Child's play

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2011, 7:24 pm

ATLANTA – It’s a question as old as gift cards and party favors. What do you get a precocious 5-year-old who has clumsily straddled the gulf between limitless potential and an over-inflated sense of self-importance?

We’re talking about a toddler who, through no real fault of its own, made the age-old mistake of over-promising and under-delivering and yet has enjoyed a surprisingly eventful half-decade.

From their debut in 2007, the FedEx Cup playoffs were a square-peg solution for a round-hole game. A game defined by four majors – and, to a lesser extent, an occasional cup – and played by independent contractors. But if the powers that created the FedEx Cup are guilty of anything, it is poor word association.

Most agree the term “playoff” was never going to be a good fit for golf. There is no collective one-and-done pressure and, to be accurate, East Lake isn’t even the end of the season, but calling the big finish the “$10 million cash grab” probably didn’t test well with focus groups.

So the Tour tinkered, with points and resets and even revenue distribution and along the way the playoffs delivered, from Vijay Singh’s win in 2008 – a buzz-less affair that was highlighted by the Fijian needing to simply stay upright for four days in Atlanta to cash the $10 million lottery ticket – to Tiger vs. Phil in ’09, a perfect storm that may be as good as these playoffs ever get.

Five years into the experiment the best thing anyone can say about the FedEx Cup is that it’s better than what came before it.

“(The FedEx Cup) accomplished more than we had anticipated by this point in time,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Tuesday at East Lake.

The commish measures postseason success in practical terms, citing increased viewership for this year’s postseason and the Tour’s latest round of network television contracts that now stretch into the next decade.

But even Finchem conceded that the ultimate arbiters of playoff success or failure are the players.

“I thought it was telling that (last year) a player who had not won early on but was very consistent and garnered the FedEx Cup (Jim Furyk) was then recognized by his peers as the Player of the Year, which I think spoke volumes for Jim and a lot about the FedEx Cup, as well, in terms of where it's come in four short years,” Finchem said.

The playoffs are important when the players say they are. Although the collective has not reached a consensus, there were signs of progress in 2011.

After bogeying the final hole at last week’s BMW Championship, Camilo Villegas marched over to a scoring computer to confirm what his gut already knew. He’d slipped into a tie for sixth and missed advancing to East Lake by three spots. His fist slamming into a table said more about the playoffs’ growing importance than all the PSAs that Camp Ponte Vedra Beach has produced to date.

Two weeks earlier at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Ernie Els, one of four players to have participated in every playoff-era Tour Championship, compared his push to keep his postseason hopes alive to winning a golf tournament, only harder.

Whether it is the money or the morose thought of having to watch the action from the sidelines is debatable, but there is no denying that the playoffs matter to the rank and file.

Exactly where the 5-year-old ranks in the competitive hierarchy is golf’s version of a player to be named later. Most Tour types surveyed Wednesday at East Lake rank a FedEx Cup crown somewhere between a major championship and, say, winning the Zurich Classic.

“The playoffs were something that said you were one of the best of the year. It’s a great thing to be able to say that you didn’t just have one great week but you had a great year,” Matt Kuchar said. “The playoffs have become a great event. They’ve kind of gotten a formula that really works.”

Not that your off-the-shelf fan could break down this week’s points reset without the aid of a flow chart and a Tour mathematician. Truth is, most players would need a few hours studying the playoff’s “FAQ” page if they were pressed to explain the system’s nuances. But this much is certain to every inner-competitor: you can’t win the FedEx Cup playoffs if you don’t play in them.

As for those who question the system’s competitive integrity, it’s worth noting that a defending FedEx Cup champion has never made it back to East Lake the following year. If that doesn’t scream “playoffs,” nothing does.

“If you go back in golf and look at any tournament . . . there is a graduation of stature of any event that rides with the extent to which players prioritize that event,” Finchem said. “That's where it starts. It doesn't start with the fans. It can be impacted by the media, but it really starts with the players. And clearly in these last couple of years, there have been very clear signs of how the importance to players has grown with the FedEx Cup.”

Maybe the best birthday present one could give the playoffs is perspective. The postseason has not been a tectonic shift in the way the game measures greatness, but it has given fans a reason not to change the channel in the fall and players a reason to be hungry. Not bad for a precocious 5-year-old with identity issues.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x