In some minds, Day could challenge Spieth for POY

By Rex HoggardSeptember 2, 2015, 3:43 pm

Before the first tee shot split the hot, humid air last week at Plainfield Country Club an informal poll of players seemed to quickly and quietly put to rest any thought of an actual race for this year’s PGA Tour Player of the Year Award.

“It’s [Jordan] Spieth, isn’t it?” Paul Casey shrugged when asked who would get his nod for Player of the Year. “There’s no one else even close, is there? He’s won like $11 million already, it’s obscene.”

Casey was hardly alone in his assessment of the 22-year-old’s season, which includes four Tour victories, two major triumphs (Masters and U.S. Open) and, actually, $10.3 million in earnings.

It only adds to Spieth’s legend that he finished a putt outside the playoff that was won by Zach Johnson at the Open Championship and beat everyone not named Jason Day at Whistling Straits on his way to one of the most dominant major championship seasons of the modern era.

Although players will not vote on the Player of the Year candidates until after the Tour Championship later this month, most of those polled at The Barclays figured the Tour could box up the Jack Nicklaus Award and send it along to Dallas, c/o Spieth and save the postage for ballots.

Some players, however, paused a moment when asked if there was anything that could transpire during the FedEx Cup Playoffs that could change their minds regarding the POY vote.

“If someone goes four in a row it could change, but it would have to be one of the top guys,” allowed Casey.

A top player like, say, Day? “I think if Jason won three out of four and the [FedEx Cup], I think you’d have to think about it,” Casey said.

While some players did allow for a late playoff run, last Wednesday that option seemed wildly farfetched.

“It’s got to be [Spieth] because of the two majors. I mean, Jason Day is close because of how well he played in the majors, but when you actually win two I don’t see how anyone else can take that from you,” Greg Owen said.

Now fast-forward four days to a slightly different reality.

On Sunday, Day cruised to his third Tour title in his last four starts, lapping contenders that included the likes of Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson by six strokes. It was a field that no longer included Spieth, who missed his first cut since May.

In a tale of the tape, Spieth and Day’s seasons are not that dissimilar. The Australian also has four Tour titles, including his breakthrough major triumph last month at Whistling Straits.

Day also came within a putt at St. Andrews of making it into the playoff and began the final round at the U.S. Open tied for the lead before succumbing to the effects of vertigo at Chambers Bay.

By the time Day put the finishing touches on his victory at The Barclays on Sunday, Spieth’s landslide in the POY race had become something closer to a legitimate duel in some players’ minds.

“If Jason Day wins the FedEx Cup he is my Player of the Year,” Jason Bohn said on Sunday at Plainfield. “To win the FedEx Cup he’s had to win one of the events and to win this event [The Barclays] this is probably the strongest field in golf behind The Players. The Barclays in my opinion is the sixth major based on the strength of the field.”

As impressive as Day’s post-season victory was, the idea that he could clip Spieth at the wire for the Player of the Year hardware taps into a more esoteric debate regarding the importance of the post-season.

After eight years, the FedEx Cup playoffs appear to still be searching for an identity.

“What’s bigger, the playoffs or a major? If you win The Barclays does it count as a major, no? If Jason were to win three out of four playoff events and a major, maybe, but right now Jordan has it,” Owen said.

Rory McIlroy was in a similar position last season after winning two majors, as well as the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The Northern Irishman failed to win the FedEx Cup, or a playoff event, but was voted Player of the Year in what, by most accounts (the Tour does not release vote totals), was a walkover.

That Billy Horschel, who won last year’s FedEx Cup, narrowly made it to the second post-season event after a relatively pedestrian year at least partially explains why McIlroy was such a clear-cut choice.

If Day continues to give the rank-and-file a reason to consider other options, Spieth may not have that same luxury.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.