Talking points in golf this week
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Graeme McDowell claimed his first European Tour title since 2014 in Saudi Arabia to move into the world's top 50 on Sunday, while Webb Simpson lengthened Tony Finau's trophy drought with a play-off victory at Scottsdale.
Here, AFP Sport looks at three talking points in golf this week:
Race for the Masters
-- McDowell's two-shot victory over Dustin Johnson saw the former US Open champion rise 57 places in the world rankings to 47th and close in on a return to the Masters after a three-year absence.
The world's top 50 at the end of March will be invited to Augusta National for April's opening major of the year, with players jostling for a last-minute spot.
"My big goal this year was to be back in the top 50 in the world, back competing in the big tournaments," said McDowell, who won the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach.
American youngster Collin Morikawa is another player edging closer to Magnolia Lane, after the 22-year-old climbed to world number 54 with a solid showing at the Phoenix Open.
Belgian Thomas Pieters, who finished tied-fourth at the 2017 Masters, also boosted his hopes of a return by finishing tied-third in Saudi Arabia to jump 16 spots to 67th in the rankings.
Spieth's slump continues
-- Former Masters champion Jordan Spieth's miserable run of form continued as he missed the cut in Phoenix to slip to 55th in the world.
Although the three-time major winner will be at Augusta courtesy of his green jacket from 2015, he is now firmly in the doldrums and without a title since his 2017 British Open triumph.
The 26-year-old former world number one's only top-three finish since the 2018 Masters came at last year's PGA Championship.
"I don't know where I'm at in the world ranking," he told Golf Digest.
"Don't care, don't look at it. I'm just trying to step up and win a golf tournament and let everything else take care of itself."
Player bemoans 'greed' in golf
-- Gary Player criticised the "greed" in modern golf as plans for an exclusive 48-player Premier League gather steam.
Each event in the 18-tournament series would offer $10 million purses, putting the future of the PGA and European Tours in doubt.
"We never thought athletes across the board would be making the kind of money they are making -- it's beyond anyone's comprehension," nine-time major champion Player told The National.
"I find a lot of greed in the sport now.
"I think Rory McIlroy made $23 million last year without even taking in his contracts. How much money do you want? Loyalty to me is very big."
Top 20 on Monday, February 3
1. Brooks Koepka (USA) 9.35 average points
2. Rory McIlroy (NIR) 9.16
3. Jon Rahm (ESP) 8.60
4. Justin Thomas (USA) 7.77
5. Dustin Johnson (USA) 7.02
6. Tiger Woods (USA) 6.18
7. Webb Simpson (USA) 6.17 (+4)
8. Patrick Cantlay (USA) 6.12 (-1)
9. Xander Schauffele (USA) 5.84
10. Justin Rose (ENG) 5.79 (-2)
11. Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 5.69 (-1)
12. Tony Finau (USA) 5.12 (+1)
13. Patrick Reed (USA) 4.86 (-1)
14. Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 4.52
15. Adam Scott (AUS) 4.49
16. Shane Lowry (IRL) 4.39 (+2)
17. Gary Woodland (USA) 4.36 (-1)
18. Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 4.29 (-1)
19. Marc Leishman (AUS) 4.26 (+1)
20. Paul Casey (ENG) 4.19 (-1)
47. Graeme McDowell (NIR) 2.36 (+57)
55. Jordan Spieth (USA) 2.22 (-4)
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