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An almost fitting finale at East Lake

By Rex HoggardSeptember 25, 2017, 12:16 am

ATLANTA – At precisely 4:24 p.m. ET the season of synchronicity reached its undisputed apex, the confluence of convoluted math and an endearing friendship.

It was Brooks Koepka who set the stage for the year’s ultimate conclusion with a birdie at the 13th hole to move into a tie for sixth at the Tour Championship.

It’s the butterfly effect, only with calculators.

While Koepka was only remotely in contention for the title at the finale and not even in the FedExCup conversation, his late charge slightly altered the points so that Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas were projected in a tie for the lead in the season-long race.

JT vs. Jordan. Jordan vs. JT. It was only apropos that the 2016-17 season would come down to such a potentially dramatic and anticipated finish. Spieth with three victories and a major (The Open) and Thomas, a five-time winner including the PGA Championship, had spent the entire year one-upping each other and building on a friendship that began over a decade ago.

“I laughed when I saw it,” said Thomas of the tie that was projected on leaderboards across East Lake. “I thought honestly, this probably will happen and the golf world will completely blow up and lose its mind if Jordan and I were in a playoff for the FedExCup. I don't think anybody would have known what to do with themselves.”

In a fitting piece of foreshadowing, Spieth wondered earlier this week what it would be like to have to wait and watch as others decide your competitive fortunes, like then-points frontrunner Dustin Johnson had to last year at East Lake.


Tour Championship: Articles, video and photos

Final FedExCup Playoff points standings


“It's tough,” he said on Tuesday. “I mean [Johnson] is sitting there not able to control a $7 million difference, like that doesn't happen anywhere else. It's like having a $7 million bet on a fight that you're not even taking part in.”

Instead, this particular convoluted fight featured a cast of eclectic characters.

Throughout all of its iterations, there has been a single unchanged theme to the playoffs – it takes a village to crown a FedExCup champion.

If Koepka was the one who tempted us with a possible $10 million showdown between Spieth and Thomas, it was Kevin Kisner’s birdie at the sixth to temporarily move into the lead by himself that propelled Spieth into the projected points hot seat. Forty-five minutes later, it was Tony Finau’s birdie to close his week that prompted an equally dramatic flip, with Thomas moving into the top spot.

You get the idea.

A game that invests so much in individual accomplishments turns into a crowd-sourcing experiment at the circuit’s big finish, and it was no surprise that it was the play of those on the periphery that had such an influence on the outcome.

Within an eight-minute window, Paul Casey, the overnight leader who struggled to a closing 73, and Kisner found the water with their tee shots at the par-3 15th hole and both made bogey, a twist that began to bring some much-needed clarity into the picture.

Throughout it all, Spieth – who began the week first on the points list – sat helpless as the scenarios and situations dictated his emotions, but it didn’t take long for his fate to be sealed. Less than 20 minutes after finishing his round, the last remnants of hope faded into the humid afternoon when Thomas birdied the 17th hole to take a share of the lead.

“I almost cheated my way into winning the FedExCup,” Spieth figured during what amounted to a concession speech with Thomas and eventual winner Xander Schauffele still on the course.

Instead, it was Thomas who had the longer wait after wrapping up the season-long title with a par at the 18th hole. From there, the Tour Championship came down to the presumptive Player of the Year vs. the presumptive Rookie of the Year.

Schauffele, who just three months ago was grinding away hoping to secure his Tour card for next season, made birdie at the last hole to become the first rookie to win the Tour Championship. But if the 23-year-old’s victory was something of a surprise to casual observers, it fit perfectly with his own tempered expectations for this week.

“I just feel very fortunate to even be here really starting off the week,” Schauffele said. “I was just happy to walk around the property, the Tour Championship, last 30 guys in the field. It was a very eerie vibe walking around and I just felt very lucky and here I am talking to you so I feel even luckier.”

For just the third time in the playoff era that began in 2007 the winner of the Tour Championship didn’t also take home the season-long trophy, and although his competitive zeal is quickly becoming legendary, Thomas took no small amount of solace in the $10 million consolation prize.

“Feels very weird,” said Thomas, who finished alone in second for his 12th top-10 finish of the season. “It's odd getting something so tremendous, one of my best achievements in my career without winning a golf tournament, so it feels different but it's still great.”

That Thomas likely wrapped up the Player of the Year Award on Sunday should also help soften the blow of coming up short at East Lake.

Nor can one ignore the significance of how the season ended, with the game’s two most consistent players battling until the very end with the high school Class of 2011 – Schauffele is also a member of that class, it should be noted – proving yet again how special and potentially historic this group can be.

As has become the status quo at the Tour Championship, the circuit’s finale is often a complicated collection of cause-and-effect relationships. Koepka birdies the 13th hole, two of the game’s titans are poised for a showdown; Finau birdies the 18th hole and Thomas readies for an eight-figure payday.

Confusing? No doubt. But don’t let the math or method detract from what was by any measure an epic season and ending by two singular players, even if it didn’t finish with an Internet-breaking showdown.

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The Social: G.O.A.T., after G.O.A.T., after G.O.A.T.

By Jason CrookJanuary 23, 2018, 6:00 pm

Tom Brady compares himself to Tiger Woods, who coincidentally is returning to the PGA Tour this week, Jordan Spieth hangs out with some decent company and kids these days ruffle some feathers with their friendships.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

Well, it’s finally Farmers Insurance Open week and Woods has been spotted practicing for his official return to the PGA Tour on Thursday.

Some thought this day might never come after a 2017 filled with mostly downs for the 14-time major champ.

But as he has taught the golf world time and time again, you just can't count Tiger out.

So even as Jon Rahm attempts to overtake Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world this week at Torrey Pines, all eyes will be on one of the greatest we've ever seen do it, even if that guy is ranked No. 647 in the world.

Speaking of greatness …

There’s not many who can just offhandedly compare themselves to Tiger, but if anyone gets a pass, it’s Tom Brady.

The 40-year-old New England Patriots quarterback led his team back to the Super Bowl for the second straight year despite playing the AFC title game with a cut on his throwing hand.

When asked about it after the Patriots come-from-behind victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady answered, “I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that. It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament.”

So there you have it. A 40-year-old Brady is winning AFC Championships with his C game. Good luck, Eagles; you’re going to need it.

Also, if for some reason you wanted an update on Justin Thomas' life, it's still awesome:

Yeah, that's last year's PGA Tour Player of the Year hanging with Cy Young winner Cory Kluber in a suite at the Patriots game and teasing us with a possible #SB2K18 cameo.

Curtis Strange likes his competitive golf straight up, hold the friendliness.

This, according to Curtis Strange.

The two-time U.S. Open champ took to Twitter during the CareerBuilder Challenge to vent his frustration regarding the constant chit-chat and friendliness between Rahm and Andrew Landry:

This, of course, makes sense in theory. But good luck watching golf – or really any sport – from here on out. Sure there will be a few old school guys who buck the trend here and there, but for the most part, it’s really hard to share a private jet/dinners/vacations/(insert awesome thing here) with someone, and then completely turn off the friendship coming down the stretch of a big tournament.

Damn millennials. They ruin everything.

By now you've all seen that poor Philadelphia Eagles fan who lost his battle with a subway station pillar (from multiple angles), so instead here is a video of a man attempting to stand on an egg. Bet you can't guess how that goes.

Tony's gonna stand on an egg

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Seriously if you haven't seen the video of that Eagles fan, here's your last chance in this column. You'll be glad you did.

Jordan Spieth, Michael Phelps and Bryce Harper walk on to a golf course … there’s no punchline, that actually happened last week in Las Vegas.

Was the whole thing just a big advertisement for Spieth’s new Under Armour shoe? You bet.

But that doesn’t make the optics of three of the biggest superstar athletes on the planet teeing it up for a round any less awesome.

Off to the next. #Spieth2 #TEAMUA

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The trio has three major wins, five All Star Game appearances and 28 Olympic medals between them, and there they were over the weekend just fake laughing for the camera and driving around individual golf carts with their own personalized logos on them.

Just guys being dudes. Nothing better than that.

Matt Kuchar. Still good at golf. Still overly polite. This according to European Tour pro Eddie Pepperell who had the privilege of hitting on the range next to Kuuuuuch in Abu Dhabi last week.

That image is burned into your brain forever now, thanks Eddie. From now on when you think of Kuchar you're going to think of those Sketches ads and "oopsies."

Which, I suppose is better than a, "Did you get that?"

Blayne Barber's caddie, Cory Gilmer, collapsed and hit his head while at a restaurant at the Sony Open and has been mostly unconscious in the neurological intensive care unit ever since.

The outpouring of love and support from the golf community has been overwhelming on social media, and a GoFundMe page has been set up to help with the mounting medical costs for Gilmer and his family.

Check out the link below for more info or to donate to a worthy cause:

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Top-ranked amateur wins LAAC, earns Masters invite

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 5:38 pm

Joaquin Niemann walked Augusta National Golf Club as a patron last year. He’ll be a competitor in 2018.

Niemann, the top-ranked amateur in the world, shot 8-under 63 Tuesday at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Santiago, Chile, to win the Latin America Amateur Championship.

And with the title, both redemption and an invitation to the Masters Tournament.


Full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


Niemann finished runner-up in last year’s LAAC to fellow Chilean Toto Gana. He followed Gana around Augusta grounds, watching as his best friend played two rounds before missing the cut.

Niemann, who was going to turn professional had he not won this week, started the final round one back of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz. Niemann was sluggish from the start on Tuesday, but then drove the 313-yard, par-4 eighth and made the eagle putt. That sparked a run of five birdies over his next six holes.

Niemann was bogey-free in the final round and finished five shots clear of Ortiz, at 11 under.

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Judges Panel, Host Announced for Wilson Golf's "Driver vs. Driver 2," Premiering This Fall on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJanuary 23, 2018, 4:15 pm

‘Driver vs. Driver 2 Presented by Wilson Currently in Production; Sports Broadcaster Melanie Collins Returns to Host

Morning Drive: Driver vs. Driver 2 Judges Announced

Golf Channel and Wilson Golf announced today the panel of judges and host for the second season of Driver vs. Driver, the innovative television series that follows aspiring golf equipment designers as they compete for the opportunity to have their driver idea or concept transformed into the next great golf driver from Wilson. The show is currently in production and will premiere this fall.

Joining judge Tim Clarke, President of Wilson Golf, are two newcomers to the series: 9-time National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star and current NHL on NBC hockey analyst Jeremy Roenick – an avid golfer with a single digit handicap and a self-described golf equipment junkie; and PGA Professional, golf coach, equipment reviewer and social media influencer Rick Shiels.

“Golf is a big passion of mine, and personally I enjoy learning about new equipment and concepts,” said Roenick. “To be able to see this side of the business in how equipment is developed first-hand is fascinating. Being a part of the process in reviewing driver concepts and narrowing them down to an ultimate winning driver that will be sold across the country is a tremendous honor.” 

“Jeremy, as an avid golfer, and Rick, as a coach, equipment reviewer and golf professional, bring incredible, real world insights and different perspectives to the show and this process,” said Clarke. “I’m excited to work alongside these two judges to push the boundaries of innovation and bring a next-generation driver to golfers around the world.”

Sports broadcaster Melanie Collins returns as the host of Driver vs. Driver 2. Currently a sideline reporter for CBS Sports’ college football and basketball coverage, Collins hosted the inaugural season in 2016 and formerly co-hosted Golf Channel’s competition series, Big Break.

Production for Driver vs. Driver 2 began in the fall of 2017 and will continue through the summer, including this week at the PGA Merchandise Show. The series is being produced by Golf Channel, whose portfolio of original productions include interview series Feherty hosted by Emmy-nominated sports personality David Feherty, high-quality instruction shows School of Golf, Golf Channel Academy and Playing Lessons and a slate of award-winning films.

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Tiger Tracker: Farmers Insurance Open

By Tiger TrackerJanuary 23, 2018, 4:00 pm

Tiger Woods is competing in a full-field event for the first time in nearly a year. We're tracking him at this week's Farmers Insurance Open. (Note: Tweets read, in order, left to right)