Is FedExCup about volatility or mediocrity

By Associated PressSeptember 2, 2008, 4:00 pm
BMW ChampionshipThis years version of the FedExCup was supposed to be about volatility.
The buzz word in Boston was mediocrity.
Vijay Singh has been anything but that. He has played the first two weeks of the PGA TOUR Playoffs like it was 2004, when he was No. 1 in the world and winning just about every time he teed it up. With victories at The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship, his lead is so large he might wrap up the $10 million prize this week in St. Louis.
No one should have any qualms with that.
Go a little bit deeper in the standings, and the playoffs reward great play. Sergio Garcia is at No. 2 after a runner-up finish and a tie for fifth. Next is Mike Weir, who tied for seventh and finished second. And in fourth place is Justin Leonard, who has tied for seventh both weeks.
Still, all it took was one week for millionaire golfers to turn into mathematicians.
They figured out that a player could finish 70th two weeks in a row and earn more points than someone who contended on Sunday and wound up fifth, then missed a cut.
The idea behind a revamped points system was to create more movement in the standings during the three playoff events leading to the TOUR Championship, and the simple fix was to award an additional 2,000 points to each player.
But that essentially became a 2,000-point bonus to anyone making the cut.
Charlie Wi tied for 65th at The Barclays and tied for 44th at the Deutsche Bank, moving up 27 spots from No. 66 to No. 39 going into the third round this week. Sean OHair missed the cut both weeks and was sent home, despite starting the playoffs as the No. 16 seed.
Cuts made bothers me, said Jim Furyk, a reasonable and honest voice on tour. Making a cut isnt anything to be proud of, in my opinion. Finishing fifth? Now, theres something to be proud of. As we know two 70ths is better than a fifth and a missed cut. I think were rewarding mediocrity. I dont like rewarding mediocrity.
Who shows up at a golf tournament thinking about making the cut?
Plenty of players at the TPC Boston, knowing that if they missed the cut they would be going home. And in some cases, making the cut would allow them to punch their ticket to the TOUR Championship ' not to mention earn a ticket down Magnolia Lane for the Masters.
Take the case of Kevin Sutherland at No. 57. He had one great week ' Sutherland was part of the three-man playoff at The Barclays ' then made the cut in Boston and tied for 50th. Two weeks later, an ordinary year and one great week means Sutherland is No. 6 in the standings.
What does it mean? That Barclays and this tournament are the two most important tournaments of the year to make the cut. By miles, said Geoff Ogilvy, another insightful mind. Thats awesome for the players who do.
But then he considered how many players might wind up at the Masters for having one or two good weeks at the right time ' and remember, Augusta National does not want a big field ' and he wondered how long the Masters would continue to invite the top 30.
Theyll take that exemption away quicker than you can say, Cut the rough, Ogilvy said.
Steve Dennis is the director of communications strategy for the PGA TOUR, also known as the FedExCup guru. He didnt create the new system, but he can answer all the questions.
And there have been a lot of questions these first few weeks.
The first thing Id say is that the guys at the top of the FedExCup standings are guys who have played incredibly well, Dennis said, and that gets no argument.
As in playoffs in other sports, if you lose youre gone, even if you had a perfect regular season, he said. You have to have balance where your performance in the playoffs really matters, and the regular season really matters. Were only two events in. It looks to me like its playing out pretty reasonably.
Ten guys played their way into the top 70 last week to qualify for the BMW Championship in St. Louis. The 10 who fell out of the top 70 all missed the cut in Boston.
Angel Cabrera and Tim Herron are the only players in St. Louis who started outside the top 120 in the playoffs and have advanced after each of the two rounds.
Well done? Thats debatable.
Cabrera started at No. 131 and moved up to No. 70 with a tie for 19th and a tie for 15th. Herron started at No. 133 and advanced with a tie for 24th and a tie for fifth last week, when he shot 65 in the final round.
That was his first top 10 of the year. Timing is everything.
The biggest headache in all this is Padraig Harrington. You remember him as the British Open and PGA champion, a feat accomplished only by Tiger Woods the last half-century. Then he missed two cuts in a row and wont get to East Lake unless he finishes fifth in St. Louis.
Do you want a two-time major winner not in the TOUR Championship? Furyk asked.
Its a fair question, but its missing the broader point.
The TOUR Championship is no longer a reward for a great season. Its a reward for a great month. Thats what the PGA TOUR Playoffs are all about this year because of the volatility. And volatility is what the players wanted last year.
At least some of them.
Its a fight between the haves and have-nots a little bit, like in everything else, Furyk said. All the guys in the top 40 are complaining its too volatile, all the guys at the end are saying its great. Last year, everyone in the top 40 said, This is great, all the guys at the other end said, This (stinks).
Where do you get the happy medium?
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    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.