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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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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.

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Rose leads halted Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters when bad weather stopped play Friday during the second round.

The Englishman, who shot a 10-under 62 on Thursday, had completed 13 holes and was 5 under on the day at the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat (64) was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew wit on the 11th hole at 2 under for the day after shooting an opening 72.

There was no reason given for his withdrawal, but the American has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.


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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 12:30 pm