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.'
 
Related Links:
  • GOLF CHANNEL Airtimes
  • Full Coverage - TOUR Championship
  • Getty Images

    Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

    By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

    One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

    Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

    "I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

    Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

    "I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

    Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

    "Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

    Getty Images

    Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

    Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

    Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

    “I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

    The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

    “I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

    Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

    This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

    The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

    Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

    The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.


    Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


    A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

    And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

    The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.


    Masters victory


    Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

    Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

    Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative


    Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ


    Green jacket tour

    Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

    Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

    Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket


    Man of the people


    Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

    Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

    Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief


    Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together


    Ace at 17th at Sawgrass


    Growing family

    Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

    Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018


    Departure from TaylorMade


    Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade


    Squashed beef with Paddy

    Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

    Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'


    Victory at Valderrama


    Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

    Getty Images

    Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm