Playoffs still seeking a dynamic, defining moment

By Randall MellSeptember 3, 2015, 12:48 pm

NORTON, Mass. – They’re putting their fingerprints all over the major championships now.

Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day have combined to win five of the last six majors.

So why not the FedEx Cup, too? Why shouldn’t they also put fingerprints on these playoffs?

There’s a crackle in the air over TPC Boston this week with Spieth, McIlroy and Day leading the field at the Deutsche Bank Championship. They’re carrying their own energy and momentum into golf’s postseason with Day winning The Barclays last weekend, the first of the four season-ending playoff events.

You know McIlroy’s here this week looking to get back in the mix after skipping last week and missing so much of the summer recovering from his ankle injury. And you know Spieth wants to bounce back from last week’s missed cut and aim the intensity he used winning a pair of majors this summer at these playoffs.

While it may be asking too much for this trio to find their best form together, the possibility intoxicates.

They could take the FedEx Cup playoffs to a whole new level putting their mark on this continually evolving postseason experiment. They could give it the defining moment it still craves nine years into its existence. Because that’s the weird thing about these playoffs: as much fun as they are, there is quirkiness to their nature that we never fully grasp with the convoluted math and fluctuating points.

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It’s almost as if we’re still waiting for that eureka moment, that instance where we stop and say, “Yeah, this is it. This is what the playoffs are all about. This is the moment that folds it all together, that defines the nature of playoff golf. This is what makes it more than a $10 million jackpot for the winner.”

In nine years of the playoffs, we really don’t have that. Sure, we have some great moments. We have that image of Jim Furyk spinning his hat backward in the rain to putt out for the victory at the Tour Championship in 2010, that image of him pumping his fist in exuberance.

But if there’s anything close to a defining moment, it’s probably Bill Haas winning the Tour Championship at East Lake in 2011. His holing out from the water to keep the playoff alive is part of it, but it’s mostly his reaction after he won. It’s his confusion seeing the Tour Championship trophy and the FedEx Cup being set out in front of him without immediately knowing he had won both.

“Both trophies were there, and there was no other player,” Haas said that day. “I looked at my wife, and she nodded her head, so that was when I realized.”

There was the same kind of quirky moment for Phil Mickelson in 2009 after he won the Tour Championship but watched Tiger Woods take home the FedEx Cup.

Woods finished second to Mickelson at East Lake that day, leaving Mickelson with a wry smile.

“His check is for $10 million,” Mickelson cracked.

The FedEx Cup has been a home run in how it has given the PGA Tour the big bang finish its season needed. There’s compelling theater getting the best players in the world together for a series of four events in a row. Who doesn’t like that?

And yet there remains an uncertainty over what winning the playoffs really mean beyond the biggest payday in golf.

While Golf Channel analyst Notah Begay appreciates what the FedEx Cup brings to the game, he still wrestles with the meaning of these playoffs and where they fit into the game’s great achievements.

“It’s almost difficult to legitimize a playoff series that almost never rewards the best player,” Begay said in a national conference call advancing the FedEx Cup Playoffs. “I don’t know how many times the FedEx Cup champion and the Player of the Year coincided, but it’s probably only a handful of times.”

Three times the FedEx Cup champ has also been the PGA Tour Player of the Year. It happened when Woods won both in ’07 and ’09 and when Furyk won both in 2010.

NBC analyst Johnny Miller says he has warmed to the drama the series offers, and he doesn’t need a pretty bow on a perfect ending.

“I’m actually becoming a pretty big fan of the FedEx Cup Playoffs,” Miller said. “It used to be the Tour would just sort of fade off into the sunset, so to speak, with not too much interest. I think now there’s a second crescendo after the majors. I think it’s really interesting, and it’s getting bigger every year.”

It’s sure to grow bigger than ever if Spieth, McIlroy and Day are able to battle together to the final hole of these playoffs this year, to give us the pretty bow to the perfect ending of a terrific year in golf.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.