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

After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.


On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner


On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray


On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard


On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

Getty Images

Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

“I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

“I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

Getty Images

Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

“I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

“It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

“[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

“He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

“I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

Getty Images

Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

“For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”