Asia swing unlikely as PGA Tour weighs going to western US

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FILE – In this Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, file photo, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland looks out after teeing off for the HSBC Champions golf tournament at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai. China has canceled all sporting events, such as golf and tennis, for the rest of 2020 because of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — The PGA Tour first started going to Asia in 2009 with the HSBC Champions, a World Golf Championship. Since then, it added events in Malaysia and South Korea, and then Malaysia gave way to the Zozo Championship in Japan, which Tiger Woods won last year.

This strange year of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to mean no Asia swing at all.

China announced last week it was canceling all sporting events for the rest of 2020 except for trials related to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The HSBC Champions is said to have little interest in moving, mainly because the acronym stands for Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp. It’s all about the market it serves.

As for the other Asia events?

The tour has begun exploring the idea of moving each to the western part of the United States for this fall only.

Even if the coronavirus situation is stable in Asia by the fall, it’s unlikely many of the top players would build a trip to the Far East into their schedules just a few weeks before the Masters on Nov. 12-15.

Any move was described as being a long way off.

Two people aware of the talks said one possibility for the Zozo Championship was Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California. That’s where Woods previously held his World Challenge in December, and it was recently the site of a PGA Tour Champions event.

The CJ Cup in South Korea is scheduled for the week after Las Vegas, leading to speculation the PGA Tour would look into staying in Vegas for two weeks.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the discussions are in the early stages, and other sites are under consideration depending on the title sponsors.

The Asia Swing last year had quite a trio of winners — Justin Thomas (CJ Cup), Woods (Zozo) and Rory McIlroy (HSBC).

LIPSKY’S PAYOFF

It started with a 68 in the final round in South Africa to win the Dunhill Championship at the end of 2018. David Lipsky wouldn’t have guessed then how that would parlay into his best shot at finally getting a PGA Tour card.

The Dunhill was a co-sanctioned European Tour event, which put him in the top 10 in the Race to Dubai. That made him eligible for the Mexico Championship, where he birdied three of his last four holes to tie for 10th. And that led to Lipsky finishing the equivalent of top 200 in the FedEx Cup, giving him conditional status on the Korn Ferry Tour.

He already had won twice on the European Tour. He won on the Asian Tour in his first year after graduating from Northwestern.

“I was exempt on the European Tour, so my goal was always to treat this year as a gamble to see what I can do on the Korn Ferry,” Lipsky said in a phone interview. “It was sort of an opportunity I felt I had to take.”

He played in Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the European Tour to start the year, and then flew 30 hours to Panama for a Korn Ferry Tour event and tied for 10th, giving him better status. And then the COVID-19 pandemic shut down golf. Lipsky stuck with the Korn Ferry Tour and made it pay off last week.

He tied the course record with a 62 on Saturday, closed with a 66 and won the TPC San Antonio Challenge at the Oaks. That moved him to No. 11 in the points race. Because of the shorter season brought on by the pandemic, he can’t earn a PGA Tour card this year.

But he has three events left to finish in the top five and earn a spot in the U.S. Open. Being among the top 10 in points at the end of the season at least can get him into opposite-field PGA Tour events, and it will go a long way toward a PGA Tour card for the fall of 2021.

Lipsky reached the final stage of Q-school in 2012 — the last time it awarded PGA Tour cards — and finished poorly. By then, he had already won on the Asian Tour. Two years later, he won the European Masters in Switzerland (Brooks Koepka finished one shot out of the playoff).

He did try the Web.com Tour in 2013 after Q-school, finding limited success over five months, and at that point he was enthralled by playing in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia instead of Midland, Texas, and Wichita, Kansas.

“I spent all of 2012 traveling the world,” he said. “To go to some of these places in the U.S. … I didn’t have too many friends on tour at the time. It was a hard year for me. And my game wasn’t as good as it is now. … Honestly, as much as I want to play the PGA Tour, I wouldn’t have traded my career for anything with the places I’ve been and people I’ve met.”

Lipsky, who turned 32 on Tuesday, wants to see what he can get done over the next two months. He will head back to Europe in September for the BMW PGA Championship and the back end of the schedule.

INTERNATIONAL TOURS

The PGA Tour’s feeder circuits in Canada, China and Latin America have been canceled for the year because of COVID-19. Those players now at least get a chance to compete, as the international tours have an eight-tournament series in the South.

The tour has signed up LOCALiQ, its official partner for digital marketing services, to sponsor the series. It will feature seven 54-hole tournaments on golf courses in Georgia, Alabama and Florida, with a 72-hole final event. The winner of the last event and the top two players on a points list will receive an exemption into a PGA Tour event next year, with other perks to be announced later.

“We have so many gifted, hard-working players who were anxious to play this season on their respective tours before the effects of COVID-19 caused us to change our plans,” said Rob Ohno, the tour’s senior vice president of international tours.

Each event will have a 144-man field play for a $100,000 purse paying $16,000 to the winner. It starts the first week in August and ends the last week in October.

EUROPEAN TOUR

The Portugal Open returns to the European Tour schedule as an event that also counts toward the Challenge Tour. It is scheduled for Sept. 17-20, the same week as the U.S. Open. It’s part of the European Tour strategy this year dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic to keep tournaments in the same region as often as possible.

This is the second straight week of a tournament in Austria.

What follows is six consecutive weeks in the U.K., starting with the British Masters.

The Portugal Open will be the three-week finale of the “Iberian Swing,” which starts with the Andalucia Masters on Sept. 3-6, then the Portugal Masters and the Portugal Open.

Meanwhile, the Kenya Open is now rescheduled for Nov. 12-15, the same week as the Masters. It was scheduled for March 12-15, next in line until the pandemic shut down golf.

DIVOTS

Chase Seiffert got into the Workday Charity Open when K.J. Choi withdrew. He closed with a 67 to finish alone in fourth. It was his best finish on the PGA Tour and moved him to No. 109 in the FedEx Cup standings with five weeks remaining before the top 125 qualify for the postseason. … Jason Day has never finished in the top 10 in 11 starts at the Memorial. He tied for seventh in the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield Village. … Rickie Fowler had 16 consecutive rounds at par or better on Muirfield Village until his 73 in the final round.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Justin Thomas has finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in the nine tournaments he has played this year.

FINAL WORD

“It almost felt like a practice round.” — Gary Woodland on the final round of the Workday Charity Open, knowing the Memorial would start four days later on the same course.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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