Four To Watch
The favorites for rookie honors in 2008 include these players of international pedigree
January 08, 2008
The son of four-time European Ryder Cup player José Maria Canizares always has endured comparisons to his dad -- and the high expectations are well founded. Canizares hijo has won, and won quickly, at every step of his career. After notching the 2002 Spanish Junior, he took medalist honors at the 2003 NCAA Championship as a freshman at Arizona State. Three years later, in his third start as a tour member, Canizares won the European Tour's Russian Open. After finishing 69th on the Order of Merit in 2007, Canizares brought his game to the U.S. and qualified for the PGA Tour by sinking a three-foot putt on the last hole of Qualifying School. The 25-year-old -- he shares a Jan. 9 birthday with Sergio Garcia -- was 14th in Europe in scoring average last year and also was in the tour's top 50 in GIR and putting. He will have to play well when he gets into events because his status won't provide him many opportunties at the start of the season. However, if he continues his career trend, an early win -- the FBR Open in his adopted hometown of Scottsdale perhaps -- is not out of the question.
Very few PGA Tour players lack confidence, although Day seems to have an abundance in his 20-year-old body. But he isn't the only one who believes he'll join Greg Norman as the only Australians to top the World Ranking. Day's stardom has been seemingly preordained since he turned pro in 2006 and turned heads by making five cuts in seven PGA Tour events at age 18. Now he's aboard full time, having earned his card after a one-win, seven-top-10 season on the Nationwide Tour a year ago. His stats were impressive: He was first on tour in all-around rank; fourth in birdie average (4.21 per round); fifth in earnings ($331,542); sixth in driving distance (306.8 yards); ninth in scoring average (70.03); and ninth in putts per GIR (1.734.) Like many rookies, Day cannot wait for his season debut at the Sony Open in Hawaii, but he's more eager to see if his right wrist, which has kept him sidelined for three months, is healthy. Day believes it has healed and has spent several weeks working on his swing with coach Col Swatton at his U.S. base in Orlando.
The last time we visited with Ferrie he was an innocent bystander in one of the biggest stories of 2006. The 29-year-old Englishman was paired with Phil Mickelson in the final round of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and had a front-row seat for Lefty's epic collapse. But Ferrie's own putting stroke abandoned him that day, as he shot a 76 and finished three strokes back of winner Geoff Ogilvy. Until last month's PGA Tour Qualifying School he had suffered a bit of a collapse himself. Finishing a forgettable 167th on the European Tour money list in 2007 doesn't bode well for 2008, but his strong performance at Q school (he finished T-14) and a much-improved attitude do provide inspiration. Ferrie admitted to being tired of the European Tour grind and is excited about the new experiences and professionalism that come with playing the PGA Tour. "It's just so much more player-oriented," he told the Northern Echo newspaper in his native North-East section of England. "They look after you a lot better."
The only 2008 first-year player who didn't have to go through the Nationwide Tour or Q school to earn his card, Romero made the most of his opportunities a year ago. Very few people knew who he was before he appeared on the leader board at last year's British Open, but get used to seeing the 26-year-old Argentine's name. Romero used that third-place finish at Carnoustie and a T-6 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational two weeks later to earn enough money as a non-PGA Tour member to join the tour in '08. He is also high enough on the World Ranking (at 28th he is the tour's highest-ranked rookie) to get into the Masters, U.S. Open, Players, WGC-Accenture and other high-profile tournaments. Like many of today's new talents, Romero is a long hitter who doesn't hit a lot of fairways, but he was third on the European Tour in putting in 2007. He will start playing the PGA Tour at the FBR Open and will stay in the U.S. until after the Masters. From there his schedule will fluctuate in order to maintain full-time status here and in Europe.