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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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days engaging pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGCC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.