Hawk's Nest: Horschel, McIlroy define 2014 playoffs

By John HawkinsSeptember 15, 2014, 3:30 pm

Hey, at least the guy earned his $10 million, although we certainly can debate whether Billy Horschel should have been eligible for it in the first place. A 125-man postseason? That’s a jailbreak, not a playoff format. One top-10 finish in 22 full-field, regular-season starts? That’s a 7-11 conference record and 17-15 overall – not exactly worthy of a ticket to the Big Dance.

In the 10 ½ months prior to The Barclays, where he would miss the cut, Horschel dropped steadily in the world ranking (34h to 59th). He loitered outside the top 50 in the FedEx Cup standings from mid-March onward, closing at 69th, yet he’d earned enough points to qualify for the season-ending playoff derby by the first week of June.

It’s a system designed primarily to cushion the blow of mediocrity, and Horschel took complete advantage. He ran the table at precisely the right time, and when Rory McIlroy’s limousine ran out of gas a mile short of the Atlanta branch of Finchem Savings & Loan, we had ourselves a 2013-14 champion.

So the hottest golfer in the world, who happens to be an American, won’t be at Gleneagles, which happens to be the site of next week’s Ryder Cup. And the Yanks happen to be something akin to a two-touchdown underdog, which leaves me to wonder if one of our boys might suddenly pull a hammy or happen to come down with flu-like symptoms.

Looking for all the drama this year’s postseason derby couldn’t provide? Horschel’s wife, Brittany, is expecting their first child Sept. 27 – Day 2 of U.S. vs. the Euros.

“I honestly wasn’t going to play in the Ryder Cup if we couldn’t induce labor early,” Horschel said Sunday night. “When I started playing [poorly] this year, I put it out of my mind that I’d get picked. Obviously I wasn’t, and it’s going to work out perfectly.”

Well, sort of. If Billy Ho’s hotness doesn’t convince the PGA of America to start holding a captain’s pick until the week before the matches, perhaps future team sweaters should be woven from the wool of a sacrificial lamb. I stand by the notion that choosing hot players is overrated, simply because there’s close to a month between the selections and the first national anthem.

It doesn’t take long for any tour pro to cool off, but then, we’ve never had a situation like this.

“I still don’t feel like I deserve to be on the team,” Horschel added.

Pardon me, William, but that’s not for you or Brittany’s obstetrician to decide.

NINETY PERCENT AIR. If you’re a 16 handicap spending an afternoon in the right trees, it’s an adage steeped in optimism, an unofficial measure of hope with potentially expensive consequences. If you’re a tour pro such as McIlroy, you simply whip out a wedge and fly it over the wooded area, as he did Sunday at East Lake’s par-5 ninth.

There was a problem, however, and it also came with expensive consequences: McIlroy was cooked. The familiar bounce in his step was gone, his pursuit of the FedEx Cup overall title punctured by a tee shot that didn’t come close to finding land at the par-3 sixth. A modest back-nine rally would leave him three strokes behind Horschel, with whom he began the day sharing the lead.

The scenario would bear a passing resemblance to 2012, when McIlroy entered the final round three strokes off the pace and in excellent position to claim the $10 million, only to stumble home with a 74. In both cases, he entered the Tour Championship as the game’s best player, riding a stretch of dominance but unable to apply a finishing kick on the season’s last day.

“I’m looking forward to a few days off and not seeing my golf clubs for a little while,” were the first words from the Irish Lad’s mouth in his post-round press gathering. “And then, when I’m ready and excited to get back out again, I’ll get ready for the Ryder Cup.”

What should be of significant concern in Camp Ponte Vedra is McIlroy’s long-term commitment to the four-week postseason, particularly in Ryder Cup years. Not only has he squandered two pretty good chances to win the pot o’ gold; he has done it at points in his career when he had nothing to prove.

When you’ve won back-to-back majors and a World Golf Championship, as McIlrampage did this summer – or a major and back-to-back playoff tilts, as he did in ’12 – additional participation becomes solely about money. If rich people don’t buy lottery tickets, greatness doesn’t chase cash, and McIlroy’s body language suggested a pronounced lack of interest once things went wrong Sunday.

He’s Player of the Year, hands down, owner of one of the best non-Tiger seasons in the modern era. Sunday’s falter doesn’t change that a bit, although it is very likely to change how McIlragged arranges his schedule in future Septembers.

“If I had to do it all over again, I probably would have taken a week off somewhere in this stretch of tournaments,” said a guy who already had been wobbly about playing four straight. “Not that you feel obligated, but you want to support the events and give the sponsors something to be happy about and proud of. I’ve got a great relationship with BMW, and that was probably the only reason I did play in Denver.”

Ahem, it’s nice to know the young man has his priorities in order.

NOW THAT I’VE gone over the FedEx Cup playoff results for like the 19th time, I thought it might be interesting to review how America’s 12 Ryder Cuppers performed at each event.

Player The Barclays D. Bank BMW Tour Champ.
Bubba Watson  T-30  T-29  2nd  14th
Rickie Fowler  T-9  T-23  T-4  8th
Jim Furyk  8th  T-23  T-4  T-2
Jimmy Walker  MC  T-9  T-20  T-17
Phil Mickelson  78th  T-45  WD  DNQ
Matt Kuchar  T-5  T-29  T-46  13th
Jordan Spieth  T-22  T-29  T-8  T-27
Patrick Reed  T-9  T-74  T-53  T-19
Zach Johnson  T-22  T-16  T-43  21st
Keegan Bradley  53rd  T-16  WD  DNQ
Hunter Mahan  Won  64th  T-59  T-23
Webb Simpson  MC  T-9  T-53  T-23

A little too much information for you to consume at this point in the day? Allow me to help with some crib notes:

Skipper Tom Watson’s dubious dozen accumulated 13 top-10s in 50 total starts. Mahan obviously picked up the only victory – that’s why he’s on the team. What strikes me about the data is how infrequently U.S. players contended on any of the four Sundays, although a spot in the final-round hunt is a subjective appraisal.

For instance, I’m unwilling to give Fowler credit for contending at the Tour Championship. He finished solo eighth, six back, and wasn’t a realistic factor after a water ball at the sixth. There are lots of different ways to finish T-5, as Kuchar did at The Barclays – Kooch ended up one shot ahead of third-round co-leader Jim Furyk. Although neither had a chance of winning as the tournament reached its homestretch, I’ll begrudgingly give both credit for contending because they finished within four of Mahan.

As was the case a month ago, Furyk and Fowler remain America’s most consistent players – both performed solidly at all four postseason affairs. Neither, however, has won in forever, which means whatever you want it to mean. You want hot golfers? Talk to Brittany Horschel’s doctor.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.