The Month Ahead - November

By: Tony Dear


Over the past decade, hard-core golf fans have become quite accustomed to watching serious golf in November. It wasn't long ago, however, the last couple of months of the year were referred to as the "Silly Season" as already-loaded Tour pros teed it up in frivolous, hit-and-giggle events that offered substantial purses for the participants but a string of cringe-inducing pantomimes for the viewers.

A handful of low-gravity events still linger and, there is of course, plenty of cash still on offer. But most of today's late-season tournaments do at least carry some weight.

This is the first year, for example, FedEx Cup points have been available this late as the 2013-2014 PGA Tour season began three weeks ago at the Frys.com Open in California before moving to the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, and then the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. Winners Jimmy Walker, Webb Simpson and Ryan Moore each earned 500 points and got a march on the competition in both the FedEx Cup and the Ryder Cup team standings, moving up to fourth, fifth and third, respectively.

This week, the PGA Tour meets the European, Asia and Japan tours for the the HSBC Champions at Sheshan GC in Shanghai. The tournament, first played in 2005, was made a WGC event in 2009, and this year becomes part of the official PGA Tour schedule, having offered a PGA Tour victory but not official money since 2010. (Don't feel bad if you have trouble remembering what's official and what's not, and which tournament is part of which tour. There are really only a handful of people in Ponte Vedra, Fla., at PGA Tour HQ and Virginia Water - the European Tour's HQ - who remember all that stuff.)

The HSBC was held at Sheshan for its first seven years before moving to Mission Hills in Shenzhen in 2012, when Ian Poulter shot an impressive 21-under 268 on the Olazabal Course to win by two shots over Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Jason Dufner and Scott Piercy.

Given that he won there in 2007 and 2009, it's not surprising Mickelson is happy to be back at Sheshan, which opened in 2004 and was designed by Neil Haworth and the late Robin Nelson. Several other players are pleased by Sheshan's return, too. Two thousand and eleven winner Martin Kaymer thinks it the best course in Asia and, in 2009, Tiger Woods called it the crowning jewel of all Asian golf. Rory McIlroy, whose struggles in a winless year have seen him drop to No. 6 in the world, said before the tournament how much it suits his game and that it's one of his favorite venues.

The winner will likely need to go low, not only because the average winning score on Sheshan's seven previous stagings is 16-under, but also because 40 players in the 78-man field are among the world's top 50 - the two most prominent absentees being Masters champion Adam Scott, who has four straight tournaments coming up in his native Australia, and No. 1 Tiger Woods, who last played the HSBC in 2010 and was actually in China last week for a big-money head-to-head 18-hole exhibition with McIlroy (which he lost).

The week after the HSBC, the PGA Tour returns to the U.S. for the McGladrey Classic in Sea Island, Ga. Formerly a Fall Series event that didn't attract the greatest field in the game, it should benefit from becoming an official part of the FedEx Cup schedule even if the winner carries off a paltry $720,000. Tommy Gainey, who shot a brilliant 10-under 60 to win last year, will be hoping to halt a run of miserable form that saw him miss 14 of 28 cuts in the 2013 season and miss his first two of 2013-14.

The tour crosses an international border again in the third week of the month when it heads to Mayakoba in Mexico for the OHL Classic, where John Huh will be trying to repeat his 2012 win - his first on the PGA Tour, though without playing quite so many holes perhaps. Last year, Huh shot a closing 63 to force a playoff against Robert Allenby, with whom he slugged it out for eight extra holes before finally winning with a pitch-and-putt par on the par-3 10th.

Until now the Mayakoba Classic has been an opposite-field event, played concurrently with the WGC Accenture Matchplay and offering the winner only 300 FedEx Cup points. As with the McGladrey, the winner's 500 points and its place on the regular schedule - not to mention its new sponsor, should give the tournament a new lease of life, even if the pros will be playing for beer money ($666,000 first-place prize) for a second week in a row.

Most of the attention during the week of the OHL will be focused on Europe, however, and the modestly-titled DP World Tour Championship Dubai, the culmination of the European Tour's Race to Dubai and its season-ending Final Series - four tournaments that together form Europe's answer to the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs.

End-of-year crescendos like the Final Series are a good idea, fundamentally, but problems arise when the requirements for qualification into certain tournaments and the system used for ranking the golfers that play in them are so confusing no one really knows what's going on.

It's an issue that plagued the FedEx Cup for its first few years, and still does to a degree. And judging by some of the early reaction from players, their agents, press and fans to Europe's version, it seems it too will suffer.

You could read the European Tour's official document (a pdf) specifying the eligibility criteria for the Final Series three times and still not be absolutely clear on how it all works. That said, the methods for filling the first three 78-man fields (BMW Masters, WGC-HSBC Champions, Turkish Airlines Open) and the final 60-man field (DP World Tour Championship) are relatively standard - high world ranking, tournament winners, sponsors' invitees etc. But there is a stipulation in the small print that states "for any player to have official earnings at the BMW Masters and Turkish Airlines Open count on the 2013 Race to Dubai, that Player must feature within positions 1-110 in the 2013 Race to Dubai as of the 21st October."

To be eligible for the DP World Tour Championship, players must have played in at least two of the three preceding tournaments, and anyone playing in all three will receive a points bonus of 20 percent of his total official money earned in those three events, which will be added to his Race to Dubai total at the conclusion of the Turkish Open. Really, the only simple part of the Race to Dubai/Final Series is that one Euro in prize money now equals one point.

Everyone can absorb that bit certainly, but what about all the other details and the fact players outside the top 110 in the Race to Dubai could still compete in the BMW Masters and Turkish Airlines Open? How about the fact that, because it's a WGC event co-sanctioned by both the PGA and European tours, the HSBC Champion's qualification criteria is quite different to those of the other events, meaning a handful of players faring well in the Race to Dubai are not able to play in it?

The objective, of course, is to guarantee strong fields for the last few events of the year. Race to Dubai leader and FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson along with McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Ian Poulter did all play the BMW Masters, which suggests the series didn't get off to a bad start, as far as the sponsor was concerned at least. And Woods is lined up for Turkey. But the truth is only 15 of the world's top 50 and just four of the top 20 were present at Lake Malaren for the BMW, and most of the big names finished well down a leaderboard topped by Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

It remains to be seen how the Final Series will go down, and if, like the FedEx Cup, it needs to be tweaked several times before the major stakeholders can come to terms with it.

Once all the dust has settled and McIlroy's successor as Race to Dubai winner is known, November will finish with the ISPS Handa World Cup whose prestige - like so many tournaments in the modern game - has dwindled as a result of sponsorship, player, venue and format changes that leave the viewer wondering if this is the same tournament they watched last year.

Since 2009, the event has been played every two years because of golf's return to the Olympics. In 2009 and '11, it was known as the Omega Mission Hills World Cup, and the winner in 2011 at Mission Hills Haikou was the U.S., represented by Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland.

Sadly, the tournament will primarily be an individual event from now on with a small team component. How small? Well, winners of $7 million of the $8 million total purse will be determined by the individual leaderboard.

Very little is left of the tournament Canadian industrialist John Jay Hopkins first sponsored in 1953. But at least it will be played at Royal Melbourne this year, giving viewers another chance to see Alister Mackenzie's bunker wonderland.

November has the potential to be as entertaining as virtually any month this year. Just don't let golf's professional tours' administrative shenanigans put you off.

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.


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