Randall's Rant: Keep the playoffs, ditch the points

By Randall MellAugust 28, 2017, 8:15 pm

The FedExCup Playoffs are like one of those ideas Forrest Gump inspired in the 1994 film.

Inexplicable success keeps pouring forth from a head-scratching source.

It’s like that scene where Gump’s face is splashed with mud at a truck stop, and a T-shirt salesman hands Gump a shirt to wipe himself, and Gump turns the mess into a smiley face that makes the salesman millions.

That’s the FedExCup Playoffs

It’s a beautiful mess of an idea.

It’s amazing how the PGA Tour’s postseason has thrived for 11 years in spite of itself, in spite of a convoluted, confusing and confounding points system.

We saw it again Sunday, when Dustin Johnson defeated Jordan Spieth in a terrific duel at The Northern Trust, the opening playoff event. It was great theater, with this postseason giving us meaningful golf we wouldn’t enjoy without the playoffs concept.

You put up a $10 million jackpot, get the best players in the world to compete in a series of individual tournaments played in a traditional format, and you’ve got the foundation for something special. It’s what makes the postseason work in spite of the muddle the points create in the end.

Yes, this is old, trampled down territory, but it’s relevant again with first-year PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan opening the door to change. He would like to improve on the FedExCup playoff idea, if possible. So, now’s the time to propose meaningful changes.

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Where to begin?

Scrap the points formula.

Points are so maddeningly counterintuitive to golf, where par and money are the traditional measuring sticks. It’s not that fans can’t understand the points system. It’s how there are so many maddening possibilities in the fluctuating projections, which only serve to dampen the drama in the end, instead of intensify it.

We’ve learned to try to block out the points in the end, to tune into the golf we understand, where par matters in the individual tournament’s outcome.

Eleven years in, and Bill Haas still owns the defining moment of these playoffs. No, not the moment when he saved par from the water to keep his chances alive at the Tour Championship in 2011. The defining moment is his reaction after he won the FedExCup that year. It’s his confusion seeing the FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship trophies being set out in front of him.

“So who won the FedExCup?” Haas asked.

Even Haas didn’t know he won it.

The Vince Lombardi Trophy, the Stanley Cup and the FIFA World Cup were never presented to guys scratching their heads.

So ditch the points.

A better idea lies in what Paul Azinger said about pressure. He said golfers need to know what they’re choking over at the end of an event. As Haas attested, players aren’t choking over FedExCup points at the end of the Tour Championship.

Give us par, Commish, or give us more confusion.

Monahan’s answer, a better playoff system, lies partly in setting up a tried-and-true formula where players know what they’re choking over on a last putt. That means using par to determine who wins the cup.

Use money to determine who gets into these playoffs, and then use par to determine who wins them.

If these really are “playoffs,” everyone starts from scratch once they begin, just like the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball.

Yes, you want to keep the drama building through the playoffs, and reward overall postseason performances, so don’t re-set points. Instead, re-set scores to par. Have two leaderboards in the playoffs, a tournament leaderboard and a FedEx Cup leaderboard, both linked to par. In principle, it’s no different than re-setting points, but a lot easier to comprehend.

It’s tough going, keeping the drama alive through the playoffs and crowning a deserving FedExCup playoff winner. Here’s hoping Monahan can figure out exactly how to do that, because since the FedExCup’s inception in 2007, nobody’s offered a can’t-miss idea.

Another thing, trim these playoffs to three events, as seems already in the works, and disqualify any player who doesn’t compete in all three events.

Mostly, somehow, some way, Mr. Commish, give us par, because with points, “The FedExCup Playoffs are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.

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Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

Joel Dahmen had a 64.

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''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.

Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.

Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.

Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.

“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told GolfChannel.com. “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”

Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.

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With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.

“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.

Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.

Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season. 

“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.

Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.

Seeking awards sweep, Park 1 off lead

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:03 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park made a strong start in her bid to make LPGA history with an epic sweep of the year’s major awards.

Park opened the CME Group Tour Championship Thursday with a 5-under-par 67, moving her a shot off the lead.

Park is looking to join Nancy Lopez as the only players to win the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park has already clinched the Rookie of the Year Award.

Park, 24, can also walk away with the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot.

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Nobody has ever swept all those awards.

There’s even more for Park to claim. She can also take back the Rolex world No. 1 ranking. She’s No. 2, just two hundredths of a point behind Shanshan Feng.

“I think the course suits my game really well,” Park said through a translator. “I think I can play well in the next rounds.”

Park played the course just once before Thursday’s start, in Wednesday’s pro-am.

The reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion, Park won twice this year. She also won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open this summer.