ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (AP) – Along with seasons starting (Europe) and years ending (PGA Tour), the final month of 2015 represents a final push to get into the top 50 and lock up a spot in the Masters next April.
That points to Lee Westwood, who is playing in the Australian Open this week. Westwood is No. 56 in the world. Over on the Japan Golf Tour, K.T. Kim is the favorite in the Casio World Open. Kim is at No. 57 and not yet eligible for the Masters.
Some players outside the top 50 already secured a spot at Augusta National. Ian Poulter (No. 54) and Hunter Mahan (No. 63) both are eligible from finishing in the top 12 at the Masters last year.
FRENCH DOUBLE: The European Tour is making the French Open as appealing as possible to its members.
Because of a tight schedule in an Olympic year, the PGA Tour put the Bridgestone Invitational two weeks after the U.S. Open – and the same week as the French Open, a strong supporter of the European Tour. For the first time, Europe will not sanction the World Golf Championship event at Firestone, meaning whoever plays it will not get credit toward the money list or Ryder Cup points, or even a start toward the minimum requirement.
Now, Chief Executive Keith Pelley says those who play in the French Open will get credit for two starts toward the minimum requirement. The prize money will be increased by 500,000 euros ($531,000), and Ryder Cup points also will be increased that week.
The French Open has been part of the European Tour since 1972 and is celebrating its 100th anniversary next year.
DROP THE PUCK: Wayne Gretzky has been a massive influence on Dustin Johnson over the last couple of years, especially during his six-month break from the game last year when he took time off to seek help for "personal challenges."
Johnson and Paulina Gretzky – the hockey great's daughter – had a son last January and plan to get married next year.
That influence, however, is more about life than the sport that Gretzky dominated. Johnson will watch more hockey than he used to, though only when he's with Gretzky.
"I definitely watch it a lot more, especially when we're hanging out at her family's house," he said. "Wayne keeps up with it pretty well, but we don't watch it that much. Kind of flip back and forth between all the sports, especially right now this time of year. We've got every sport that is playing."
Is he watching during the Stanley Cup playoffs, when hockey is at its best?
"If I'm at their house," Johnson said. "If I'm at my house, no. I like it, but I like going to the games more. Definitely been to a lot more games. I didn't go to any games before I met her and now I've been to quite a few. I enjoy that."
DIVOTS: Bubba Watson wasn't planning to play in the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas next week. He changed his mind and will fill in for PGA Champion Jason Day, who withdrew to stay home with his newborn daughter, Lucy. ... Kevin Kisner was 58-under par in the four PGA Tour events he played in the fall. ... Europe announced its 10 qualifiers for the EurAsia Cup against Asian countries on Jan. 15-17 in Kuala Lumpur. Victor Dubuisson is the only player who is in the last Ryder Cup. The list includes Danny Willett and Shane Lowry. ... Henrik Stenson ends the year with the longest active streak on the PGA Tour for making the cut at 30 tournaments.
STAT OF THE WEEK: According to PGA Tour data, Kevin Kisner did not miss any of his 31 putts inside 10 feet on the weekend at Sea Island.
FINAL WORD: "I'm not saying that money's not important. It obviously is. But there's more things important to me, and that's collecting trophies and putting tournaments on my resume." – Rory McIlroy, after winning the DP World Tour Championship to capture the Race to Dubai.
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