2017-18 PGA TOUR season preview
The 2017-18 PGA TOUR season begins this week in California. Here’s a primer on what you should expect to see.
October 03, 2017
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Justin Thomas' memorable 2016-17 season
Hard to believe another season is upon us, but the 2017-18 PGA TOUR lid-lifter, the Safeway Open, tees off this week at Silverado Resort in Napa, California,
The new season will usher in new stars, new comeback stories, and fresh-faced rookies who play with the poise of polished veterans. Herewith, the big storylines going into the new season.
2017-18 PGA TOUR Season schedule
The PGA TOUR’s 49 FedExCup tournaments represent an increase of two events over last season. New this season: THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES at Jeju Island, Oct. 16-22, 2017, represents Korea’s first official TOUR event. Some five months later, the Dominican Republic will host its first TOUR event, the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, which after a two-year run on the Web.com Tour, will be elevated to a PGA TOUR event and debut March 19-25, the same week as the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play.
Meanwhile, the Puerto Rico Open moves from Match Play week to Feb. 26-March 4, coinciding with the WGC-Mexico Championship. With the addition of two new international tournaments, the schedule includes nine tournaments in eight countries outside the U.S. The total prize money reaches a record of more than $363 million, and the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, Maui, gets a new title sponsor in Sentry.
Other changes: The AT&T Byron Nelson, May 14-20, moves to the new Trinity Forest Golf Club in Irving, Texas, while two FedExCup Playoffs events change venues. THE NORTHERN TRUST, Aug. 20-26, returns to The Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey, and the BMW Championship, Sept. 3-9, goes to Aronimink Golf Club outside Philadelphia for the first time. Also: The one-week break in the FedExCup Playoffs will take place after the first three tournaments and before the season-ending TOUR Championship.
THREE ROOKIES TO WATCH
SAM RYDER, 27 – Web.com Tour insiders call Ryder the circuit’s best driver and maybe its best ball-striker. He’d have gotten his PGA TOUR card earlier but for friend J.J. Spaun holing a 15-footer at the last at the 2016 News Sentinel Open presented by Pilot in Knoxville. Ryder left no doubt with his victory at the 2017 Pinnacle Bank Championship presented by Heartland Chevy Dealers, and a T2 at the WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft-Heinz.
STEPHAN JAEGER, 28 – The German wunderkind not only shot 58, the lowest score ever on the Web.com, he won three times in 14 months. He also qualified for the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where he finished T60. But then he’s long been considered a star. Shortly after he got to the prep golf powerhouse Baylor School, speaking no English and in an unfamiliar town -- Chattanooga, Tennessee -- Jaeger fired a 68 to lead all teammates except Harris English. Hello, world.
AARON WISE, 21 – A winner at every level, Wise went 3-0 to lead the Oregon Ducks to the 2016 NCAA championship. Playing on Oregon’s home course, he won the individual title, too, becoming the first to win both since Kevin Chappell (UCLA, 2008). Wise won on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada last year, and this year fired back-to-back 62s to run away from the field and win the Web.com’s Air Capital Classic Supporting Wichita’s Youth by five shots.
RORY McILROY, 28 – He switched out his equipment; married former PGA of America employee Erica Stoll; changed caddies, parting with longtime looper J.P. Fitzgerald; and bought Ernie Els’s old house at the Bear’s Club. Other than his hair color, was there anything McIlroy didn’t change in 2017? Maybe it’s not surprising, then, that he had an off-year, racking up six top-10s but no wins. It can’t last.
JASON DAY, 29 – The 2015 BMW Championship was marked by Day winning to assume No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. The 2017 BMW saw Day explaining why he was making a caddie switch after failing to win since THE PLAYERS Championship in 2016 and slipping to ninth in the OWGR. He went 1-3-1 in the Presidents Cup, and is due for a big 2018.
BUBBA WATSON, 38 – He bowed out of the FedExCup Playoffs after the Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston, but remember this: Watson went winless in 2013, as well. All he did to cleanse his palette after that off-year was win twice the next season, including the Masters for the second time. Count him out at your peril.
ADAM SCOTT, 37 – The 13-time TOUR winner wasn’t himself in 2017, failing to lift any trophies. Well, there was one trophy: Scott and his wife, Marie Kojzar, welcomed a son Byron, in August, joining 2-year-old daughter Bo Vera. Scott returned to the TOUR only to bow out of the FedExCup Playoffs after the Dell Technologies Championship. He’ll be back.
KEEGAN BRADLEY, 31 – He was on top of the world in 2011, his PGA Championship title salting away Rookie of the Year honors. With the anchoring ban and a swing change, Bradley lost his way, but a string of top-10s in 2017 suggest he’s on his way up again.
PLAYERS ON THE RISE
CAMERON SMITH, 24 – Voice cracked with emotion after winning the Zurich Classic of New Orleans with partner Jonas Blixt in 2017. Now it’s on to bigger and better things for Smith, whose raw talent portends an individual TOUR title in the not too distant future.
PATRICK CANTLAY, 25 – Came into the Valspar Championship on a Major-Medical Extension, but the former No. 1 amateur solidified TOUR status with a runner-up at Innisbrook. Despite limited schedule, he racked up T3 at the RBC Heritage, T10 at THE NORTHERN TRUST, and made a clutch 10-foot birdie putt on 18 at BMW Championship to advance to TOUR Championship.
XANDER SCHAUFFELE, 23 – Missed six of eight cuts early in 2017, then caught fire. A birdie from the trees on 18 helped him qualify for U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where he finished T5. He won The Greenbrier Classic, then went 6-under for his last six at the BMW to move from 32nd to 26th in the FedExCup Playoffs, advancing to the TOUR Championship at East Lake. You may know what happened there.
VETS WHO'LL WIN FOR THE FIRST TIME
LUKE LIST, 32 – This big-hitting Vanderbilt product tied for second at the Sanderson Farms Championship and tied for third at the Shell Houston Open. Bowed out of the FedExCup Playoffs with a T20 at the BMW Championship but finished 50th in final FedExCup standings.
JAMIE LOVEMARK, 29 – Former amateur No. 1 and college Player of the Year at USC finished T4 at Sony Open in Hawaii and T3 at The Greenbrier Classic. Did not exit the Playoffs quietly, finishing T33 at BMW Championship to end 2017 season 57th in the FedExCup.
ANIRBAN LAHIRI, 30 – Tied for second at Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide before nearly gate-crashing TOUR Championship with a final-round 66 and T9 at the BMW. Presidents Cup captain’s pick ultimately finished 51st in the final FedExCup standings before going 1-1-1 at Liberty National as one of the few bright spots for the International Team.
FIVE BURNING QUESTIONS
1. Will the 20-somethings continue to dominate?
Yes. They won three of the four majors in 2017, and the FedExCup. Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, each 24, combined to win eight times, and Xander Schauffele, 23, picked up his second W of the season at the TOUR Championship. Whew! Throw in Daniel Berger, yet a fourth member of the high school Class of 2011; and Hideki Matsuyama, 25; and others, and 19 players in their 20s won 28 times. Youth is wasted on the young? Not in this case.
2. Who has the best chance to complete the career grand slam?
Spieth at the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. When Bellerive hosted the 1992 PGA, Nick Price won, three ahead of Nick Faldo and Gene Sauers. None of those guys was an overly long hitter. Yes, Phil Mickelson will return to one of his favorite U.S. Open venues -- he contended until the bitter end at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 -- but at 47 he looks like a sentimental longshot. And after a down 2017, Rory McIlroy may have too much work to do to get back up to speed in time for the 2018 Masters.
3. Can Spieth and Thomas keep up this pace?
Yes, and that’s a mind-boggling thought. At 24, Spieth already has three majors to his name after his electrifying victory at The Open in July, when he stepped on the gas to leave Matt Kuchar in the dust. “If I have the year I had this year the next 15 years, then I’ll be the greatest player that ever played the game if you judge it by major championships,” Spieth said at the BMW Championship. For good measure, he went 3-1-1 at the Presidents Cup. Scary.
As for Thomas, he said at the BMW, “I feel like I’ve matured a lot as a player and as a person.” Well, yeah. He’d already won five times, including the PGA Championship. Then he finished second at the TOUR Championship at East Lake to salt away the FedExCup title, and leading money-winner honors with $10 million. He, too, went 3-1-1 at the Presidents Cup. Double scary.
4. Is this the season for a Tiger comeback?
Stay tuned. Although he won five times in 2013, Woods has made just 19 starts since then, including one in 2017, at the Farmers Insurance Open in January. It didn’t go well. Woods shot 76-72 to miss the cut at Torrey Pines, where he had won eight times as a professional, including the 2008 U.S. Open. He announced in April that he had undergone back fusion surgery -- his fourth back operation in three years. Woods will turn 42 in December.
"I would like to play competitive golf,” Woods said during the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup press conference. "I just don't know what my body is going to allow me to do. That's something I'm going to have to, as I said, listen to my surgeon, see what he says, and then I've got to get a feel for what my body is able to do and not do."
The guess here is that Woods is eyeing the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, Nov. 30-Dec. 3.
5. What will become of all these caddie changes?
Wait and see. Mickelson dissolved his 25-year partnership with Jim (Bones) Mackay; McIlroy ended things with J.P. Fitzgerald; and Jason Day relieved coach and father figure Col Swatton of his caddie duties. Just like that, three of the most prominent players in the game -- all in the throes of a below-average season -- announced they were starting over with new side men. Mickelson, at least, went 3-0-1 at the Presidents Cup with his brother, Tim, on the bag.
Three early picks to win THE PLAYERS Championship
1. Sergio Garcia – He’s won it before, and he’s coming off a life-changing season.
2. Francesco Molinari – Finished T6 in 2017, T7 in 2016. A hot putting week and he wins.
3. Justin Thomas – T3 in 2016, and that was before he became a cold-blooded closer.
One early pick to win the FedExCup
Jordan Spieth – How could anyone ever bet against him?
Jordan Spieth's incredible bunker shot to win Travelers