Punch Shot: Best way to crown a season champion?

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 12, 2014, 3:00 pm

Is the best way to crown a season-long champion the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs, the European Tour's Race to Dubai, the Race to the CME Globe, some combination of the three or a totally new idea? GolfChannel.com writers debate how they'd like to see a season-long race settled.


The FedEx Cup playoffs have set a solid foundation. The best players compete (virtually) every week. The fields get smaller the deeper we get into the postseason. The tournaments are held on strong venues. The system falls apart, however, with the points structure and reset at the final stage. The finale is not climactic. It’s confusing.

The playoff structure – from 125 players to 100 to 70 to 30 – is fine, but at the very least spice up the Tour Championship. Start it on Wednesday, the first of three stroke-play qualifying days. After 54 holes, cut to the low eight players and send them off in quarterfinal matches beginning Saturday. The semifinals would be held Sunday, with a two-man, winner-take-all, $10 million championship match on Sunday afternoon.

Yes, there is still a chance that the final match would be a dud, but the stroke-play qualifier should ensure that many of the best players advance. In a finale that is currently bogged down by points and projections, what is easier to understand than head-to-head match play with everything on the line?


The PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs work brilliantly in how they get the best players in the world to play against each other in a meaningful, high-stakes series of events at season’s end. The system would work better if the playoff winner wasn’t decided by points. It’s so counter intuitive to golf, where par and money are the customary measuring sticks. This is, after all, the points system that was so head scratching Bill Haas didn’t even know he won the cup until it was practically handed to him in 2011.

Keep the FedEx Cup playoffs, but tweak the standings. Use money to get us to the playoffs, and then go to cumulative par, so we all know exactly where the competition for the $10 million payday really stands, right through the final round of the playoffs. Using par instead of points takes a baffling, confounding dynamic out of the finish. Of course, the challenge then becomes keeping the drama intact through the Tour Championship, so nobody’s taking a 15-shot lead into the final round. You do that making every round feel like it’s “do or die” at the Tour Championship. You make Friday, Saturday and Sunday elimination rounds at East Lake. After a Friday cut, you make players begin with clean slates on Saturday and clean slates again on Sunday. You boil the giant payday down to 16 players on Saturday and eight players in the final round. It’s dramatic, it’s easy to follow and it feels like a playoff, where a great season merely guarantees a chance to win a championship. It might not seem fair to a player who dominated the regular season, but that’s what makes it the playoffs. 


The central flaw for all of golf’s post-season races is the concept that the ancient game needed some sort of “playoff.” Golf, even at the professional level, doesn’t lend itself to the urgency of what one would associate with a true playoff.

“If I'm going to call it a playoff and 125 guys keep their card, I'd say 62 max should make the playoffs,” Jim Furyk said at September’s Tour Championship. “Half the league is too much in the NBA. Half is too much in hockey. They do it for money. But football and baseball you've got to earn it to get in the playoffs.”

To Furyk’s point, a true season-long race is predicated on the idea that once you’ve earned a spot in the post-season everything starts over.

Golf is largely missing that one-and-done mentality enjoyed in other sports, which is why Furyk’s idea makes sense. Allow the top 64 players from the regular season to advance to the playoff, and from there – with a player’s seeding based on where he finished the year – let a single match play event decide the champion.

Imagine the drama of two players dueling for the $10 million FedEx Cup on Sunday at East Lake. It’s still not a true playoff, but it’s closer than what the PGA Tour has now.


Getcha hate mail-typin’ fingers ready, because what I’m about to say should inspire an entire inbox of expletive-filled venom: I like the FedEx Cup.

Not everything about it, mind you. I think fewer players should reach the playoffs and I think it should be three tournaments instead of four and I think it should end on Labor Day rather than trespassing into football season. But I like the fact that it rewards the best player over a specific late-season period of time, not the best player over the entirety of the year.

This newsflash just in: Rory McIlroy was the best PGA Tour player during the 2013-14 season. No kidding. If the goal of the FedEx Cup was to identify the best player, we could save everyone a lot of frequent flier miles and determine this ahead of time. But he didn’t play as well as Billy Horschel during the playoffs, so he didn’t win it all. Simple as that.

By contrast, the European Tour’s season-long race rewards the year’s best player. Which sounds good on paper – until the current scenario takes place, when it’s likely that McIlroy will clinch without ever having to hit a shot.

Give me the FedEx Cup instead. It’s far from perfect, but it still beats the alternative.

Getty Images

Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

Getty Images

Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

Getty Images

Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

Getty Images

Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.