Steady Stenson a worthy FedEx Cup, Tour champion

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2013, 12:01 am

ATLANTA – In retrospect, it was a quintessential playoff push by any measure.

For all the hand-wringing over the volatility of the current FedEx Cup playoff system, few could argue with a format that delivered the title late Sunday to Henrik Stenson, ostensibly the most consistent player in the game.

It would be easy to dub the Swede this year’s Mr. September, with his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship a fortnight ago followed by his walk-off 68 at East Lake, but that would be a disservice to his entire body of work.

On his way to the Tour Championship title and the FedEx Cup, Stenson has finished outside the top three in just two of his last eight global starts and has rocketed to No. 4 in the world ranking.

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If the only thing harder than FedEx Cup math is Atlanta traffic, Stenson delivered a dollop of clarity that defied projections and algorithms. He started the week inside the top five in points – assuring a victory in the tournament proper would also net the cup – took the lead with an opening-round 64 and never let up.

Through a wrist injury, a broken 4-wood and Saturday’s showers, the Iceman was perfectly relentless in his quest to complete his journey from a competitive abyss that saw him swoon to 230th in the world less than 24 months ago.

“I kind of knew, well, even if I don't win today, I could still win the FedEx Cup,” said Stenson, who is also first on the European Tour’s Race for Dubai list and could become the first player to complete the transatlantic double. “That was the hard bit to put everything aside, as always, and focus on the right things. I didn't play my best round today, but I was hanging in there, took the right decisions.”

From the outset, it was super Sunday FedEx Cup style, with the 30-man mad dash to $11.4 million in cash and deferred prizes quickly turning into an intimate three-ball as the supporting cast fell away.

Rookie sensation Jordan Spieth added to his legacy, birdieing four consecutive holes starting at the 13th on Sunday to briefly cut a lead that had climbed to as many as nine strokes on Saturday to a single digit.

But Stenson never seemed fazed, per his modus operandi.

When asked his man’s state of mind coming down the stretch, Stenson’s caddie Gareth Bryn Lord mimicked a flat line with his hands.

“Fantastic,” Lord smiled.

Not bad for a player who less than a week ago dismantled his driver in anger at the BMW Championship and worked over one of Conway Farms’ lockers before departing for the finale.

“He’s not one to bottle things up,” Lord said. “He had to get it out of his system and he felt like he’s playing so well and you finish 30th (T-33, actually) and he’s like, ‘agh.’”

So when Stenson airmailed the green at No. 14 and made bogey, the first vestiges of intrigue crept into the proceedings and were just as quickly washed away when the champion made a bounce-back birdie at the par-5 15th and arrived at the 17th tee a field goal clear of the pack.

When Stenson pushed his drive into a fairway bunker at the penultimate hole, Spieth – watching the action after signing for his 64 – sat up and took notice. The 8-iron approach shot, however, never left the flag and rolled out to 18 feet for a stress-free par.

“Wow, what a golf shot,” Spieth smiled. “That just won him $11.4 million.”

Officially, Stenson still had a few more shots to play, tee ball into the right bunker at the 18th, a blast to 4 feet, a putt that never left the cup, but give the 20-year-old credit for recognizing the significance of a clutch performance.

Stenson’s 13-under total left him three clear of Spieth and the game’s most prolific part-time player since Bobby Jones – Steve Stricker, who was the last man standing who could have challenged Stenson for both trophies but could only manage pars over his final three holes.

Stricker, who traded a week chasing elk in Colorado with his buddies for four days chasing a Swede for a bundle, settled for a closing 65 and his seventh top-10 finish in an abbreviated season despite missing half as many putts from 4 to 5 feet (four) in four days as he had all season (eight).

Seems both Stricker and his putting protégé Tiger Woods will need to tighten things up on the greens before next week’s Presidents Cup. The world No. 1 shot himself out of the FedEx Cup equation with opening rounds of 73-71 and seemed to wrap up his state of mind on Friday.

“I’m tired. It’s been a long, long grind,” he said then, a day removed from just his seventh round on Tour without a birdie.

Woods tied for 22nd following a closing 67, but likely wrapped up the consolation prize of winning his 11th Player of the Year award when primary challengers Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott failed to give voters something to think about at the finale.

Scott, derailed by illness on Saturday that may go down as the most expensive 24-hour bug in the history of golf, tied for 14th after playing his final 36 holes in 6 under; while Mickelson showed flashes of solid play but started the weekend too far back and tied for 12th. When asked about the Player of the Year vote, Lefty had no easy answer.

“That's a tough one. If I could have done well this week, I thought I had a really good chance. But as it stands now, I'm not sure,” said Mickelson, the only player to finish in the top 15 in the final FedEx Cup standings every year.

It was small consolation, however, considering Stenson’s command performance. On perhaps the best course in the Tour lineup to play defense, Stenson did his best Nick Faldo impersonation. It was a hearts-and-minds deal – give them nothing to think about and their hearts wouldn’t be in it.

“He wanted to win the tournament, not just the FedEx Cup,” Lord said. “The last 15, 20 minutes he was brilliant.”

The last two months haven’t been too shabby, either.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.