As the PGA TOUR sojourns to Malaysia for the first time, we are reminded that while its season is winding down, and other sports are elbowing for your attention, golf's 52-week cycle continues worldwide. You can always find the game on television if you look hard enough, but can you glean any fantasy insight from the results of events in Asia, Australia, South Africa and Japan over the last three months on the calendar?
By and large, yes.
Take, for example, Robert Allenby, who triumphed in consecutive weeks last fall (Nedbank Challenge, Australian PGA) in what were his final two of six consecutive starts overseas. Lo and behold, he shows up at the Sony Open, where he finishes second to lay the foundation for one of his best years on the PGA TOUR. Re-committed to improving his putting, he posted a pair of seconds, one third and a total of five top 10s in 22 starts. He banked nearly $3 million, second only to his $3.6 million haul in 2008. (Note that he didn't win in the U.S. in either year.)
K.J. Choi claimed the Iskandar Johor Open in October 2009 to save what had been one of his worst seasons on the PGA TOUR (93rd on the money list). This year, he rebounded to earn nearly $2.2 million thanks in large part to four top 10s, including second- and third-place finishes. He arrives in Malaysia this week riding a streak of three straight top 10s.
One of the lesser-known facts about Adam Scott is that he has posted victories at least once in every calendar year since 2001. He kept that string intact with a win at the Valero Texas Open this year. The Aussie was winless in 2009 until the Australian Open, which capped a stretch of four consecutive top 10s. I was so bullish that I ranked him 20th in my full-membership preseason rankings for PGATOUR.COM despite him finishing 108th on the money list in 2009. Sure enough, in addition to his win in Texas, he notched three more top 10s to total almost $2.5 million, more than three times his take from a year ago, and his largest single-season bankroll in three years.
Edoardo Molinari's emergence is well-known now, but it's worth revisiting. The three-time Challenge Tour winner in 2009 took the Dunlop Phoenix (the Japan Golf Tour's flagship event), and then teamed with brother, Francesco, to win the World Cup. He would go on to share second place at the Arnold Palmer Invitational before breaking through for his first win on the European Tour at the Scottish Open. Another victory at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles followed, as did a solo second at the European Masters. He'd cap off the magical run with a wildcard selection for and victory in the Ryder Cup.
Exceptions to the trend include Tiger Woods, who won the Australian Masters 12 days before driving his SUV into the fire hydrant. After that, all bets were off. Even so, as the world's No. 1, time and place to contend is insignificant. In other words, a four-win season (instead of zero) would have been the norm.
Also, although Ian Poulter won the Singapore Open last fall, and recorded his first PGA TOUR victory at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, he managed just one more top 10 (T10, Masters) on TOUR this year. His earnings from the Match Play win were worth more than two-thirds of his season total, which speaks more about his capability in a once-a-year format with a mammoth purse than it does in a 72-hole stroke-play competition. I've never held back on my assertion that Poulter is overrated in fantasy circles.
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Of the current top 10 on the PGA TOUR money list, nine teed it up at least once post-FedExCup Playoffs a year ago. (Dustin Johnson, who is fourth in earnings, did not play.) Jim Furyk (second) won in his only start at the Chevron Challenge, propelling him to three wins on TOUR this year and a probable Player of the Year award for the first time.
Phil Mickelson (sixth) chased a T14 in Singapore with a title at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions. While he won just once in 2010, it was a biggie. His approach at the 13th hole at Augusta National on Sunday (en route to his Masters' victory) is a front-runner for shot of year.
Ernie Els (third) and Justin Rose (ninth) both played five times from October through December last year. Els posted just one top 10 (second, WGC-HSBC), but then eschewed the Desert Swing on the European Tour to focus singularly on action in the U.S. He'd win in consecutive starts (WGC-CA Championship, Palmer Invite) for his first multiple-win season on the PGA TOUR since 2004. Meanwhile, Rose finished T6 at the Portugal Masters and T4 at the Children's Miracle Network Classic, but he didn't really find a groove until his first PGA TOUR win at the Memorial this June. He failed in his bid to go wire-to-wire, and back-to-back, at the Travelers Championship, only to claim trophy No. 2 at the AT&T National.
Even if we go back to the fourth quarter of 2008, winners such as Henrik Stenson, Retief Goosen and Geoff Ogilvy portended outstanding seasons on the 2009 PGA TOUR, while Sergio Garcia and Rod Pampling, to name two, came to screeching halts after lifting their own hardware late in '08.
Now, I understand that a counterargument to all of this information is that it merely underscores guys that are perennial achievers and mainstays in the top 50 of the world ranking. Many fields in which they've won are invite-only, limited or top-heavy, so they should win. So be it. If that's your take, then you should love those that sit atop leaderboards for the next several weeks even more. Regardless of pedigree.
Next week's Fantasy Insider will feature capsules and fantasy projections for the 25 Nationwide Tour graduates. It will be the first of several entries through December diving into all members of the Class of 2011.