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Money is money, but the FedExCup has earned respect

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2017, 7:53 pm

ATLANTA – Pat Perez, never one to mince words or sugarcoat a $10 million elephant in a room, was asked on Wednesday about his chances this week at the traveling circus’ big finish.

“You know, for me to win the FedExCup, there's got to be a million things that have to go right and the biggest one happens to be me winning,” the eclectic veteran figured. “For me it's like winning the Powerball, because all the top guys would have to play bad, which they haven't done all year. So for them to all do it at once and me win, it’s about the same odds as Powerball.”

And does Perez play Powerball? “No, no chance. I bought a can of chew instead. Got more enjoyment out of that,” he answered.

East Lake understandably to some qualifies as “fantasy land” - Perez's words, not mine - but the elusive jackpot at the end of this week’s rainbow has a much more tangible meaning to others in the field.

After a decade, winning the FedExCup has fully evolved into an accomplishment that transcends even the most lofty expectations the PGA Tour had when it introduced its unique version of a playoff in 2007.

Players may have initially embraced the concept in ’07, if not the overly complicated math, but the cup's place among the game’s most coveted achievements was very much in flux.

Tiger Woods skipped the postseason opener in the New York area in ’07, the year he won the inaugural FedExCup, and Sergio Garcia hasn’t played the playoff lid-lifter four times in 11 years.

The $10 million was always attractive, and players by and large appreciated what the playoffs did for golf - creating meaningful competition during a time of year when the game had largely been a sporting afterthought - but the FedExCup wasn't necessarily high on players' priority lists.

That notion has changed, slowly but surely, as evidenced by this week’s field at East Lake and the level of play so far this postseason. That evolving reality has never been as obvious as it was on Tuesday when Jordan Spieth, the points leader entering the finale, was asked what was more important to players this week, assuming they would have to choose – a victory at East Lake or the FedExCup?

“I think players are probably more focused on the FedExCup than the Tour Championship,” he said.


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Current FedExCup Playoff points standings


That doesn’t mean Spieth or the other 29 guys in the field completely understand the convoluted points and permutations that go into the winning equation, but with history has come a general understanding of what needs to happen to claim the cup.

Just twice in the playoff era has the winner at East Lake not gone on to win the FedExCup, and both of those victors came before the circuit reworked the points structure to help tilt the competition toward those who play the best in the postseason.

Although he said he isn’t aware of every possible scenario, Spieth fully grasps the concept that - for the top five points leaders - one win (the Tour Championship) will beget another (the FedExCup) on Sunday.

“There are a lot of scenarios where I can still win the FedExCup and not win, and I can finish seventh like last week and probably still win depending on how it shapes up,” he explained. “But the likelihood is the guys that have been playing really well, the guys that are hot, you're likely to see toward the top of the leaderboard again.”

Spieth's wait-and-see scenario came to fruition for last year's points leader Dustin Johnson, when Rory McIlroy went into a playoff with Kevin Chappell and Ryan Moore late Sunday.

McIlroy needed to win the OT bout to claim the $10 million, while Johnson waited in the clubhouse for an alternative, as a Chappell or Moore victory would have assured him the cup instead.

“I still give [Chappell] crap, because he's a buddy of mine, so I still jab at him every once in a while about how much he cost me,” joked Johnson, who begins this week third on the points list.

Johnson can joke about his $7 million shortfall, the difference between finishing first and second in the FedExCup standings, because even though the check gets people’s attention, it’s the meaning and depth of the competition that motivates players – at least players at this level.

“In terms of this week, it's definitely not about the money. It's definitely not about being better than anybody else. I just like to win, and I like trophies,” said Justin Thomas, who enters the week behind only Spieth. “Not only the Tour Championship, but anytime you can win a year-long race and be known as a champion of an entire year, it's a big deal.”

The FedExCup means vastly different things to different people, but the biggest difference now is that it’s truly meaningful to the players.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.