European Tour schedule provides for big finish

The PGA Championship moving to May might have provided a strong finishing kick to the European Tour season.

The European Tour released a schedule for next year that still involves 31 countries on five continents with 48 tournaments, even if they are a little out of order. The biggest change was moving its flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, from May to September.

Wentworth would have been one week after the PGA Championship. Now it is Sept. 19-22 and kicks off a stretch that includes the popular Dunhill Links Championship a week later, a Rolex Series event at the Italian Open, the French Open at Le Golf National, a World Golf Championships event in Shanghai and the final three Rolex Series events (Turkey, South Africa, Dubai) that conclude the Race to Dubai.

The French Open is no longer a Rolex Series event (with a $7 million purse) and has been moved from the heart of the continental European schedule in early summer to a fall date in October. The Irish Open at Lahinch and the Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club next to Muirfield lead into the British Open at Royal Portrush.

Abu Dhabi takes over as a Rolex Series event and will be the first event of 2019 (Jan. 16-19). It will be followed by Dubai and a new tournament called the Saudi International, where Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Paul Casey are expected to play.

Another new event is the Kenya Open, which has been upgraded from a Challenge Tour event and will be the same week as The Players Championship. The European Tour also added the Vic Open, a PGA Tour of Australasian event in which men and women compete on the same course for the same prize money.

It also managed to save the British Masters, which Tommy Fleetwood will host at Hillside Golf Club next door to Royal Birkdale.

The European Tour remains the most global golf circuit. Just over half – 16 of 31 – of the countries it visits are in Europe. Because of the majors and World Golf Championships, the country that has the most European Tour events on the schedule is the United States.

ARIYA’S REIGN

Ariya Jutanugarn was so dominant this year on the LPGA Tour that she wrapped up the points-based Rolex Player of the Year award with three tournaments left.

Jutanugarn, whose three victories include the U.S. Women’s Open, has 219 points. That’s 83 points ahead of Sung Hyun Park, meaning she cannot be caught. This is the second time in three years the big-hitting Thai has won the award.

“It feels great to win this award for a second time, and I’m really excited about that,” Jutanugarn said. “I’ve played well this season and it’s a huge honor for me to have my name on this trophy again.”

Along with her three victories, Jutanugarn has finished in the top 10 in 60 percent of her tournaments (15 of 25).

She leads the money list with just under $2.5 million, has the lowest scoring average (69.38) and has been leading the Race to CME Globe every week since May 18. She also leads the LPGA Tour in total birdies (421).

She will receive her award at the Rolex LPGA Awards ceremony on Nov. 15 after the opening round of the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

OPPOSITE FIELDS

Cameron Champ showed off his awesome length at the 2017 U.S. Open, and now the 23-year-old Californian has his first PGA Tour victory. He poured it on down the stretch with big drives and big putts for a four-shot victory in the Sanderson Farms Championship.

The trick now is following it up.

The PGA Tour is deeper than ever, and a first victory anywhere is meaningful. Even so, opposite-field events are not always the best measure.

According to the Official World Golf Ranking, three events in the Web.com Tour Finals this year had a stronger field than the four PGA Tour events that were held the same week as the British Open and three World Golf Championships.

Dating to the start of the wraparound season in the fall of 2013, there have been 19 opposite-field events on the PGA Tour schedule. Thirteen were won by players who captured their first PGA Tour title. None of those 13 has yet to win again.

The list includes Tony Finau (2016 Puerto Rico Open), who went 2-1-0 in his Ryder Cup debut last month. Chesson Hadley was the only player ranked inside the top 100 in the world (No. 92 when he won the 2014 Puerto Rico Open). D.A. Points had the lowest ranking. He was No. 634 when he won Puerto Rico in 2017.

The average world ranking of opposite-field winners the last five years is No. 297.

BONUS MONEY

Xander Schauffele picked up $1.7 million for his first World Golf Championships title in the HSBC Champions, allowing the 25-year-old American to crack the $10 million mark in career earnings in just 58 starts.

He also might have some more cash coming his way.

Schauffele is an affiliate member of the European Tour, and his victory in Shanghai – considered his first title on the European Tour – moved him to No. 4 in the Race to Dubai, one spot behind Masters champion Patrick Reed. The Race to Dubai has three events left, and the top 10 are eligible for the $5 million in bonus money.

This truly could be considered bonus money because Schauffele has yet to play a regular European Tour event. His eight counting events on the Race to Dubai have been the four majors (he was a runner-up at the British Open and tied for sixth in the U.S. Open) and four WGCs.

SPIETH RETURNS

With his wedding less than a month away, Jordan Spieth is sticking close to home this year.

Spieth is making his first domestic start in the fall at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas this week, and he will follow that up with an inaugural appearance in the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico.

The last time Spieth played a PGA Tour event before January was a tie for seventh in the 2015 HSBC Champions in Shanghai. He played the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour and the Australian Open in 2014, and has played the Aussie Open each of the last three years, along with the unofficial Hero World Challenge.

This is about more than getting a jump on FedEx Cup points, however.

Spieth remains ineligible for the Sentry Tournament of Champions at the start of next year in Kapalua. He gets two more chances.

DIVOTS

SKYiGOLF was launched Tuesday, a company geared toward helping PGA of America members and golf course owners with resources to run more efficiently and build loyalty among golfers. Along with incentives to play more rounds and award a hole-in-one with a $10,000 prize at member facilities, SKYiGOLF said it would sponsor the first event on the Symetra Tour next year, a 72-hole event at Charlotte Harbor National in Florida. The purse will be $250,000, the largest on the Symetra Tour, with net proceeds going to the Folds of Honor. … With a tie for 11th in the HSBC Champions last week, Billy Horschel became the 76th player to surpass $20 million in career PGA Tour earnings. … Aaron Wise was voted PGA Tour rookie of the year for 2018. He was the only rookie to win a tournament (AT&T; Byron Nelson) and reach the Tour Championship.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Eight players who have been No. 1 in the world are among the top 15 in this week’s world ranking, the most since the ranking began in 1986.

FINAL WORD

“I’ve worked hard, but a lot of guys work hard and they don’t get this. So for whatever reason, it’s doing right at the right time. It’s working out.” – Scott Parel, a former computer programmer who has won twice this year on the PGA Tour Champions.

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