Fever Pitch

By Rex HoggardSeptember 5, 2011, 10:53 pm

NORTON, Mass. – “Fever Pitch,” the 2005 tome to the end of Boston’s curse, it wasn’t, not with two playoff events, four Fall Series tilts, a Presidents Cup and more silly stops than one season can stomach. But as a litmus test for the game’s ever-evolving postseason Deutsche Bank Championship, Monday was a sign of progress.

The FedEx Cup playoffs may never resonate like postseasons in other sports, a concept complicated by the intricacies of a game dominated by independent contractors and a history written at the majors, but on Monday the Tour’s experiment took a step forward, if not with the masses then with the men who vie for the Cup. Or maybe it’s the $10 million jackpot waiting at the end of the road in Atlanta.

Not that it mattered to Ernie Els, who has used these end-of-days playoffs to rekindle a competitive fire that had been missing; or Chez Reavie, a Tour outcast of sorts that wasn’t just playing for his playoff future but his year. And certainly not for Webb Simpson, who in three short weeks has vaulted from prospect to prohibitive FedEx Cup favorite.

Cynics will dismiss the playoffs as a money grab – millionaires playing for millions, and, essentially, the postseason has amounted to little more than that for four seasons. But on Monday at TPC Boston, the cash dash delivered a product that was well, playoff-like.

The money may bring the players calling, but it is the thrill of the hunt that the collective savors.

“The joy I get from what I do is not from money. It’s about getting into playoffs and the thrill of trying to win,” said Simpson, who closed with an eventful 65 and laid two birdies in extra frames on Reavie to take his second Tour title in three weeks.

That the dramatic finish put Simpson in line to win the Cup filled with $10 million was of less interest to him than a pair of clutch birdie putts in overtime to clip Reavie.

Let the record show that although TPC Boston is often maligned with the title “bomber’s paradise,” the layout served as an equal opportunity scoring-fest, rewarding the plodders as well as the ponders on Monday.

Two-way traffic is the sign of any good championship, but on Monday at TPC Boston the flow resembled that of Interstate-495, deadlocked on the northbound side with vacationers returning from Cape Cod following a holiday weekend, but nearly abandoned headed south.

No fewer than five players held a share of the lead through a windswept afternoon, and that didn’t include Bubba Watson who began the day with a one-stroke advantage but quickly became an afterthought as the traffic ahead picked apart TPC Boston.

Even before Watson teed off he’d fallen behind Brandt Snedeker, who played his first five holes in 4 under. By the turn the top spot was shared by world No. 1 Luke Donald, Snedeker and Simpson.

But as the wind and pressure picked up on the back side, players fell away. Donald airmailed the green at the 12th, caught his third shot heavy, his fourth thin and penciled in a double bogey-6, while Snedeker was undone by three late bogeys. Leaving just Reavie, who birdied four of his last eight holes and was nursing a one-stroke lead before he flew the final green and failed to convert his 12 footer for par.

It was about the only thing Reavie missed all day.

TPC Boston may be a bomber’s course, but the playoff came down to the week’s top two putters. Simpson – who had 13 one-putt greens on Monday, including the playoff – finished tied for third in putting and first in “putts made distance,” tied with Reavie.

For Simpson, his putting epiphany occurred during his opening round at the PGA Championship when he noticed on the 15th green that his routine to line up putts was much faster during the round than it was when he practiced. Since he’s adjusted, he’s 2-for-3, adding the Deutsche Bank to his Wyndham Championship title.

“It was a big turning point that we worked on and trusted it,” said Simpson, who carded all four rounds in the 60s (69-68-67-65) to finish at 15 under.

Yet playoff pressure transcended the leaderboard. There was Els, who has now played his last three events facing FedEx Cup elimination, grinding down the stretch to crack the top 70 and advance to the BMW Championship in two weeks. He birdied the last to finish 68th.

When asked if he could compare the pressure he felt on Monday to that of trying to actually win a tournament, Els’ response was telling: “It’s worse. You screw up on 18 to win a tournament you still get second place and $600,000. Screw up here and you’re going home.”

Chris Stroud could relate. Following a double bogey at No. 14 he figured his playoffs were over. “I knew I’d blew myself out there,” he said.

It is a measure of the playoff’s growing appeal, however,  it was Stroud that drew a media crowd following his round – not playing partner Hunter Mahan, whose closing 66 gave him a however-fleeting clubhouse lead at 10 under.

“I saw I was 76 (in FedEx Cup points) on 15 green (following a double bogey-bogey stretch) and figured I needed to birdie the last three to have a chance,” Stroud said. There was no birdie-birdie-birdie finish. Instead, he nearly holed his second shot from 232 yards at the par-5 closing hole for a tap-in eagle to advance to the third round of the playoffs.

Geoff Ogilvy, however, may have been the ultimate playoff poster child. Following bogeys at Nos. 14 and 16 he also assumed his postseason days were numbered, but a birdie at the last lifted him into, and Kevin Na out of, the top 70.

“I get rewarded with a trip to Cog Hill,” said Ogilvy, a back-handed comment considering the Australian’s antipathy toward the Rees Jones redesign in Chicago, but compelling stuff none the less.

What the playoffs lack in “curb appeal,” they seem to be making up for at the grass-roots level with the rank and file. Just ask Reavie, who just days earlier had cut short an explanation on his limited Tour status – essentially he currently is not qualified to play the Fall Series but he is in the Tour Championship – for an impromptu moment of show-and-tell.

As he rolled up his right pant leg to expose a 6-inch scar, the byproduct of ACL surgery last June that sent him to an extended stay on the “DL” and a questionable Tour future, he allowed himself a moment of self-indulgence: “I just want to win,” he said after Friday’s round. Four days and 56 holes later he was still overwhelmed by the thought.

“It's unbelievable,” an emotional Reavie allowed. “Starting the year on a medical (exemption) and not knowing what's going to happen, to be able to go to the Tour Championship is a goal. It's what I wanted to do.”

No, the Tour’s postseason is not quite “Fever Pitch,” but it’s getting there.

Trump playing 'quickly' with Tiger, DJ

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 24, 2017, 1:33 pm

Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his return to competition next week at his Hero World Challenge. But first, a (quick) round with the President.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he was going to play at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., alongside Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Woods and President Trump previously played last December. Trump, who, according to trumpgolfcount.com has played 75 rounds since taking over the presidency, has also played over the last year with Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Hideki Matsuyama.

Chawrasia leads major champs in Hong Kong

By Associated PressNovember 24, 2017, 1:19 pm

HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia extended his lead at the Hong Kong Open to two strokes Friday after a 4-under 66 in the second round.

Chawrasia, who had led by one at the Hong Kong Golf Club, is at 9-under 131 overall and took as much as a five-stroke lead at one point.

''Yesterday I was putting very well, and today, also I make some up and downs. I saved a couple of short putts. That's why I think I'm leading by two shots most probably,'' the Indian said. ''The next two days, I'm just looking forward.''

Full-field scores from the UBS Hong Kong Open

Thomas Aiken (64) is second, followed by Alexander Bjork (66), Joakim Lagergren (66), Poom Saksansin (68) and Julian Suri (67) at 5 under 135.

Aiken's round was the lowest of the tournament.

''It is tough out there. The greens are really firm. You've got to hit the fairway,'' Aiken said. ''If you get above the holes, putts can get away from you.''

Justin Rose (69) had six birdies, but three bogeys and a double-bogey at the par 3 12th kept him at 3 under for the tournament.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia (71), playing for the first time in Hong Kong, was at even par, as was defending champion Sam Brazel (71) and 2014 champion Scott Hend (67).

''I have to play better,'' Garcia said. ''The way I felt like I played, it's difficult. This kind of course, you need to play well to shoot a good score.''

Day (68) just one back at Australian Open

By Nick MentaNovember 24, 2017, 6:40 am

Jason Day posted a second-round 68 to move himself just one off the lead held by Lucas Herbert through two rounds at the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand after 36 holes in Sydney.

Leaderboard: Herbert (-9), Day (-8), Cameron Davis (-7), Anthony Quayle (-6), Matt Jones (-4), Cameron Smith (-4), Nick Cullen (-4), Richard Green (-4)

What it means: Day is in search of his first worldwide victory of 2017. The former world No. 1 last visited the winner’s circle in May 2016, when he won The Players at TPC Sawgrass. A win this week would close out a difficult year for the Aussie who struggled with his game while also helping his mother in her battle with cancer. Day’s last victory on his native soil came in 2013, when he partnered with Adam Scott to win the World Cup of Golf for Australia at Royal Melbourne.

Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

Round of the day: Herbert followed an opening 67 with a round of 66 to vault himself into the lead at The Australian Golf Club. He made six birdies, including four on his second nine, against a lone bogey to take the outright lead. The 22-year-old, who held the lead at this event last year and captured low-amateur honors in 2014, is coming off a runner-up finish at the NSW Open Championship, which boosted him from 714th to 429th in the Official World Golf Ranking. His 5-under score was matched by Dale Brandt-Richards and Josh Cabban.

Best of the rest: Matt Jones, who won this event over Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott two years ago, turned in 4-under 67. Jones is best known to American audiences for his playoff victory at the 2014 Shell Houston Open and for holding the 36-hole lead at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, which was eventually won by Day. Jones will start the weekend five shots off the lead, at 4 under par.

Biggest disappointment: Spieth has a lot of work to do this weekend if he expects to be in the title picture for the fourth year in a row. Rounds of 70-71 have him eight shots behind the lead held by Herbert. Spieth made a birdie and a bogey on each side Friday to turn in level par. The reigning champion golfer of the year has finished first, second and first at this event over the last three years.

Storyline to watch this weekend: The Australian Open is the first event of the 2018 Open Qualifying Series. The leading three players who finish in the top 10 and who are not otherwise exempt will receive invites into next summer’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

Ogilvy urges distance rollback of ball

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 8:49 pm

Add Geoff Ogilvy to the chorus of voices calling for a distance rollback of the golf ball.

In an interview before the start of the Emirates Australian Open, Ogilvy said a "time-out" is needed for governing bodies to deal with the issue.

"It's complete nonsense," he said, according to an Australian website. "In my career, it’s gone from 300 yards was a massive hit to you’re a shorter hitter on tour now, legitimately short. It’s changed the way we play great golf courses and that is the crime. It isn’t that the ball goes 400, that’s neither here nor there. It’s the fact the ball going 400 doesn’t makes Augusta work properly, it functions completely wrong.’’

Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

Ogilvy used an example from American baseball to help get his point across to an Australian audience.

“Major League Baseball in America, they use wooden bats, and everywhere else in baseball they use aluminium bats,’’ he said. “And when the major leaguers use aluminium bats they don’t even have to touch it and it completely destroys their stadiums. It’s just comedy.

“That’s kind of what’s happened to us at least with the drivers of these big hitters; We’ve completely outgrown the stadiums. So do you rebuild every stadium in the world? That’s expensive. Or make the ball go shorter? It seems relatively simple from that perspective.’’

Ogilvy, an Australian who won the 2006 U.S. Open, said he believes there will be a rollback, but admitted it would be a "challenge" for manufacturers to produce a ball that flies shorter for pros but does not lose distance when struck by recreational players.