Three-Man Race as Playoffs Draw to a Close

By Associated PressSeptember 12, 2007, 4:00 pm
2006 The TOUR Championship presented by Coca-ColaATLANTA -- It started in Hawaii with too much hype and an equal dose of skepticism.
Eight months later, the FedExCup ends at East Lake with no need for promotion and no big surprises.
Tiger Woods arrived at the TOUR Championship on Wednesday with the best chance to capture the inaugural FedExCup and a $10 million deposit into a retirement fund, and he simply nodded his head when asked if $10 million still meant something to a guy who brings in close to $100 million a year.
Phil Mickelson is No. 3 in the standings after skipping last week. He will have to win the TOUR Championship for any chance of capturing the cup, although he beat the world's No. 1 player the last time they got together outside Boston.
In the middle is Cinderella, also known as Steve Stricker.
One of only two players who have finished in the top 10 all three weeks in the PGA TOUR Playoffs, he is the feel-good story of this FedExCup, having lost his card two years ago and coming into this season with just over $10 million in career earnings.
'Let's face it, the FedExCup has been pretty blessed,' NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller said Wednesday. 'This didn't need to go down the way it did. It's really between three players, and it could have been between three players no one is interested in.'
It all starts to unfold Thursday when the top 30 players tee off at East Lake, where trophies will be awarded for the winner of the TOUR Championship and the FedExCup, and the biggest suspense is whether they will go to the same player.
Rory Sabbatini (No. 4) and K.J. Choi (No. 5) have a mathematical chance of winning the FedExCup, although their odds are long.
The only damper on this parade is East Lake.
The course no longer is bursting with autumn colors because the TOUR Championship has been moved from the last week of October to the third week in September. And the hot weather has severely damaged the greens, although not nearly to the extent that PGA TOUR officials warned players last week.
'They're closer to good than bad, so I'll give them a 6,' said Mark Calcavecchia, asked to grade the greens on a scale of 1 to 10. 'I was expecting about a 2, to tell you the truth. And I kind of think that's what they wanted everyone to think so when we got here, we wouldn't be shocked. I think everyone is going to be slightly shocked that they're as decent as they are.'
They still have grass. Players have said they still roll smoothly. But because the greens nearly died and the root structure is weak, tour officials have said they would run at about 9 1/2 on the Stimpmeter, compared to a typical speed of 11 1/2 .
Woods had not yet played a practice round on the 15 holes available -- players were kept off three of the greens until Thursday -- but said slow greens would favor the poor putters.
'Think about it,' he said. 'How many bad putters have you seen over the years win Augusta, the fastest, most sloping greens? It takes creativity, it takes touch, it takes feel, and you have to start the ball on line with the correct speed. When you get bumpy greens, that's kind of out of he door. You can make a mistake on a putt ... and it can go in.'
The focus on Woods lately has been his swing.
Several players have noticed that Woods looks more upright with his stance, and it's impossible to ignore the results. Despite taking 32 putts in the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, Woods still only finished two shots behind. Last week at the BMW Championship, he only missed two fairways on the weekend and broke the tournament scoring record by five shots at 22-under 262.
'I wouldn't say more upright. I'm standing a little bit closer to it, so I think that gives the appearance of it,' Woods said.
The change came after the British Open, where he tied for 12th, and noticed he was putting too much weight on his heels while trying to hit a low shot into the wind. He fixed his posture when he got home, and has been close to unbeatable ever since.
He was the only player under par at Firestone, then won his 13th career major at the PGA Championship a week later. Then came the playoffs, where Woods tied for second and picked up his 60th career victory.
Adding to the intrigue of East Lake, however, was that one runner-up finish to Mickelson.
Lefty is starting to play his best golf of the year at a good time, and he won at East Lake in 2000 by two shots over Woods. That was one of only three times in his career that Woods has failed to win with at least a share of the 54-hole lead on the PGA TOUR.
'The fun thing about playing golf is trying to win tournaments,' Mickelson said, hopeful of winning two trophies this week.
Mickelson played with Woods three out of four rounds in Boston, and to come out with a victory was huge for his psyche.
Stricker went head-to-head with Woods the first two rounds at Cog Hill last week, and was amazed by some of the birdies Woods was able to produce. They will be paired in the final group of the first round at East Lake based on their playoff standings.
It has been an amazing ride for Stricker, and he is piling up plenty of support.
'I'm the underdog in this whole deal, and that's kind of what this format has brought about -- the ability for someone to come from nowhere to win this thing,' Stricker said. 'I think that's what leads to excitement. And I'm proud to be a part of it.'
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    Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

    Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

    Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

    In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

    Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

    After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

    Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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    Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

    Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

    “I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

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    After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

    Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

    The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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    Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

    LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

    Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

    Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

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    Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

    Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

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    Mickelson 'displeased' with iron play; 10 back

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:18 am

    All of Phil Mickelson’s offseason work on his driver has paid off through two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    His iron play? Not as sharp, and it’s the reason why he heads into the weekend 10 shots off the lead.

    “I’ve been pretty pleased, overall, with the way I’ve been driving the ball, and very displeased with the way my iron game has been,” said Mickelson, who shot 68 Friday on PGA West’s Nicklaus course. He has hit only 21 of 36 greens so far this week. “Usually my iron play is a lot better than what it’s been. So I’ll go work on it and hopefully improve each round in this tournament and build a solid foundation for the upcoming West Coast events.

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    “I feel like if I continue to drive the ball the way I am, and if I got my iron play back to my normal standard, I should have the results that I’ve been expecting.”

    Mickelson, of course, is always bullish this time of year, but he has been able to find 10 of 14 fairways each of the past two rounds, including at narrower La Quinta Country Club, which doesn’t always fit his eye.

    “This is actually the best I’ve driven it in a lot of years,” he said.

    Currently in a tie for 67th, Mickelson will need a solid round on the more difficult Stadium course Saturday to ensure that he makes the 54-hole cut. He hasn’t missed a cut in his first West Coast event of the new year since 2009.