Punch Shot: Upset picks, cup favorite with two to go

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 13, 2017, 11:45 am

After a one-week hiatus, the FedExCup Playoffs return for the BMW Championship outside of Chicago. GolfChannel.com senior writers Rex Hoggard and Ryan Lavner were asked on the conversational tool Slack, Which player, if any, will be hampered the most by the break: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas or Jordan Spieth?

The two took it from there. No moderator necessary.

Lavner: No player will be affected by the off-week – they won’t lose all of their ability because they put away the clubs for a few days, and all three needed a little break. I do, however, think it was good for Spieth. Motivation is never an issue for him, but with back-to-back runner-up finishes in the playoffs, and being thisclose to putting it all together, it was a nice reset.

Hoggard: I wouldn't think the break would impact any player considering how much golf they have been playing lately, although Johnson returning to an event where he is the defending champion (the BMW was played at a different venue last year) can only fuel his confidence.

Lavner: You're really going to play the defending champ card? He tied for seventh the last time this event was held at Conway Farms (2015).

Hoggard: OK, he's finished first-T-18 in his last two starts and looks like the guy who was unbeatable earlier this year. That work?

Lavner: Fair enough, but if we're looking at the favorites for this week, he'd be third on my list, behind Thomas and Spieth, in that order.

Hoggard: Would say all three of those players would be co-favorites for the foreseeable future until Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, et al, rediscover some form. Dark horse would be a more interesting topic?


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Current FedExCup Playoff points standings


Lavner: The dark horse for this week is Patrick Cantlay. He opened these playoffs with back-to-back top-15s, continuing what has been a remarkable comeback season. It's been so impressive, in fact, that I thought he should have been one of Captain Stricker's wildcard picks for the Presidents Cup.

Hoggard: Glad you shared your views on Cantlay being a pick. Maybe Stricker could have selected Bigfoot as well? Cantlay has been a solid story, but I will be interested to see how Kevin Chappell responds after earning his spot on the team and playing well in New York.

Lavner: All right, the BMW marks the halfway point of the postseason. We know all about the top five, and how it mirrors the top five in the world ranking (shameless plug: read my story!), but who outside the magic number could crash this playoff party?

Hoggard: Have to go with Paul Casey on this one. Although he's probably going to be a bit distracted after the birth of his second child this week, the dude has done everything except win in recent weeks with top-5 finishes at four of his last six starts.

Lavner: No doubt, he's been a machine in the playoffs the last two years, but to win the FedExCup he is going to have to win at least one playoff event. That's a lot to ask of a guy who has one career victory on Tour.

Hoggard: Agreed, and his finish in Boston (T-4) seemed to suggest his bridesmaid status is starting to become an issue. Should also mention Marc Leishman as a possible party crasher. It was a tough finish for him in Boston, but he is always overlooked/underrated.

Lavner: Criminally underrated. I would throw out Justin Rose as a potential outsider. It hasn't been the best year for him since that crushing loss at Augusta, but he has consecutive top-10s in the playoffs and his record at East Lake is so good (four consecutive top-6s) that he just needs to give himself a chance to cash in.

Hoggard: There are no shortage of guys who can change the script, but it's hard to imagine how this doesn't come down to the (current) Big 3 of Spieth, Thomas and Johnson. To be honest, I'm not sure our conversation three weeks from now if, say, Leishman wins the season-long race, will be overly kind. Playoffs should identify the best, and right now those three are the best.

Lavner: But with apologies to Bill Haas and Brandt Snedeker and Billy Horschel, it hasn't always done that, right? As the cup moves into its second decade, are we finally OK with how this whole thing works?

Hoggard: From a general perspective (the top players competing in large markets during a time of year they normally wouldn't), the playoffs have been successful. Details, however, are always difficult for fans, players and media to understand. The Tour could help this along by simplifying the process.

Lavner: And how would you do that? I'm fine with the cutoffs for the top 100, 70 and then 30, but the Tour Championship needs a serious makeover. I would suggest a five-day event: three rounds of stroke-play qualifying, then a match-play bracket for the top 8 and the shot at $10 million. Might get a dud championship match, but at least the format would be something different.

Hoggard: The Tour has spent a decade considering a similar kind of head-to-head finish at East Lake with little success/interest, so I'm not sure we will see any significant changes there. The circuit will, however, need to tinker with the field sizes and points distribution when the schedule makeover starts in 2019. If there are only going to be three playoff events, which seems likely, there will need to be more volatility.

Lavner: Except volatility isn't a good thing for a "season-long race," which the FedEx is supposed to be. If DJ or Thomas or Spieth get bumped in the first event, then everyone is livid (and rightfully so).

Hoggard: Not sure there would be that much volatility, but there will need to be a way for those who just make the playoffs (either top 125 or top 100 on the points list) to advance. Under the current format that's not going to happen.

Lavner: Well, that's why those in Ponte Vedra get paid the big bucks, to figure out these sorts of dilemmas. Let's wrap it up with this: With two weeks to go, who is your pick to win the cup?

Hoggard: There is something strangely concerning about Spieth's finishes in the first two post-season starts (back-to-back runner-up finishes), but he continues to be the most consistent player and he has won the season-long race before. That experience will be the difference.

Lavner: I don't know about "concerning" – he got beat by the better players that week. But I, too, am going with Spieth. He has the most to gain over these two weeks, and he should come out firing on venues where he's had prior success. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking, because a Spieth FedEx title would (will?) make for a very compelling Player of the Year vote.

Hoggard: I like your thinking, but I'm pretty sure Thomas wrapped up POY with his victory in Boston, according to the players I've spoken to. See you after East Lake.

Lavner: Seems that's a Slack convo for another day.

Thomas vs. Rose could be Ryder Cup highlight

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:40 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – For those still digesting the end of 2017 – the European Tour did, after all, just wrap up its season in Dubai on Sunday – consider that the PGA Tour is already nearly one-fifth of the way into a new edition.

The Tour has already crowned eight champions as the game banks into the winter break, and there are some interesting trends that have emerged from the fall.

Dueling Justins: While Justin Thomas picked up where he left off last season, winning the inaugural CJ Cup in October just three weeks after claiming the FedExCup and wrapping up Player of the Year honors; Justin Rose seems poised to challenge for next year’s low Justin honors.

The Englishman hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since August and won back-to-back starts (WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open) before closing his year with a tie for fourth place in Dubai.

Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk: Justin v. Justin next September in Paris could be fun.

Youth served. Just in case anyone was thinking the pendulum might be swinging back in the direction of experience over youthful exuberance – 41-year-old Pat Perez did put the veterans on the board this season with his victory at the CIMB Classic – Patrick Cantlay solidified his spot as genuine phenom.

Following an injury-plagued start to his career, Cantlay got back on track this year, needing just a dozen starts to qualify for the Tour Championship. He went next level earlier this month with his playoff victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.


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They say these trends come and go in professional golf, but as the average age of winners continues to trend lower and lower it’s safe to say 25 is the new 35 on Tour.

A feel for it. For all the science that has become such a big part of the game – from TrackMan analysis to ShotLink statistics – it was refreshing to hear that Patton Kizzire’s breakthrough victory at the OHL Classic came down to a hunch.

With the tournament on the line and Rickie Fowler poised just a stroke back, Kizzire’s tee shot at the 72nd hole came to rest in an awkward spot that forced him to stand close to his approach shot to keep his feet out of the sand. His 8-iron approach shot sailed to 25 feet and he two-putted for par.

And how far did he have for that pivotal approach?

“I have no idea,” he laughed.

Fall facelift. Although the moving parts of the 2018-19 schedule appear to be still in flux, how the changes will impact the fall schedule is coming into focus.

The Tour’s goal is to end the season on Labor Day, which means the fall portion of the schedule will begin a month earlier than it does now. While many see that as a chance for the circuit to embrace a true offseason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be the case.

The more likely scenario is an earlier finish followed by a possible team competition, either the Ryder or Presidents cup, before the Tour kicks off a new season in mid-September, which means events currently played before the Tour Championship will slide to the fall schedule.

“So if you slide it back, somebody has to jump ahead. The mechanics of it,” said Davis Love III, host of the RSM Classic and a member of the Tour’s policy board. “I’m still going to go complain and beg for my day, but I also understand when they say, this is your date, make it work, then we'll make it work.”

While 2019 promises to bring plenty of change to the Tour, know that the wraparound season and fall golf are here to stay.

Product protection. Speaking of the fall schedule and the likely plan to expand the post-Tour Championship landscape, officials should also use the platform to embrace some protections for these events.

Consider that the RSM Classic featured the third-strongest field last week according to the Official World Golf Ranking, behind the season-ending tournament in Dubai on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour.

The winner in Dubai received 50 World Ranking points, a marquee event that has historically been deeper than that week’s Tour stop, while the Dunlop Phoenix winner, Brooks Koepka, won 32 points. Austin Cook collected 30 points for his victory at Sea Island Resort.

All told, the Japan event had four players in the field from the top 50 in the world, including world No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama; while the highest-ranked player at the RSM Classic was Matt Kuchar at 15th and there were seven players from the top 50 at Sea Island Resort.

Under Tour rules, Koepka, as well as any other Tour members who competed either in Japan or Dubai, had to be granted conflicting-event releases by the circuit.

Although keeping players from participating in tournaments overseas is not an option, it may be time for the circuit to reconsider the conflicting-event policy if the result is a scenario like last week that relegates a Tour event to third on the international dance card.

After Further Review: Whan deserves major credit

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 11:18 pm

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Mike Whan's really, really good idea ...

If LPGA commissioner Mike Whan hasn’t earned a gold star yet for creating the Race to the CME Globe four years ago, he deserves one now. The race’s finish at the CME Group Tour Championship has become a spectacular fireworks show. Stacy Lewis said it best on Saturday. She said the pressure the top players feel at CME is the “worst” those players feel all year, and by that she meant the “most intense,” the kind that makes for the best weeks.

You can argue there’s more pressure on the top women at the CME than there is in a major. The Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring, the Rolex world No. 1 ranking and the money-winning title all seem to come down to this final week, when there’s also the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot up for grabs. You have to think the weight of all that might have had something to do with Lexi Thompson missing that 2-footer at Sunday’s end. She came away with the Vare Trophy and $1 million jackpot as nice consolation prizes. We all came away thrilled by Ariya Jutanugarn’s birdie-birdie finish amid the gut-wrenching drama. - Randall Mell


On Austin Cook's improbable winner's journey ...

Despite becoming a Monday qualifying sensation on the PGA Tour in 2015, Austin Cook still had to head to Web.com Tour Q-School that winter. There he collapsed over his final four holes to blow a chance at full status, and one year later the cancellation of the Web.com Tour Championship because of Hurricane Matthew left him $425 short of a PGA Tour card.

But Cook put to rest all of his recent near-misses with four days of nearly flawless golf at Sea Island. Now he’s headed to Augusta National in April and exempt through 2020, afforded ample time to look back at how tough breaks in the past helped to shape his unique journey to the winner’s circle. - Will Gray

On what Cook's win says about PGA Tour depth ...

Players talk regularly about the depth of talent on the PGA Tour, claiming that anyone in a particular field can come away with a trophy on any given week.

To prove the point, Austin Cook, No. 306 in the Official World Golf Ranking, rolled over the field at the RSM Classic with rounds of 66-62-66-67 for a four-stroke victory. Before Sunday at Sea Island Resort, Cook’s only triumph in a professional event was at a mini-tour winter series tournament. That payday was $5,000.

His victory at the RSM Classic was worth considerably more and proved, yet again, the depth of the modern game. - Rex Hoggard

Snedeker feels close to 100 percent after RSM week

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:09 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Even if the result – a tie for 29th place – wasn't exactly what Brandt Snedeker is accustomed to, given his journey back from injury he’ll consider his final regular-season start of 2017 a success.

Snedeker had been sidelined with a sternum injury since June and overhauled his swing with the help of his coach John Tillery in an attempt to alleviate future injury. Needless to say, his expectations at the RSM Classic were low.

After starting the week with back-to-back rounds of 67 to move into contention, Snedeker wasn’t as sharp on the weekend, but he was still pleased with his week.


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“It was great to see how my swing held up and the golf course toughen up today and the changes we made. Inevitably you kind of revert back to what’s comfortable and natural,” he said. “But now my body feels good. I was shocked. I thought I’d be close to 75 percent this week and felt closer to 100 [percent]. Hopefully it continues to stay that way.”

Snedeker said he has a busy schedule planned for early next season on the West Coast and also plans to play next month’s QBE Shootout.

“Every time I’ve come back from injury I’ve been kind of like, well I’m close but not quite there,” said Snedeker, who added that he was pain-free for the entire week. “This is the first time I’ve come back and been like it’s there.”

Cook hopes RSM win starts a ROY campaign

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 10:43 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook cruised to his first PGA Tour victory on Sunday at the RSM Classic, a nearly flawless performance that included just two bogeys for the week and a 21-under total.

Earlier in the week, Cook’s caddie Kip Henley said Cook was playing the most effortless golf he’d ever witnessed. But as is so often the case, it can be tough to tell what is really going on inside a player's mind.

“A lot of stuff going on, especially up here,” Cook laughed pointing at his head. “A little tenseness. This week my ball-striking was great, and for the most part my putting was great as well. All around my game was just incredible this week.”


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Following a bogey at the second hole on Sunday that cut his lead to two shots, the rookie responded with a birdie at the seventh hole and added three more over his final four holes to beat J.J. Spaun by four strokes.

It was a timely victory for a player who has set rather lofty goals for himself.

“My goal coming into the year was to win Rookie of the Year and I’ve gotten off to a good start. Now my goal is to make a long deep run into the FedExCup playoffs,” he said.

Cook became the second consecutive rookie winner of the RSM Classic following Mac Hughes’ victory last year.