A New Trophy That Will Have to Wait

By Associated PressJanuary 4, 2007, 5:00 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)KAPALUA, Hawaii -- The PGA TOUR is so fired up about its new FedExCup that it held a reception on the eve of the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship to show off the new trophy.

The more tangible trophy -- at least this week -- is stationed near the entrance to the Plantation Course at Kapalua. It's a sports car from the title sponsor that goes to the winner, along with a $1.1 million check and a guarantee of returning to Maui next year.

That much is known.

FedEx Cup
Players in the field in Maui have two trophies on their minds this week.
Everything else about the FedExCup, a season-long points race that begins Thursday, remains somewhat of a mystery.

Points will be distributed at every tournament through Aug. 19, a week after the PGA Championship. The points will be reset for the top 144 players so that no one is too far ahead (Tiger Woods comes to mind), and then players will be gradually eliminated at three 'playoff' tournaments until the top 30 advance to the Tour Championship. Whoever has the most points wins $10 million.

That's the short version.

Questions that remain include whether players will compete more often during the FedExCup season, and there is little evidence of that. Woods and Phil Mickelson both are absent at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, and Adam Scott already pulled out of next week's Sony Open to take a vacation. He said he wouldn't play more than his usual 18 or 19 tournaments.

Jim Furyk likes to play a little more, and he'll be playing a lot more than he wants at the end of the year. Because he feels compelled to defend his title at the Canadian Open, Furyk will go from Scotland to Canada to Ohio to Oklahoma in four weeks starting in mid-July, take a week off, then go from New York to Boston to Chicago to Atlanta in another four-week stretch.

That's assuming he plays well, and since Furyk is No. 2 in the world and hasn't finished worse than 20th on the money list the last 10 years that he has been healthy, it's a safe assumption.

'There's probably some events that I've played in the past that I might not be able to this year,' he said. 'Last year I played 24 events, plus the Ryder Cup. So that's 25 events in 10 months and a week. I can't play that same number of events in eight-and-a-half months. It's kind of getting squished.'

Another question is the significance of being the first FedExCup champion.

The PGA Tour is trotting out a series of commercials asking that question, although based on comments from the players, there are four other events that have been around quite a bit longer that still command everyone's attention.

They're called majors.

'The FedExCup is going to be a nice feather in your cap,' U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy said. 'But I don't think there's a golfer in the world who wouldn't rather win a major.'

The biggest question of all is whether anyone is paying attention in the final, climatic weeks of the season.

One reason the PGA Tour revamped its schedule to create the FedExCup was to get golf away from football season. The majors end in August, and the dozen tournaments that followed were dwarfed by the NFL and college football. Then came the Tour Championship, which was similar to an All-Star game until the stars (Woods comes to mind again) didn't show up.

'The season ... after the PGA has kind of been on a gentle, downward slide,' Furyk said. 'And I don't think that's going to be the case, anymore. The PGA is going to end, and the nice thing about the system is it's not like two months later, you try to get everyone revved up again. Everyone is still revved up from the PGA.'

But that's in August. This is January, and 34 players who showed up at Kapalua would like nothing better to start the year with a victory, just as they did with or without a FedExCup.

And that usually means beating Stuart Appleby.

He is the three-time defending champion of the Mercedes-Benz Championship, and will try this week to tie a PGA Tour record by winning the same event four straight times. Woods was the last player to do that at the Bay Hill Invitational (2000-2003).

Appleby won in 2004 by building a six-shot lead and holding off a furious charge from Vijay Singh for a one-shot victory. A year later, he let Singh, Ernie Els and a host of others make mistakes on the back nine for another one-shot victory. And last year, he birdied the last hole twice, the second time in a playoff, to beat Singh again.

Appleby has taken 825 shots on the Plantation course the last three years. Singh has taken 829 shots. Those four shots are the difference between one guy driving off with three new sports cars and the other guy taking a shuttle.

Except for playing in Australia during the offseason and not having as much rust as some other players, Appleby can't figure out why he has won nearly half his PGA Tour victories on this island.

'There's nothing typical about this golf course that says I should do well,' he said. 'It's hilly -- I didn't grow up on hilly golf courses. Windy, yes, I'm used to wind. Bermuda (grass), I never grew up on that. I just feel comfortable here. I can play well here, and usually I'm playing well when I come here.'

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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

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    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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    Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

    What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

    Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    “I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

    McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

    He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

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    McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

    Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

    “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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    Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

    Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

    Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

    Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

    Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

    Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.