Volvo Golf Champions



The creation of the Volvo Golf Champions, which made its debut last week in Bahrain and was won by Paul Casey (see page 22), creates some interesting scheduling challenges going forward and brings even greater urgency to the need for the European and PGA tours to work together in coordinating events. The Bahrain tournament, which is the 122nd different event Volvo has sponsored in its 22-year relationship with the European Tour, was the second in a four-week swing through the Middle East, following the stop in Abu Dhabi and preceding Qatar and Dubai. But the maker of autos and heavy machinery has even greater visions.

“As of 2012, the Volvo Golf Champions will be the season-starting event,” Per Ericsson, president of Volvo Event Management Golf, said at Royal GC, a Colin Montgomerie design. “The Race to Dubai and the European Tour will start here in Bahrain,” Ericsson said. He said the tournament will be winners-only, although organizers are considering adding active players with 10 or more career victoriesor maybe even players from the top 50 on the World Rankingsomething that would set it apart from the PGA Tour’s season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua and create even more problems for the U.S. tour. Clearly, the PGA Tour has yet another top-tier European Tour event to contend with in securing top players.

Here’s the deal: Among those winners of European Tour events who will qualify for the Volvo are the champions of the four majors and the winners of the World Golf Championships events. Even if the other categories are not addedand that debate is far from settledthe chances of several players qualifying for the tournaments of champions for both tours are still pretty high. And if a few Americans travel to the Middle East for the Volvo Golf Champions, it increases the odds they will stay to play other events on the desert swing, inflicting yet more pain on the U.S. West Coast swing.

Certainly, Bahrain makes a great marketing tool to get players to the Volvo event. “We are treated like royalty,” Montgomerie said about the reception and accommodations for players. “When Americans see what it is like here, they are going to go home and tell others about it and then those players will come. The hospitality here is amazing.” So is the cultural experience. And each player will have an Garmin Approach G6, which is a royal golf watch. The Royal GC has above-ground piping, working oil wells and desert lapping at its edges. “I was intrigued,” Casey said. “I’ve never been to Bahrain, and I’m glad I came.” He has also qualified to come back next year. In fact, the experience is so good, Volvo is going to use its money for the purse and amenities and not pay appearance fees.

It create problems for the PGA Tour


What both tours need to do is make certain that the two TOCs don’t go head-to-head. In fact, they need to be separated by a couple of weeks to facilitate travel: Bahrain and Hawaii are about 9,000 miles apart. The next real chance for the tours to begin coordinating schedules seriously comes with the 2013 season. That’s when the next network TV deal will kick in for the PGA Tour, and the broadcasters have a lot to say about playing dates. They also do not want top events on the tours competing for the best players. If events are to be shuffled around in any significant way, that’s when it will happen.

“The schedule is not set,” Ericsson said about the positioning of the Volvo in 2012. “The only thing we know is that we are going to be the first tournament, but it’s not going to be this date. It’s going to be an earlier date.” The issue seems to be this: Will the four-event Middle East swing be moved to start the season or will the Volvo start the season then have the tour do its South Africa swing and return for three events in the desert? Also, further down the road, is the possibility more tournaments will be added in this part of the world.

In any case, the Volvo Golf Champions could create problems for the PGA Tour. That may be why European Tour chief executive George O’Grady had a phone chat with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem the week of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship to discuss scheduling. “I think it’s unlikely [the Volvo Golf Champions] will be the same week [as Kapalua],” said Guy Kinnings, managing director of golf for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for IMG, which runs the Volvo Golf Champions. “My guess is that it will be a week or two after, but we’ll work with the tour on that.”

Still, the addition of another top-tier event in the Middle East is going to make life even more difficult for the tournaments in Palm Springs, Scottsdale, Los Angeles and Pebble Beach, which are already having trouble attracting golf’s biggest names. That’s not something the PGA Tour likes to hear, or wants to admit, but it is part of global golf’s new reality.

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Kaymer, approachable and confident in his quest for No. 1 -Section 2

Goal: Master


Isn’t it a little early to start thinking about the Masters? Not if you’re Kaymer, who has finished in the top 10 in four of the last five majors, the exception being a missed cut at Augusta National, his third MC in three trips to the year’s first major. “My goal is to play the majors better,” Kaymer said. “Especially the Masters.”

Kaymer is not afraid of making strategic scheduling decisions that include taking a break from the game. After winning the Race to Dubai in late November, he withdrew from the Chevron World Challenge in Californiasnubbing Woods, the host, and eschewing a guaranteed checkto caddie for Micheletti in pre-qualifying for the Ladies European Tour.

As the reigning PGA champion, he was also eligible for the PGA Tour’s season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions but took a pass to get ready for the European Tour’s desert events. That paid off with a win at Abu Dhabi, where he jumped one spot in the World Ranking, passing Woods to take second place. Seven weeks after locking up the Race to Dubai, Kaymer burst into the year by shooting 24 under26 strokes better than the current No. 1. “He’s got that steely sort of intestinal fortitude,” said Westwood.

If Kaymer has not connected with mainstream America, it is partially because of a lack of TV time. At Scottsdale’s Whisper Rock, where he is a member, he is known for enjoying the club’s milk shakes, rack of ribs and practice facility. Sometimes, during unseasonably cold days in the Arizona winter, he’ll don a ski cap and be the club’s only golfer working on his game at the range. “He kind of redefines ‘down-to-earth,’ ” says Phil Mickelson’s caddie Jim (Bones) Mackay, a fellow Whisper Rock member. “He is a regular, regular guy.”

After the Race to Dubai, Kaymer listened to Mackay and returned to Scottsdale to compete in Whisper Rock’s Battle of Attrition, an annual one-day event played from the tips to greens running to 14 on the Stimpmeter, with extreme pin placements. Kaymer shot 75, lost by five strokes to Sean Murphy and commented he didn’t think the test was that hard.

“He’s 26 years old, but he’s got a lot older head on his shoulders,” says Peter Kostis, the instructor and CBS analyst. Kostis compares Kaymer to two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer, and not because they’re both German. “I don’t think his strength is his golf swing,” Kostis said Sunday from the Farmer Insurance Open. “I don’t think his strength is even physical. The thing he has that’s fantasticBernhard has it, toois that he gets the most he can out of every single round.”

Langer, the two-time Masters champion and Kaymer’s mentor, has called his protegA[c] “focused, level-headed, not full of himself at all.” They are a lot alike in that respect: “Approachable,” to use a Kostis description. “He watched me shoot 200 and afterward he had a few beers with us in the clubhouse,” Mackay said, “just like he was one of the guys.”

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Kaymer, approachable and confident in his quest for No. 1 -Section 1

Kaymer, approachable and confident in his quest for No. 1



Martin Kaymer loves New York. He runs in Central Park, shops at the best stores and gets recognized quite often now that he’s a major champion. On his most recent visit to the city, the German and his American girlfriend, Allison Micheletti, were snowed in, so they visited Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree and check out the ice skaters. “I’ve always seen it in movies,” Kaymer said recently. “It’s impressive to see in person.”

Kaymer, speaking by phone from the Middle East, knows from impressive. His most recent triumph, an eight-stroke win in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship Jan. 23, was his fourth in his last eight European Tour starts, a stretch that began with his PGA Championship victory last August at Whistling Straits. The way he wins, with such machine-like precision, has inspired European writers to call him “The Germanator.” Rory McIlroy, who finished second at Abu Dhabi, proclaimed, “Nobody in the world could have beaten him this week.” The reference was not only to the world-class field, but also to those players still in the United States, from Tiger Woods on down.

“It’s just that German thing about him,” says McIlroy. “He’s just very efficient.”

Efficiency works in pressure situations. Padraig Harrington, the three-time major winner, took it a step further, putting Kaymer in Woods’ class when it comes to closing tournaments. “He’s probably the most formidable player in the world when he is leading,” Harrington said of Kaymer. “He seems to intimidate the rest of the field into believing that if he gets in front he is going to win.”

Although he’s not yet on billboards in Times Square, Kaymer’s Q rating is improving along with his rise in the World Ranking, where he is now second to Lee Westwoodto the dismay of many who believe the latest win should have moved him to No. 1. Dashingly handsome, Kaymer has been nominated for Breakthrough Athlete in the upcoming Laureus World Sports Awards and returns to Manhattan this month for a “driving the streets of New York” themed commercial shoot for TaylorMade.

As for golf in America, Kaymer realizes he could become the No. 1 player in the worldbut he does need to play a limited number of events on the PGA Tour in order to expedite that process. Kaymer will play in the last two events in the European Tour’s Middle East swing, the Commercialbank Qatar Masters and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, before starting a stretch in the U.S. that begins with the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship Feb. 23. His Florida swing will be abbreviated, with the WGC-Cadillac Championship followed by the Transitions Championship. After that he will take a rest, skipping the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Shell Houston Open to prepare for the year’s first major.

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Bello, Na are in; Moore is out of WGC-Accenture


No matter which side of the pond you’re on, picking up points in a Ryder Cup year is particularly important, and there aren’t any better places to do it than the majors and the World Golf Championships. “I’m not in the two [WGCs] coming up,” says Padraig Harrington. “I missed out on the European Match Play coming up, the Accenture Match Play, Doral. These are all events that you get points for turning up. Some of those events you can turn up and finish last and you get more points than, say, finishing 15th at a major. Those are the ones to be in to gather easy points.”

With Phil Mickelson and maybe Paul Casey withdrawing from the match play near Tucson, Ryan Moore was on the cusp of qualifying at 65th in the World Ranking prior to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. “I’m trying to play golf each day. I really don’t think about that stuff,” said Moore. “I got to the quarterfinals last year so I’d obviously like to go back. But that stuff is outside of my control. All I can control is how I play this week and kind of see where it goes from there.”

With Rafael Cabrera-Bello winning in Dubai (and moving from 119th to 60th), Moore needed a top-10 finish at Pebble to qualify for the Accenture, but after making birdie on four of his first five holes, he played the remaining 13 holes in four over to finish T-20. He ultimately landed 67th on the ranking, also losing ground to Nicholas Colsaerts (64th, T-5 in Dubai) and George Coetzee (66th, T-9 in Dubai), who’ll get in if Casey bails.

The only player on the bubble at Pebble Beach to advance was Kevin Na, who went from 63rd to 62nd after a T-5. Ernie Els, who didn’t play last week, also qualifies at 65th in lieu of Mickelson. In addition to Moore, Robert Allenby fell out of the top 64. (See page 20 for the full list of qualifiers.)

Jim Furyk, who’s 68th in Ryder Cup points at this way-too-early juncture, is safely in the field at Tucson at 59th on the ranking. “It’s important because they’re big purses,” he said of the WGCs. “But, it’s important to play well, really. [Qualifying for the WGCs] helps, but it’s not an end-all. Lots of guys made [the Ryder Cup] team who didn’t qualify for a World Golf Championship.”

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