Georgia’s pros made their mark on the 2009 PGA Tour.
Among the accomplishments of the state’s contingent last year were victories in the British Open (Stewart Cink); one of the FedExCup Playoff events (Heath Slocum); and two Fall Series wins (Matt Kuchar and Troy Matteson).
Of the top 81 players on the final money list for 2009, a dozen are tied to Georgia by birth, residence or college, with two other former state collegians among the tour’s top 125.
The wins aside, it was a less than stellar year for most of Georgia’s PGA members, some of whom were unable to capitalize on some impressive statistical rankings, with others fortunate to finish where they did considering their overall standard of play.
Cink was off his game for all but four weeks of the ’09 schedule, but those four weeks transformed what could have been a career worst season into a year to remember. (See story, page 12)
All things considered, the Georgia PGA Tour member who had the best overall season was Matt Kuchar, who enjoyed by far his most successful year since turning pro in 2001. Kuchar, a former Georgia Tech standout who has settled in the Atlanta area, turned in a string of strong efforts late in the season, including a playoff win in the Turning Stone Championship. He finished the 24th in earnings (qualifying for the Masters) with almost $2.5 million, as an outstanding short game more than compensated for some indifferent play tee to green.
Despite placing outside the top 100 in both driving and greens in regulation, Kuchar was 21st in scoring, and unlike a number of his fellow Georgians, he maintained his scoring on the weekends, where the size of the tour’s hefty paychecks are determined. Kuchar opened 2010 as he wrapped up ’09 with an impressive third place finish in the season opening Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
Winning the Barclays was the highlight of Heath Slocum’s 8-year career, but the rest of ’09 was mostly uneventful for the Alpharetta resident. Slocum ended the year 32nd on the money list (almost $2.2 million) and qualified for the Tour Championship after ending the regular season 124th in the FedExCup standings (the top 125 made the playoffs). As usual, Slocum was among the tour’s leaders in driving (7th in accuracy, 8th overall) and was 12th in ball striking, but a sub-standard season on the greens and the occasional poor final round kept the year from being even better.
Augusta’s Charles Howell made three strong bids for victory before the end of April, but pretty much disappeared after coming up one shot short in New Orleans, matching a similar earlier close call in Tampa. Howell was 46th on the final money list, and when he turned 30 last June, did so with just two PGA Tour victories, a far cry from what was expected when he turned pro in 2000. Apart from hitting greens, Howell’s ’09 stats were reflective of another nondescript season for one of the game’s supposed premier talents. In his first start of 2010, Howell was a fast finishing 5th in the Sony Open in Hawaii.
With his 46th birthday a few months away, Davis Love’s days as one of game’s elite players are slip sliding away. The Sea Island resident turned in a third straight underwhelming season, ending up 52nd on the money list, with a sizeable chunk of his earnings coming in his only two top 10s of the year, one of which was the season-opening Tournament of Champions. Love remains among the game’s longer hitters, but continues to miss too many fairways and putts to remain on top after two stellar decades that produced 19 of his 20 career titles. Love began 2010 on a positive note, tying Howell for 5th in Hawaii.
Troy Matteson salvaged an otherwise forgettable season with a late playoff win in Scottsdale, Ariz., but it was a puzzling season for the ex-Georgia Tech star. Matteson, who has settled in metro Atlanta, ranked among the tour leaders in driving distance and greens in regulation, even though he was well down the rankings in fairways hit. Like many of his fellow Georgians, however, Matteson’s season was victimized by some unsatisfactory putting stats, which helped lead to weekend scoring woes. A poor final round in the Sony Open dropped Matteson from third after 54 holes to 25th.
Former Georgia Bulldog Bubba Watson led the tour in eagles and was second in driving distance, but other than a tie for second in Charlotte, it was a mostly undistinguished season for the long-hitting left-hander. Only a handful of players missed more fairways than Watson, who also struggled to hit greens and post some low Sunday numbers. He finished 60th on the money list, a slight dip from the previous two seasons.
Bryce Molder, Kuchar’s equally outstanding teammate at Tech, also came though with his best season as a pro. Molder, who had struggled just to get to the PGA Tour, was 63rd in earnings with three finishes of 6th or better. Also like Kuchar, Molder owed most of his success to the putter, finishing the year as one of the tour’s deadliest wielders of the flat stick from 15 feet and in.
At the opposite end of the spectrum was Sea Island resident Jonathan Byrd, who was 67th in earnings despite compiling some impressive stats in several areas. Byrd was No. 1 in total driving and ball striking, second in greens in regulation and par 5 scoring. But he struggled with his short putting and was 130th in final round scoring, which proved costly in Tampa, Houston and at the Memorial when he had a chance to win on Sunday. The one time Byrd played well when in contention, he was too far back to catch up in Charlotte.
Augusta’s Vaughn Taylor also didn’t help his cause with his final round efforts. An exception was in the Turning Stone Resort event, where he shot 66 on Sunday to force a playoff with Kuchar. Although he lost in extra holes, that locked up Taylor’s playing privileges for 2010, and he went on to finish 79th in earnings despite some quality work on the greens. After playing his way onto the 2006 Ryder Cup team, Taylor has only shown flashes of his stellar 2005-06 play the past three seasons.
Jason Bohn’s stats in 2009 were not quite a match for those of Byrd, but they weren’t that far behind. The Acworth resident ranked among the top 10 in ball striking and was second on tour in proximity to the hole on approach shots. But all that quality play can be erased on the greens, and like Byrd, Bohn struggled from close range. He came close to a second tour title in Greensboro, but lost in a playoff after shooting a final round 62.
Former Georgia Bulldog Ryuji Imada and recent Georgia Tech golfer Nicholas Thompson both plummeted well down the money list after outstanding seasons in 2008. Imada, who was 13th in earnings in ’08 with his first PGA Tour win in Atlanta, fell all the way to 118th, with a tie for 14th his highest finish of the season. Imada suffered through an awful year from a ball striking standpoint, saving himself with some excellent work on the greens. Thompson had six top 10s and was 41st on the money list in just his second season on tour in ’08, but fell to 123 last year with just one top 10.
Two other former Tech golfers finished outside the top 125, but retain conditionally exempt status after placing among the top 150. David Duval was 130th thanks to his out-of-nowhere tie for 2nd in the U.S. Open. However, Duval did absolutely nothing else the rest of the year, with his next best finish in 21 starts a dismal tie for 55th. Duval finished next to last on tour in fairways hit and was in the bottom 10 in greens in regulation and scoring. Matt Weibring played respectably in his rookie season and finished his tournaments strong, tying for 16th in final round scoring average. He finished the season 138 on the money list, and will split his time between the PGA and Nationwide Tour, where he has played since 2003.
Warner Robins native Kris Blanks, who worked as an assistant at The Landings in Savannah for a number of years, was 170 in his rookie season on the PGA Tour, but will be back this year after finishing 12th in the finals of Q school. Blanks was 10th on tour last year in proximity to the hole on approach shots, but his short game was not quite as sharp, and he enjoyed just a handful of profitable weeks.
Blanks shot 77 in the opening round of Q school, but followed with scores of 65-67-69-68 to leap from 127th to 4th going to the final round. Even though he closed with a 74, he still finished T12. Joining Blanks in finishing among the top 25 were 2009 Georgia Tech grad Cameron Tringale, whose final round 67 jumped him from 42nd to 19th to make it to the PGA Tour in his first attempt. Brent Delahoussaye, who grew up in Alpharetta before moving to South Carolina, shot a final round 69 to make it on the number, tying for 23rd. Delahoussaye, a 2005 Clemson grad, has played on the Nationwide Tour the past two seasons.