Getty Images

Dark horses lurking at East Lake

By Rex HoggardSeptember 22, 2017, 11:15 pm

ATLANTA – The point of the FedExCup Playoffs was never about doling out an eight-figure check or giving players a reason to learn long division, it was about tidy finishes.

Prior to the playoff experiment, which began in 2007, there were too many years when players arrived with the year’s biggest questions long answered. Think of it as an all-star game without the home run derby, or any meaningful outcome.

The PGA Tour wanted a big finish where players vied for the season’s most meaningful accomplishments, non-major championship division, with a decisive conclusion.

The result has been a work-in-progress, but has largely delivered on that promise.

Consider that in 2006, Tiger Woods had won eight times, including The Open and PGA Championship, and had wrapped up the money title and Player of the Year Award. And what did he do at East Lake? Nothing, he didn’t play. He didn’t need to.

Even in the FedExCup era there were early growing pains that kept the finale from being the desired send-off.

In 2011, Luke Donald finished tied for third at the finale following a phenomenal season, but the Englishman still needed a walk-off win at the Disney event a few weeks later, a windfall worth $846,000, to clip Webb Simpson by $335,000 for the cash crown (remember when the money title meant something?)

But those quirks have slowly been removed from the equation. First the Tour introduced the wraparound season and then crunched the postseason points so that those who had played the most consistent year would have a distinct advantage.

Clean, consistent, calculated, right?

Well, Friday’s leaderboard at East Lake paints a slightly different picture.


Tour Championship: Articles, video and photos

Current FedExCup Playoff points standings


Although Justin Thomas – whose second-round 66 left him tied for the lead with Paul Casey and Simpson – could restore order to the Tour’s postseason with a victory on Sunday that would assure him the cup and the Jack Nicklaus Award, there are enough would-be dark horses looming to make things interesting.

“I like to play spoiler,” Casey said with a mischievous smile.

Casey has been in this position before. In fact, he was the potential author of what Tour types would consider the “nuclear option” in 2010 when he needed only a runner-up finish at East Lake to claim the cup without having won that season.

“That would have been very wrong to win the FedExCup not winning an event, but I would have had no issue with it,” laughed Casey, who is 10th on the postseason points list.

Simpson would be an even bigger Cinderella at 16th on the playoff points list and through two steady rounds (66-67) he’s poised as the ultimate party crasher.

 “I think guys are probably looking at hey, what are the scenarios that could possibly pull a Bill Haas or whatever it may be,” Jordan Spieth said.

Haas famously began the 2011 Tour Championship 25th on the peculiar points list but rallied at East Lake for the title and the cup to become the 1969 “Miracle Mets” of golf’s postseason.

But then Haas’ par save from East Lake - the actual lake - on the 71st hole isn’t happening this year after record rains in the Atlanta area, and for this year’s Cinderella to prevail they will need an assist from the game’s best and brightest: Spieth, Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Marc Leishman and Jon Rahm, the five horsemen who arrived at the finale in the theoretical pole positions – Nos. 1 through 5 on the points list, respectively.

Each can claim the cup with a victory at the Tour Championship, but more to the complicated point they could walk away with the oversized check with a vast assortment of middle-of-the-pack showings.

Spieth could “mathematically” win with a finish as low as 29th, out of 30; and Thomas could fade all the way to sixth and still be in the equation.

But if the scenario of someone outside the coveted top 5 winning the proclaimed season-long race offends the competitive senses of some, it does, and has, made for a unique style of golf each September at East Lake.

Even the most reserved player embraces an added sense of urgency at the Tour Championship, where there is literally no reason to play the safe shot or temper one’s expectations.

“There's no next week for me,” said Gary Woodland, who is tied for fourth place after starting the week 28th on the points list. “We're out here, we're playing aggressive, trying to get the ball in the fairway and then attacking from there. We're definitely playing more aggressive this week than we have all year, which is nice. That's probably why I'm playing well.”

Any number of players could play spoiler this week – from Justin Rose (No. 8) who is tied with Woodland to rookie Xander Schauffele (No. 26), who is in a group at 5 under – and on this history is rather clear.

Just twice in the playoff era has the winner of the Tour Championship not won the FedExCup, but as the postseason has evolved the finale has proven to be exceedingly good at delivering on its original promise – a clean finish.

Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.