A decade of playoffs: From cash grab to competition

By Rex HoggardAugust 22, 2017, 7:59 pm

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – In the decade since the PGA Tour introduced the concept of a postseason to professional golf, the idea has meant many things to many different players.

For Tiger Woods, a two-time winner of the season-long race in 2007 and ’09, the FedExCup was little more than a device to remind all of his dominance; while for the likes of Billy Horschel, the lottery winner in ’14, it was an 11th-hour surge that turned a decent season into something truly special.

As the FedExCup has evolved, so has the motivation to play the postseason. A curious experiment in ’07 when the Tour launched the concept, it has slowly been transformed from a cash grab into a compelling competition.

“I'm going to approach the first two events trying to obviously win but looking to kind of crescendo into East Lake and peak there and consider East Lake a major at this point as far as our preparation goes,” Jordan Spieth said on his way out of town two weeks ago at the PGA Championship.


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FedExCup standings entering the playoffs


Although there is always a push to make the regular season a bigger part of the playoff picture, for the likes of Spieth, who won the FedExCup in ’15, this really boils down to the four postseason stops, or to drill down even deeper, the final stop in Atlanta.

Just twice in the history of the playoffs has the winner at the Tour Championship not taken home the season-ending double, in ’08 when Vijay Singh only had to remain upright for four days at East Lake to win it all and in ’09 when Woods won the $10 million jackpot but lost to Phil Mickelson at the finale.

What little history there is here is rather clear - the regular season and the first three postseason stops serve a purpose, but it’s the Tour Championship that ultimately decides the outcome and smart guys like Spieth have figured that out.

“You can come in with different kinds of starting points from the regular season but you've got to have at least a pretty solid season in the back,” said Henrik Stenson, who won the cup in ’13 and finished runner-up to Spieth in ’15. “Then you have to play well in the first three playoff events to make sure that you're inside the top 30, and most of the guys who have won it I'm sure have been within the top 5.”

Only Horschel and Bill Haas in ’11 have played their way to the cup from outside that magic top 5, both by winning the finale.

But if the various postseason strategies have evolved, so has the playoff’s position of importance.

When Woods won the inaugural race in ’07 much was made of the fact that he didn’t kiss the cup the way he would the claret jug or Wanamaker Trophy in victory. Although it was likely just an inadvertent oversight on Woods’ part, the symbolic lack of love was a metaphor for the postseason’s place among the game’s biggest events.

Spieth’s commitment to treating the Tour Championship like a major is a sign of how that outlook has evolved, much like this week’s field at the playoff opener in New York is a snapshot of the cup’s growing status.

While five players are skipping The Northern Trust, those no-shows are largely due to injury, like Brandt Snedeker, or family priorities, such as Adam Scott who returned home to Australia to be with his wife for the birth of the couple’s second child.

The top 5 on the points list – Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler – are all in the field this week even though mathematically they are all assured a start next month at East Lake.

Some of that is positioning and the desire to arrive at the Tour Championship inside the top 5 on the points list, which assures the cup with a victory at the finale, but there’s also something to be said for playing an event because it’s important.

The playoff stops aren’t majors. They aren’t World Golf Championships, but they do resonate more now than they did a decade ago and this goes well beyond a potential financial windfall when you consider that Matsuyama has already collected more than $8 million in earnings.

Or maybe the best example of the playoffs' evolving stature can be found in the nuances of competition. No player has ever won the FedExCup in back-to-back seasons, “Because Jordan Spieth made 50-foot bombs when he shouldn't have. Next question,” cracked Stenson, who came in second in the season-long race to Spieth in ’15.

It was a joke, but a punch line laced with enough truth to make a point. For Stenson – whose name is already etched into the FedExCup, not to mention the claret jug, and probably doesn’t need another $10 million payday – that loss two years ago still stings. The season-long race is important because they players say it is.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.


DP World Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship


With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."