tied for 47th at Waialae.
MASTERS ON SIRIUS XM
After 65 years of Westwood One handling the play-by-play radio coverage of the Masters, that now falls to SiriusXM.
“The Masters is one of the most important and revered competitions in all of sports, and we are so thrilled to be acquiring the rights to bring the tournament to our listeners,” said Scott Greenstein, president and chief content officer of SiriusXM.
SiriusXM already handles the radio play-by-play for the PGA Tour. It said it would announce its team of golf voices as the April 8-11 Masters gets closer. It also plans several shows earlier in the week hosted by past champions Fred Couples and Craig Stadler and three-time runner-up Greg Norman.
SiriusXM and Augusta National also are collaborating on a podcast launched last week called “The Masters Show,” which drops every Monday until the Masters.
Kevin Na is one of five players who have active streaks of winning in four or more seasons. The others are Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau. ... Of the top 50 players in the world ranking, Louis Oostuizen, Jason Day and Tiger Woods are the only players not competing in any of the three weeks to start the year. ... The three 2020 LPGA major champions from South Korea are not playing in the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions this week in Florida.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Joaquin Niemann earned $1.369 million from his two PGA Tour events in Hawaii without winning either of them.
“I think more about winning since I've been winning more often because I know I can do it.” — Kevin Na.