Christmas comes early for Gay and Poulter

By Rex HoggardMay 4, 2017, 9:36 pm

WILMINGTON, N.C. – This is a tale of dogged persistence, but then that’s been the underlying story of Brian Gay’s career.

At 45 years old, Gay was probably born a generation too late, not that he’s ever let that limit what he’s been able to achieve. At 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, he’s ranked outside the top 170 in driving distance on the PGA Tour in each of the last six years and is the ultimate outlier in a game that rewards power over everything else.

Since joining the Tour in 1999, he’s failed to keep his card just three times, has won four events and ranks 71st in career earnings. But this story is about simple math and an active mind. Oh, and 28 FedEx Cup points.

To put that in context, 28 FedEx Cup points would be the haul for a 30th-place finish this week at the Wells Fargo Championship, but for Gay – and to a greater extent Ian Poulter – it was a game changer.

After missing the entire 2015 season with an injury, Gay began the 2016-17 calendar playing on a major medical exemption, which essentially meant he had 14 starts to earn 309 FedEx Cup points or $461,851.

After a turbulent three years, Gay closed with a 70 two weeks ago at the Valero Texas Open to finally climb out of that administrative no-man’s land, earning more than $200,000 to secure his full status. But if reclaiming his card took moxie, what followed may have been even more impressive.

“I knew I made my money in San Antonio, well over the money I needed to stay exempt, but I didn’t really know the points because it’s just easier to keep up with the money,” Gay said on Thursday at Eagle Point Golf Club where he opened with a 2-under 70.

The problem was beginning this year the Tour changed the qualification process to finally rid the circuit of money exemptions, so when officials say it’s not about the money it really isn’t about the money.

After years of swimming up the historical stream, the circuit nixed the exemption for players who finish inside the top 125 in earnings but not FedEx Cup points. Along with that change, however, the number crunchers came up with an adjusted formula for regular-season points distribution that more closely mirrored how the purses are doled out.

So the day after Gay finished tied for sixth at the Texas Open, his second consecutive top-10 finish, he received an email from the Tour informing him he’d earned enough money to secure his status for the rest of the year, but he was still shy on the points list which meant he wouldn’t get a start at next week’s Players Championship.

Some probably would have been fine with that outcome. Not Gay.

“The email said I needed 28 points to get into The Players and I kind of thought I was in The Players,” he said.

Although Gay is a University of Florida graduate, like the vast majority of Tour players he’s not exactly an expert when it comes to the complicated world of FedEx Cup points, so he broke out pen and paper and started doing the math.

“I started adding up the money, and I didn’t have enough points but it was a huge discrepancy,” he said. “I knew they had changed the point distribution, but I didn’t know what the difference was.”

Under the new system, middle-of-the-pack finishes aren’t worth as many points as they had been. For example, under the old system a 50th-place finish was worth 20 more points than if you finished 70th. Now, the difference between 50th and 70th is 5 1/2 points. But given that Gay’s exemption was from the 2015 season, he was curious why the old points distribution model wasn’t used.

“I didn’t know he was that smart,” joked Gay’s wife, Kimberly.

Gay called Andy Pazder, the Tour’s chief of operations, who after consulting with the four player directors on the policy board and commissioner Jay Monahan decided that those playing out of the medical category should be allowed to play under the old rules.

“It just leapt off the page,” Pazder said. “He still performed at the same level and it was something the Tour did that changed the outcome. We moved the goal line on him.”

The change secured Gay a spot at next week’s event, but the revelation had an even more far-reaching impact.

“For me it was just about getting in The Players, but for Ian [Poulter] I went, he just got his card back,” Gay recalled.

Poulter was also playing out of the major medical category and after 11 starts this season he had thought he’d come up short of regaining his status. That was until Gay dove into the mathematical weeds.

“He had no idea,” Gay said. “I texted him and we spoke Friday. I sent him a text and said, ‘You’re welcome.’ And I asked, ‘How happy are you right now?’ He said, 'I friggin’ love you' with red hearts and everything.”

For Gay, the goal was earning a spot in next week’s event at TPC Sawgrass, which he has missed the last two years as he’s recovered from injury; but for Poulter, it was Christmas in May, a dramatic change of fortune that literally lifted the Englishman from competitive limbo to occupational security.

The entire episode led to an interesting exchange on Twitter that began when Kimberly Gay tweeted: “Let's have a vote! Should [Poulter] give [Gay] a bottle of wine or a Ferrari or NetJets? #theserjokes #sorta”

Poulter responded: “I will see you both at TPC and will deliver something very nice. Thanks for uncovering the oversight. Wow”

Given Gay’s newfound affinity for number crunching, we might suggest a new calculator.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“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," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry