Volatility not biggest problem for FedEx Cup playoffs

By Rex HoggardSeptember 3, 2013, 12:24 am

NORTON, Mass. – It will be of little solace to Ryan Palmer that next year, if PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and his mad FedEx Cup scientists get their way, there will likely not be as much volatility in the playoffs.

With apologies to Palmer – who may not be among the circuit’s top 70 in FedEx Cup computations but is easily among the top 10 good guys – but after muddy Monday’s frantic give and take at TPC Boston we’re not convinced explosiveness is the postseason’s public enemy No. 1.

Palmer, you see, missed the cut at the Deutsche Bank Championship and watched from home in Texas as the points and pars and players aligned against him to the tune of .47 point. That’s the difference between Palmer and No. 70 Ernie Els, who for the second time in three years clawed his way to the BMW Championship via Boston.

Deutsche Bank Championship: Articles, videos and photos

And as compelling as that drama may seem, it could have been the third-best “bubble” story on a day that featured two weather delays and enough clutch golf to hopefully make Finchem & Co. rethink a proposed plan to dial back the volatility in the playoffs.

The day’s best episode belongs to Webb Simpson and Zach Johnson, who set out early Monday side-by-side off the 10th tee and single file on the U.S. Presidents Cup points list.

It’s a study in psychology how the duel for the final automatic qualifying spot on the U.S. team played out.

Simpson began the week ninth on the points list, just ahead of Johnson. Both were lapped by Steve Stricker – the game’s best part-time player since Jack Nicklaus in 1986 – who finished alone in second place to jump into the top 10 in points and onto Freddie Couples’ team.

Following the second weather warning, Simpson had crunched the numbers enough to know the deal.

“I knew we were so close and I knew every shot counted,” he said.

Johnson, however, had come up with a different equation.

“He told me he was (No.) 9 and my perspective on it was we were too far out, we were 50-something (place), coming into today and I’m thinking we couldn’t get to the dollar amount that would separate us enough,” Johnson admitted.

With a relatively firm grasp on what hung in the balance, Simpson bogeyed two of his last four holes for a closing 70. With something well short of no clue regarding his Presidents Cup predicament, Johnson birdied two of his last three holes on his way to a 66.

The difference of roughly $36,000 between Johnson’s tie for 27th and Simpson’s tie for 53rd was enough to secure Johnson his ticket at Muirfield Village and Simpson a date with his smart phone on Wednesday when Couples makes his two captain’s picks.

When informed of the change of fortune between himself and Simpson, Johnson dropped his head.

“If that was the case I wish we were tied at 10th (on the U.S. points list),” he said. “I want Webb on that team.”

Well-placed sentiment to be sure, but that is now Couples’ problem.

At least Captain America won’t have to worry about burning a pick on Stricker, who in just 11 starts this season finds himself eighth on the FedEx Cup points list and first on Couples’ Christmas card list.

“I texted Freddie earlier in the week, I didn’t want one of his spots as a pick, I wanted to make the team on my own,” said Stricker, who closed with a 67 to finish two shots behind winner Henrik Stenson.

Els found himself in a similar head-to-head bout with Brendan Steele on Monday. After beginning the week 91st in FedEx Cup points, it seemed likely the Big Easy needed to outplay Steele when the two teed off together for the final turn, and he seemed to let his playoff hopes slip away with missed birdie chances from 12 feet at the 13th, 20 feet at the 16th and 10 feet at No. 17.

Steele birdied his last four holes after three-putting the 14th hole to jump from 89th to 69th on the points list and into the BMW Championship.

“I knew I started a spot in front of him, so I knew I had to play as good as him to keep pace,” said Steele, who closed with a 69 to tie for 20th. “I was almost like, you’re in the last group and this is a two-man race.”

The math, however, eventually went Els’ way as well, and he and Steele were two of seven players who played their way into the top 70 and next week’s third playoff gathering, a group that included Marc Leishman whose tie for 16th may have also been enough to earn him a spot on the International Presidents Cup team when captain Nick Price makes his picks on Wednesday.

Yet perhaps the day’s most intriguing story was Jordan Spieth playing his way over a metaphorical bubble and, if public sentiment is any indication, onto Couples’ team.

The American phenom played his last four holes in 5 under, including a 23-foot eagle putt at the last, to post a 62 and tie for fourth. Although it wasn’t enough to crack the top 10 on the Presidents Cup points list, it seems certain to attract the attention of Couples on Wednesday.

Spieth was a popular pick entering the week having become the first player since Tiger Woods in 1996 to forge his way from no status to East Lake in a single season. His Monday magic may have been the final statement Couples needed to select the rookie.

“That’s up to (Couples) if I’ve done enough,” Spieth said.

Johnson will not have to wait for his phone to buzz on Wednesday to know if his finish at TPC Boston was good enough to make the team, although he struggled for words when asked what it all meant. “Go USA,” he smiled and sprinted into the gloom.

Volatility, it seems, has its place.

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Getty Images

Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.

Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.

Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 

Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

Getty Images

Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 1:01 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.

Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.

''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.

''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.

Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.

''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.

Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.

Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.

''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.

She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.

Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.

Getty Images

Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.