Its all about the money at East Lake

By Doug FergusonSeptember 23, 2009, 1:41 am
 THE TOUR Championship by Coke 2007 Logo                                                                                                                                                                                              ATLANTA – On an East Lake course that might require a canoe, Padraig Harrington is looking for a wheelbarrow.

The Irishman is not the first player to suggest putting $10 million cash for winning the FedEx Cup on the 18th green to remind everyone what's at stake this week at the Tour Championship. He simply painted the most compelling picture.

'I do believe they should give out the cash on the 18th green,' Harrington said. 'Just sit it there, have a good look at it. We could take it in a wheelbarrow up to the clubhouse. Anything that falls out, it's the caddie's.'

For the moment, that's what the FedEx Cup is all about – money.

The value of the trophy remains a work in progress.

Does it reward the best year?

It did the inaugural season in 2007. Tiger Woods won five times before the playoffs began, skipped the opening playoff event and then turned the FedEx Cup into a coronation with a runner-up at the next tournament and victories in the last two.

That wasn’t the case a year ago, when Harrington had a magical summer by winning consecutive majors and was voted player of the year by every golf organization. Yet because of a volatile points system, he didn’t even make it to the Tour Championship. Vijay Singh got hot at the right time – August – won the first two playoff events and captured the FedEx Cup.

This year has it just about right – maybe.

The top two players are Woods and Steve Stricker, and rightly so. They have the most victories (Woods with six, Stricker with three), yet they only kept their spots at the top of the standings by winning a playoff event.

Next in line is Jim Furyk, steady as ever, although mysteriously winless over the last two years. Even so, he was consistent enough to start the playoffs at No. 16, and good enough when it counted the last three weeks to rise to No. 3. Zach Johnson is No. 4, courtesy of two victories during the regular season and one good week in the playoffs, when he finished fifth at the BMW Championship.

Heath Slocum is No. 5, whom the PGA Tour can tout forever when it says everyone has a chance. Slocum only qualified for the 125-man start of the playoffs by a mere two points, yet he finished atop a world-class leaderboard at The Barclays.

The top five have the best chance because all they have to do is win the Tour Championship to claim the FedEx Cup.

Mathematically, all 30 players East Lake have a chance. The lower they are in the standings, the longer the odds. Too much is made of the points system being confusing. It’s a safe bet that hardly anyone knows how much money Woods has won this year, only that it’s more than anyone else. The same principle applies.

Here’s the simple math:

  • The players who had the best regular season began the playoffs with the best odds of getting to the Tour Championship.
  •  The players who performed the best during the playoffs have the best shot at winning the FedEx Cup.

“It rewards you for playing well in the regular season, and even more for playing well in the playoffs,” Stewart Cink said. “Every tournament is meaningful. So I think it’s good. I think the skeleton that we have right now of the major part of the system will stay in place. There probably will be some major changes, but I think this year is closer to what the intent was when we first started out.”

The FedEx Cup will be decided on an East Lake course that could be more challenging than ever.

The Atlanta area has received about 2 feet of rain over the last week, including nearly 4 inches on Monday when it covered the first fairway with water and closed the course to the 30 players until noon Tuesday.

Salvation comes from a new drainage system and sub-air pumps on the greens that have left them in immaculate shape. Still, officials were still trying to get a lawn mower on the fairway, and it could be a while before they can clip the thick, wet rough. That could make East Lake and its 7,304 yards a beast of a par 70.

Whether the FedEx Cup can be seen as a universal success depends largely on the winner.

Woods’ name on the trophy gives it credibility. Ditto for Stricker, and a case could be made for Johnson, or even Geoff Ogilvy, Kenny Perry and Phil Mickelson, all of whom would have won three times this year. The worst-case scenario would be Furyk or Harrington, who could win the FedEx Cup without having won a single tournament this year.

The points have been reset for the Tour Championship to guarantee a compelling a finish. The only problem is that does not guarantee a winner who has played well all year.

Considering how meaningless the Tour Championship was the last two years, that’s not a bad trade.

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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.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.