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Who's trending up, down midway through the PGA season

The PGA season has passed the midway point. As usual, Tiger Woods has made plenty of news, mostly for how he has not played. But plenty of other stories have surfaced thus far. A look back and a look forward:

2011 trends

1. Golf is better with Tiger Woods healthy: The hard-core golf fans will watch no matter who is playing, but casual fans want to see the dynamic Woods. Ratings for the U.S. Open were down 35 percent from last year, when Woods was in contention. This year, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland made history, but fewer people seemed to care. When Woods withdrew after nine holes at the Players Championship, interest waned. Now Woods will miss the British Open.

2. The Europeans can really play: The top four golfers in the world are Luke Donald (England), Lee Westwood (England), McIlroy and Martin Kaymer (Germany). Throw in Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland at No. 8 and half of the top 10 are Europeans.

3. Parity rules: In 29 official tournaments, there have been only three players who have won twice (Mark Wilson, Bubba Watson and Nick Watney). There have been 25 different winners so far, and eight first-timers. An unknown European player and PGA Tour rookie Charl Schwartzel won the Masters. And veterans such as K.J. Choi and David Toms have won this year. This season, it seems any player can win any week.

Three on the way up

1. Rory McIlroy: Let's back off the Woods comparisons, but McIlroy sure does look good. At 22, he has already won three times worldwide, shot a course-record 62 to win the Quail Hollow Championship in 2010, led seven of eight rounds at majors this year and, of course, won the U.S. Open.

2. David Toms: He really caught fire in May. Toms, 44, contended for the Players Championship, then won the Crowne Plaza Invitational the next week. He has won $3 million so far.

3. K.J. Choi: The guy just keeps getting better. He was in contention at the Masters, won the Players Championship in a playoff and has six top 10s in 15 tournaments. Choi, 41, is second on the money list with $3,665,704.

Three on the way down

1. Vijay Singh: It took a while, but age may finally be catching up to Singh, 48. He looked good in February with a tie for third and a second. But he has only been in the top 10 once in 12 tournaments since and didn't qualify for the U.S. Open.

2. Tiger Woods: Don't forget he tied for fourth at the Masters, but he also injured his knee and Achilles' tendon and has been basically inactive since. Who knows when Woods, 35, will return, if at all. If he doesn't, it will be his worst year by far.

3. Boo Weekley: It seems like a long time ago when Weekley was a crowd favorite at the 2008 Ryder Cup. This year, his best finish is a tie for 13th, and he has missed seven cuts. Weekley, 37, has become a nonfactor.

Rookie of the year candidates

1. Charl Schwartzel: He was an established player in Europe, but this is his first full year on the PGA Tour. Schwartzel, 26, has won the Masters and finished in the top 10 at the U.S. Open already.

2. Keegan Bradley: The 25-year-old has a win, three top 10s and nearly $2 million in earnings in his first full year.

3. Robert Karlsson: A European Tour veteran, Karlsson, 41, is playing a full PGA Tour schedule for the first time. He has made nine of 12 cuts, lost in a playoff at the St. Jude Classic and has been the low rookie in four tournaments.

Looking ahead

There are still two more chances at a major championship: The British Open on July 14 and the PGA Championship on Aug. 11. Once the majors are over, the PGA has some built-in drama with the Fed Ex Cup points race. Those playoffs begin Aug. 25 at the Barclays in New Jersey and ends Sept. 25 at the Tour Championship.

Off-the-wall stories so far

1. Kevin Na gets a 16 on one hole: For one hole Na was one of us. In the opening round of the Valero Texas Open, Na recorded a 16 on the par-4 ninth hole at the AT&T Oaks Course. He hit two drives into the marsh and then took 10 shots to hack into the fairway. It was the highest score ever recorded on a par-4 hole during a PGA Tour event.

2. The young guns make a video: Bubba Watson, Ben Crane, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler got together to make a music video called Golf Boys: Oh, Oh, Oh. It's a rather strange video with each player in unique outfits, including Watson in overalls and no shoes. But it's nice to see golfers loosening up a little bit. Check youtube.com/watch?v=PM2NocuEihw.

3. TV viewers cause rules change: Camillo Villegas and Padraig Harrington were called out by television viewers for rules violations this year. In fact, Harrington was almost called out twice but stood his ground the second time. A viewer thought Harrington teed off in front of the markers on the 13th hole of the Wells Fargo Championship. He and playing partner Phil Mickelson went back to the spot, above, and could not determine any wrongdoing. Afterward, the USGA and the Royal and Ancient changed the rule and will not disqualify a player who signs a scorecard before learning of a rules infraction.

4. D.A. Points and Bill Murray: Playing together at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Points won for the first time in his career and Murray won for the first time at the pro-am. Murray was his usual off-the-wall self, but it didn't bother Points. "It distracted me from trying so hard," he said.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Who's trending up, down midway through the PGA season 07/06/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 9:48pm]
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