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Eye of the Tiger: Woods is lining up four tournaments in five weeks © AFP Toshifumi KITAMURA


Busy Tiger, McIlroy’s time, major misses: golf talking points

HONG KONG, China, Aug 18 – The FedEx Cup playoffs and the first women’s major of the year feature in AFP Sport’s golf talking points this week:

– Tiger’s back –

Tiger Woods has been seen at just four US PGA Tour events in 2020 but could double that over the next five weeks, providing the 44-year-old’s creaking body can hold up during three consecutive FedEx Cup playoff events.

The 15-time major winner has been protecting his fused back and dodgy knees — appearing only twice since June’s restart — in anticipation of a busy run starting with Thursday’s Northern Trust in Boston, which will reduce the top 125 in the standings to a field of 70 for the BMW Championship in Chicago next week.

Woods is 49th on the FedEx points list and needs to break into the top 30 to qualify for the Tour Championship in Atlanta, the scene of an emotional and career-reviving triumph in 2018.

That victory, his first since 2013, was the launch-pad for a fifth Masters triumph and record-equalling 82nd PGA Tour win at the Zozo Championship in Japan 10 months ago.

Should history repeat at East Lake in 2020, it will set Woods up for an assault on a 16th major at the US Open at Winged Foot beginning September 17 — a fourth tournament in a little over a month.

Woods and his aching bones will at least have plenty of time to recover before the defence of his coveted green jacket.

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The Masters, without spectators, does not begin at Augusta until November 12.

– Don’t write off Rory –

Before coronavirus, Rory McIlroy was flying. Six top-five finishes in a row, including a WGC win in Shanghai, had propelled him back to world number one. Then the US PGA Tour shut down for three months.

Rory McIlroy lifts the FedEx Cup for the second time after winning the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta, in August last year © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP / SAM GREENWOOD

Since the resumption? Six starts and one top-30 finish — tied 11th at the Travelers Championship at the end of June — are all McIlroy has been able to muster.

But anyone seeking to write off the Northern Irishman as yesterday’s man should beware: McIlroy has an unmatched record at this time of year.

In 2019 he became only the second player after Tiger Woods to win the FedEx Cup twice.

His five victories in FedEx Cup playoff events are more than anyone — Dustin Johnson and Woods come next at four apiece.

With a tidy $40,551,452 in prize money and cup bonuses in the bank, McIlroy is out on his own as number one in FedEx Cup earnings, surpassing Woods with his win in the Tour Championship courtesy of a $15 million payday in August last year.

He might just add a few cents to that over the next three weeks.

– Koreans stay away –

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The field for the first women’s major of the year this week has lost a little lustre with many leading South Korean players, including the world number one, opting to stay at home because of fears about the coronavirus.

Hinako Shibuno has travelled from Japan to defend her British Open trophy at Troon this week © AFP / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU

The British Women’s Open starting in Scotland on Thursday will be without the five top-ranked Koreans — number one Ko Jin-young, third-ranked Park Sung-hyun, Kim Sei-young (6), Kim Hyu-joo (9) and Lee6 Jeong-eun (11).

The best-rated South Korean making the trip is 12th-ranked Park In-bee.

But other leading Asians have flown into the bio-secure Troon bubble including Japan’s fifth-ranked Nasa Hatoaka, her countrywoman and defending champion Hinako Shibuno and Thailand’s former world number one Ariya Jutanagarn.

“Obviously it’s a shame they are not coming over, but it’s a strange year and I completely understand if some of the Asian players don’t feel comfortable,” England’s Georgia Hall, 2018 British Open champion at Royal Lytham, told reporters on Monday.

“I don’t think it dents the tournament at all. We’ve got some amazing players still coming, loads of amazing players from America and other parts of the world.”

– World’s top 20 –

Original World Golf Rankings, updated August 17, 2020:

1. Jon Rahm (ESP) 8.83

2. Justin Thomas (USA) 8.65

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3. Rory McIlroy (NIR) 8.17

4. Dustin Johnson (USA) 7.61

5. Collin Morikawa (USA) 7.48

6. Webb Simpson (USA) 7.05

7. Brooks Koepka (USA) 6.32

8. Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 6.19

9. Patrick Reed (USA) 6.01

10. Xander Schauffele (USA) 5.56 (+1)

11. Adam Scott (AUS) 5.51 (-1)

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12. Patrick Cantlay (USA) 5.38

13. Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 4.74

14. Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 4.65 (+1)

15. Tony Finau (USA) 4.61 (-1)

16. Tiger Woods (USA) 4.44

17. Justin Rose (ENG) 4.37

18. Daniel Berger (USA) 4.33

19. Paul Casey (ENG) 4.27

20. Matthew Fitzpatrick (ENG) 4.23

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