Talking Playoffs With the Players at the Airport Bar

By Jerry FoltzAugust 23, 2010, 8:59 pm
Without fail, any Sunday afternoon at the airport gathering areas (otherwise known as the bar) is a great place to be if you’re a fan of the PGA Tour. Sunday was priceless.
First, I ran into Rocco Mediate at the Delta counter and we made our way to the pizzeria/tavern to kill a couple hours before our flights departed. We watched the final round of the Wyndham Championship on TV with the sound on, not that it mattered because when you spend time with Rocco barely a moment goes by before he’s on to the next thought. So after arguing, discussing, and laughing about subjects ranging from golf swing, course design, family life and a variety of other topics, I came to the conclusion that Rocco has no gray area in his life, everything is black and white. Oh how I love a person with conviction. Secondly, I concluded that between us, we had just about every answer to any problem we discussed. Lastly, I decided that I want the movie rights to his life story. I’m not sure under what genre the movie would fall, but it’s guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time.
Jeff Quinney
Jeff Quinney missed qualifying for the FedEx Cup playoffs by one shot. (Getty Images)
Soon, the place started to fill up with more tournament people – players, caddies and various others that lead the same nomadic life for most of the year.
I was sitting next to PGA Tour sophomore Michael Connell and two of the traveling physical therapists from the fitness trailer when to my left sat down Jeff Quinney.
“What happened to you?” I asked noticing a mostly-healed strawberry on the right cheek of his face. “Slipped in the pool,” Jeff said while also showing me his left forearm complete with a trail of scrapes in an arched pattern that looked moderately painful.
“How are you doing?” I asked as a general question having not known how he ended up in the final round. “Not Good,” he responded in a more dejected tone than I’m use to hearing from the normally happy-go-lucky guy. Now comes the difficult part – do I let that breathe for a while of do I follow up?

“How so?” I continued.

“126 – by 2 points,” Jeff said, “Scott Piercy beat me out of the playoffs by 2 points – or one shot. One shot today, or one shot yesterday, or one shot anywhere else in the entire year.” Now it was definitely time to let it breathe for a while when suddenly a voice from the end of the bar summed it up perfectly while simultaneously lightening the mood of the now somber room. “That sucks.”
I’m not sure if it was Lumpy, who was now two seats down, or one of the trainers, but there was no need to add anything at that point.
Then Quinney looked at his phone and said, “Oh great, now I’m getting sympathy texts. How do you respond to those,” Jeff asked in a playful manner to which quite a few colorful ideas came immediately from the group of commiserating friends.  Even the bartender couldn’t help but double-over in laughter to some of the suggestions.
Not too long after that exchange, John Mallinger came walking in also looking worse for the wear after a long week. We knew that he played well in the final round, but as we watched Arjun trying to win coming down the stretch, we never really paid attention to the bubble of the top 125 in FedEx points.
Somebody asked how it ended up for John and he responded, “If David Toms doesn’t make the 30-footer at 18, I’m in.” He informed us that Toms’ birdie broke a logjam at second place that included him. The tie for third wasn’t good enough.
As if on cue, from the back of the bar and a different voice, came the perfect words once again:  “That sucks.”
When I took my seat on the plane headed home for a couple of days I couldn’t help but think about how much all those guys would love to be going to The Barclays, my next stop. With ever shrinking fields for four weeks and large purses, anything is possible. And now they’re left with four weeks off (many will play a Nationwide event or two) and five smaller-purse Fall Series events remaining to try and climb into the top 125 on the money list and avoid the fall classic.

Everybody who was gathered around seemed very happy for Arjun Atwal as he’s a well-liked player on Tour, and they’re also happy that he now gets to avoid that very same reality that they’ll spend the next month thinking about – the potential for another trip to Q School.
There was some discussion that the rule that’s keeping Arjun Atwal out of the Playoffs needs to be amended immediately as it wasn’t ever intended to keep out someone who started the year as a member of the Tour. To add to the absurdity, I let them know that as of Sunday evening, Arjun was the fourth alternate to get into this weeks Nationwide Tour event in Knoxville.
So this week, the Playoffs begin without Arjun, or Quinney, or Lumpy, Mallinger, Connell, or Rocco, but if you ever doubt the relevance or importance of the Playoffs to the players themselves, spend Sunday evening in the Greensboro airport next year.
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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.