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The Month Ahead - November

By: Tony Dear


After a mostly thrilling season, we have reached that time of year when things begin to get a little weird. The game's top players start heading off 'round the world in search of holiday bonuses, teeing up at exhibitions and events that may or may not be part of a recognized professional tour and which are invariably played on some insipid resort course under an unfamiliar format with strangely disparate fields and outlandish purses.

Such "fun" is well underway. Last month, eight of the best headed to Turkey for a medal-match play tournament that very few people actually saw and which began with a highly embarrassing scuffle on the first tee between the head of the Turkish Golf Federation and a local TV cameraman. Port Royal in Bermuda was the venue for the four-man PGA Grand Slam of Golf, which would surely hold a more prominent place in the professional game if the four major champions dropped everything to play in it (the reigning quartet has convened just six times since the turn of the century). Last week, some of the PGA Tour's finest were in Kuala Lumpur playing in a 48-man field for a top prize of $1.3 million against the likes of Shaaban Hussin, Anirban Lahiri, and Gaganjeet Bhullar.

November begins in China with a World Golf Championship that is deemed only a "Featured Event" by the PGA Tour but is an official event on the European Tour - the 41st money-counting tournament in a 45-tournament season.

Germany's Martin Kaymer will be defending the title he won last year at Sheshan GC in Shanghai with a final-round 63. This year, the tournament moves to the Olazabal Course at Mission Hills in Shenzhen, which hosted the World Cup of Golf from 2007-09. Seven of the world's top 10 are there, a phenomenal turnout for the Colonial or John Deere Classic certainly but a little disappointing perhaps for a WGC event, especially as the top two players are absent. Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have already played in China this week though, going mano-a-mano in an 18-hole big-money contest in Zhengzhou.

The sponsors of this week's tournament have voiced their displeasure with those players' unwillingness to make it happen, and you have to say they have a point. Both are no doubt appallingly tired after their 'rigorous' Asian adventures (Woods - CIMB Classic, McIlroy - BMW Masters, prior to the Chinese exhibition for which they received a reported $2 million and $1 million, respectively, in appearance fees) and have had their schedules set in stone for a while, but on the surface it does look pretty dubious. Number 1 McIlroy is in Bulgaria to watch his tennis-playing girlfriend and No. 2 Woods is meeting some corporate commitments in Singapore.

While some of their contemporaries find it unfortunate they won't be at Mission Hills, others are focusing on the fact their chances of winning and/or earning a big payday have improved, none more so than Peter Hanson, who climbed into second place in the European Tour's Race to Dubai following his one-stroke victory over McIlroy in Shanghai in October's final weekend.

The Swedish Ryder Cupper is now just 812,572 behind the Ulsterman with five tournaments remaining (technically only four as the UBS Hong Kong Open and South African Open are played concurrently). But, with McIlroy due to play in the Barclays Singapore Open next week and defend in Hong Kong the following week before heading to Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai for the season finale, Hanson will need a high finish if he is to have any hope of catching McIlroy and denying him the European Tour money title. If he ends up near or atop the leaderboard, however, the 23-year-old McIlroy will become the second man in history - after Luke Donald last year - to win the money title on both sides of the Atlantic in the same year.

The only other player with a realistic chance of denying McIlroy is England's Justin Rose, who is 76,201 behind Hanson in third. The winner of the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral in March won't be teeing it up in either Singapore or Hong Kong, however, so will most likely need to win this week.

Top Americans in this week's field include Phil Mickelson, who won the event at Sheshan in 2007 and '09 and arrived in China saying he is still having a hard time getting over the devastating Ryder Cup defeat he and his teammates suffered in Chicago four weeks ago. Despite the loss, Mickelson did at least forge an exciting new foursome and four-ball partnership with Keegan Bradley, who is making his second trip to China after tying for 16th in this event 12 months ago.

Masters champion Bubba Watson is visiting China for the first time, and is so far doing a far better PR job than he did in France last year during the French Open when he cited fans' poor behavior and lax security as his reasons for missing the cut, and rubbed salt in the wounds by failing to name a single famous Paris landmark ("the big tower," "the museum beginning with L," "the arch I drove round in a circle," etc). Probably under strict orders to show a little respect this time, Watson said the Hong Kong (where he flew into) coastline and waterways were beautiful and just like he had seen in the movies. "So everything looked like it was supposed to," he added.

In addition to those three, Jason Dufner, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker from this year's U.S. Ryder Cup team are in the field of 78, as is Nick Watney, who won the Barclays in August and the CIMB Classic last week with a superb final-round 61. From the European Ryder Cup team only McIlroy and Spain's Sergio Garcia are missing. Other notables vying for the $1.2 million top prize include Open Championship winner Ernie Els, 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, and a four-time winner on the 2012 European Tour, Branden Grace.

In America, a couple of hit-and-giggle events (Wendy's Three-Tour Challenge and Tyco Golf Skills Challenge) precede the slightly more serious World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual - the new name of Tiger Woods' end-of-year event at Sherwood CC in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the extremely serious PGA Tour Qualifying school, where the top-25 and ties will be the last top-25 and ties to qualify for the PGA Tour as, starting in 2013, Q School will give players the chance to only qualify for the Web.com Tour.

The ladies of the LPGA still have two tournaments to play before the season-ending CME Group Titleholders in Naples, Fla.: the Mizuno Classic in Japan and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico. Leading the money list by a whopping $533,030 is South Korea's Inbee Park, who has finished outside the top 10 just once in her last 12 starts, an incredible run that has included two wins, five second-place finishes, and a third. Yani Tseng, now in her 90th week at the top of the Rolex Rankings and who began the season so brightly with three wins in four tournaments between the middle of February and end of March, is now down in fourth position after a fairly miserable summer. The Taiwanese golfer has finished third at her last two tournaments, but her late-season revival has come too late to give her any chance of catching Park.

With the WGC HSBC Champions, the PGA Tour Q School, and the conclusion of both the European Tour's Race to Dubai and the LPGA Tour season, November will not lack for exciting golf. The month's most anticipated event may well be the 72-hole Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz., the final event on the Champions Tour.

Bernhard Langer will take a 211-point lead to the first tee Thursday hoping to stave off second-place Tom Lehman and England's Roger Chapman, whose two major victories put him third in the Schwab Cup standings. Langer won the Cup in 2010, Lehman in 2011, and this year they have each won a major. It's Langer's to lose, but if he were to have a rare off-week, the 53-year-old Lehman could very well step in and snatch the gold cup from under the German's nose.

And the beat goes on.

Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it extremely difficult for him to focus on Politics, his chosen major. After leaving Liverpool, he worked as a golf instructor at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a 'player.' He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. He is a multi-award winning journalist, and edits his own website at www.bellinghamgolfer.com.