Brendan Steele knows all about a fast start to the season. What he’d like to avoid is the slow finish.
Steele won the Safeway Open a year ago, and he felt he was on his way. He made the cut in his next 16 tournaments. He had three top 10s, including a tie for sixth in The Players Championship. He made the cut in both majors he played during that stretch.
He was 13th in the FedEx Cup, and the Tour Championship looked like a sure thing. And then it wasn’t.
“I really felt like at the end of the season through the summer, I definitely limited myself as to what I was trying to achieve,” Steele said. “I just wanted to make the Tour Championship so bad, I was just trying to scratch and claw for every point I could. There was never going to be a week where I had a chance to win playing like that because you play to the level you’re thinking.
“If you’re trying to make the cut, you’ll be right around the cut line,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to win. I wasn’t trying to play my best. I was just trying to get whatever points I could and I played right to that level.”
He made only three cuts in his last seven events, and two of those tournaments didn’t even have cuts.
Steele was at No. 27 going into the BMW Championship, closed with a 72-72 weekend and missed the top 30 - and the Tour Championship - by two shots. Since the wraparound season began in October 2013, Steele became the first player to win the season-opening event and not make it to East Lake.
He hopes he at least learned from last year.
“I just started playing a little more cautiously and a little bit more afraid,” he said. “I don’t know if I got a little bit more tired or what happened, but I was just worried about the outcome and not the process of actually hitting good shots and playing good tournaments. … I’m going to try not to do that this year and just really move forward and try to win as many tournaments as I can, and get myself into contention in majors and do all the things that everybody wants to do out here.”
He gets his first chance quickly. After his two-shot victory to repeat at the Safeway Open, he was on a flight to Malaysia to play the CIMB Classic.
CAREER MONEY EXEMPTIONS: Tim Clark is coming up on the two-year anniversary since he last played on the PGA Tour at the 2016 CareerBuilder Challenge. Instead of taking a major medical extension, he is using a one-time exemption for being among the top 50 in career money (No. 47).
Whether he plays depends on his health. Clark spent time this year working with Russell Henley on his wedge game.
Also using a one-time exemption for top 50 in career money is two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, who is No. 26 in career money. Goosen, who turns 49 in February, narrowly kept his card for last season.
Ernie Els (No. 5) and K.J. Choi (No. 25) are using one-time exemptions for top 25 on the career money list. Els, who turns 48 next week, can still use the one-time exemption for top 50.
Bo Van Pelt also is on a career money exemption, but that has been carried over from 2015-16. Van Pelt hasn’t played since Pebble Beach in 2016 after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left arm.
BACK IN ITS PLACE: With a hurricane approaching, Justin Thomas took some of his most valued possessions to a sturdy safe at the home of his neighbor Rickie Fowler. That included the Wanamaker Trophy from the PGA Championship. And that’s where it stayed.
Thomas headed for Chicago, then Atlanta for the Tour Championship, followed by New York for the Presidents Cup. He headed over to Fowler’s to retrieve his major championship hardware, and then found the perfect spot for it.
“It doesn’t quite fit in my office. I have a little bookcase, and it’s a little bigger than the other trophies I have,” Thomas said. “But it’s kind of a nice little ledge above the fireplace in my living room that it just fits perfect right when you walk in the front door. And I think I’m going to leave it there.”
SERGIO’S CLUBS: Sergio Garcia is playing the next two weeks, and there’s sure to be more attention than usual on what clubs he has in the bag.
The Masters champion is a free agent.
Garcia and TaylorMade Golf on Monday announced a mutual release from the rest of his contract. Garcia had been with TaylorMade since 2003, and he has been an even stronger ambassador for Adidas.
Adidas sold TaylorMade Golf this spring to KPS Capital Partners for $425. Garcia is likely to stay with Adidas shoes and apparel. The 37-year-old Spaniard is playing this week in the Italian Open, and next week in the Andalucia Valderrama Masters.
TaylorMade still has four of the top seven players in the world - Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. It also has Tiger Woods, though he hasn’t played since the first weekend in February and has offered little clues about when (or if) he will again.
THREE-PEATS: Justin Thomas is going for a third straight victory at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and that’s just the start. Over the next 12 months, Thomas will be among five players trying to win the same tournament three years in a row.
Hideki Matsuyama has won the last two years at the Phoenix Open at the start of February. Daniel Berger is a back-to-back winner at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. He’ll get his chance in June. Then, a little more than a month later, Jhonattan Vegas goes for three in a row at the RBC Canadian Open.
And then it circles back to Brendan Steele, who on Sunday won the Safeway Open for the second straight year.
The last player to win the same PGA Tour event three straight times was Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Before that, it was Tiger Woods at two tournaments. He won three straight at a pair of World Golf Championships from 2005 through 2007. One was the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. The other was held over three courses - the American Express at Harding Park (2005), The Grove (2006) and Doral (2007).
DIVOTS: The Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro finally gets to host another tournament. The Brazil Open starts Thursday on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica. … Atlanta-based Delta Airlines has become the third company to become an international partner of the Masters, joining Rolex and UPS. The Masters has only three global sponsors in AT&T, Mercedes-Benz and IBM. … The LPGA Teaching and Club Professional membership has announced one winner for the Ellen Griffin Rolex Award and the Nancy Lopez Golf Achievement Award - Sandy LaBauve, the founder of LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The top 10 in the men’s and women’s world ranking each have players from six countries. The men are represented by the United States, Japan, Spain, Northern Ireland, Sweden and Australia. The women are represented by South Korea, the United States, Sweden, China, Thailand and New Zealand.
FINAL WORD: “I’m going to win. It’s a matter of time. I don’t know if it’s tomorrow, I don’t know if it’s in China, but it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen soon because I’m starting to play well enough to do it.” - Phil Mickelson after the third round of the Safeway Open.
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