Monday Scramble: Spieth makes it reign with cup win

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 28, 2015, 4:30 pm

Jordan Spieth ties a bow on his epic season, the Player of the Year vote gets decidedly easier, Henrik Stenson drops a $1 million putt, and Rory McIlroy talks money and more in this week's bonus edition of the Monday Scramble: 

The FedEx Cup Playoffs finally offered a satisfying conclusion to a season.

Spieth’s four-shot victory at the Tour Championship was the exclamation point that his monster season so richly deserved.

Not since 2009 has the FedEx Cup gone to the most deserving player. Since the points reset was instituted a year later, the “season-long title” has repeatedly gone to the guy who got the hottest at the right time, whether it was Bill Haas or Brandt Snedeker, Henrik Stenson or Billy Horschel. 

Not this year. A relative afterthought during these playoffs because of middling results and Jason Day’s remarkable play, Spieth approached the Tour Championship as if it were a major. He was the first player on the range Monday morning at East Lake. He arrived three hours before his tee times to grind on the practice green. He chatted up his ball like it were one of his high school buddies from Dallas. And, most appropriately, he kept pouring in 20-foot putts, the defining characteristic of his major performances this year. 

All along Spieth knew that the playoffs would come down to this week, that it was his only chance to add to what was already the best year in golf. He became the youngest player since 1922 to win multiple majors, he had a share of the Open lead with two holes to play at St. Andrews and he finished second at Whistling Straits with a 72-hole total that would have won all but three PGAs outright since 1958. It was only fitting that he snagged the Tour’s biggest prize, too.

This year, at least, it felt like a proper season finale. 

1. Talk about a perfect week at East Lake for Jordan Spieth:

  • He won the Tour Championship.
  • He captured the FedEx Cup.
  • He returned to No. 1 in the world.
  • He clinched the Vardon Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average (68.911).
  • He became the first $12 million man in golf ($12,030,465).
  • He sealed Player of the Year. 

2. This was, quite clearly, the best FedEx Cup Playoff run in the nine-year history of the series: Two Jason Day victories, with Rickie Fowler and Spieth titles mixed in, too. All three players are ranked inside the top four in the world ranking. 

The playoffs are far from perfect, from the post-Labor Day finish to the possibility that Stenson could have walked away with the big prize without having won a tournament this season. But this year, they delivered the goods with four big-time performances from four big-time players.

3. Spieth didn’t have his best stuff during these playoffs, not by a long shot, but once again, with the world watching, he poured in putts from everywhere to score another big win.

Spieth made more than 400 feet worth of putts at East Lake – by far the most in the field. Around the turn in the final round, he drained a 20-footer and a demoralizing 45-footer for birdie to match close-range looks from Stenson.

For the week, he led the 28-player field in strokes gained-putting, one-putt percentage, proximity around the green with chip shots and scrambling

“Just an exhibition on the greens, to be honest,” Stenson would say later. “His putting and mental focus is the best in the world. It’s hard to argue that.”

4. On Sunday night, after earning $11.44 million, Spieth touched one of the themes of this season: The power of the team. From the caddie to the swing coach to the physical trainer to the manager, the world’s best players no longer can do it alone.

After a $22 million season, Spieth said “it allows me to take care of the people that have given me this position and allowed this to happen. Like I always say, it’s a team effort. A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into it when we’re home, when we’re in the early stages and on the course here.”

5. Here's a telling stat from the Golf Channel research department: Spieth’s victory at East Lake was the 24th title by a player in their 20s this season on the PGA Tour.

So, no, this wasn’t just a youth movement in 2014-15. It was a hostile takeover. 

6. By any measure, Day enjoyed a breakout year. Included in his five-win campaign were a major and four titles in a six-event stretch. It’s only the third time in the last 50 years that multiple players had five or more wins in the same season.

But Day’s only shot at Player of the Year was to win the Tour Championship. That, and that alone, might have been enough to steal a handful of votes. Even Day conceded this.

Leading into East Lake, it was a worthwhile discussion, not debate. Spieth provided an emphatic answer.

Here’s how they matched up at season’s end:

  • Wins: 5 apiece
  • Majors: Spieth 2, Day 1
  • Top-10s: Spieth 15, Day 11
  • Missed cuts: Spieth 4, Day 2
  • Earnings: Spieth $12,030,465, Day $9,403,330
  • FedEx Cup rank: Spieth 1, Day 3
  • Scoring average: Spieth 68.911, Day 69.161
  • Major performance: Spieth 1-1-4-2, Day 28-9-4-1

7. The No. 1 ranking changed hands for the sixth time in as many weeks – a first in the history of the Official World Golf Ranking.

But here's a question: Does it really matter who holds the top spot at the end of the year? 

Now that they've all been No. 1, the weekly projections and scenarios feel hollow. 

What matters is that the game is in an unbelievably strong position, with three stars who are young, wildly talented, ambitious, well-spoken and well-liked among their peers. As fans of the game, we are #Blessed.

8. Not all playoff runners-up are created equal.

Stenson finished second for the third time in four postseason starts, but the 57-footer that he dropped on the 18th green Sunday was a $1 million putt.

By holing his longest putt of the season, finishing at 5 under and tying for second in the Tour Championship, Stenson bumped Day out of the No. 2 spot in the FedEx Cup standings. That was the difference between a $2 million and $3 million bonus payout. If nothing else, it should help ease the sting of his embarrassing 71st-hole shank.

9. It's still unclear whether Jim Furyk (wrist) will be fit enough to play in next week's Presidents Cup. He withdrew from the Tour Championship and said in a statement that he was "placing all of my efforts on being healthy and ready" for South Korea. 

About the only American reserve who has shown a pulse in recent weeks is J.B. Holmes, who chased his T-4 at the BMW with another top-10 at East Lake. It was the first time he posted back-to-back top-10s since February. Captain Jay Haas will be able to pick another player if Furyk can't go, and Holmes, remember, was No. 12 on the points list when the team was finalized. 

10. Justin Rose’s performances at East Lake the last four years: 2-6-T4-T2. His closing 66 was his third in the last two years there.

Rose is but another player whose solid play this summer won’t be fully appreciated because of his more heralded peers. The tidy Englishman doesn’t have a win since New Orleans in April, but he closed out his season with seven top-20s in his last eight starts. 

11. The final FedEx Cup points list looked pretty standard until you got to the bottom of the top 10: Danny Lee grabbed the No. 9 spot (after a runner-up at the Tour Championship) and Charley Hoffman was 10th.

Since his breakthrough win at The Greenbrier, Lee added four top-10s and saw his world ranking climb from No. 158 to No. 36.

Hoffman, meanwhile, had a win, two runners-up, and four other top-10s in a season in which he earned nearly $1.5 million more than his previous best season (2010). His FedEx Cup progression over the past four years: 69-61-53-10.

Rory McIlroy made bigger news last week for what he said in the press tent than on the course.

Here was the full exchange:

Question: Do you have a grand plan as to what you would do if you walked away with $11.44 million on Sunday?

Answer: No. Luckily, that amount of money doesn’t sort of mean much to me anymore. So, no. It will go in the bank and if I want to buy something nice, I will. I mean, like it’s nice to think that you could win $10 million this week, but that’s not what excites me.

McIlroy was crushed on social media and in comment boards for showing signs of Spoiled Athlete Syndrome. A $11.44 million paycheck wouldn't faze you? Not surprisingly, that didn't sit well with the 9-to-5ers. 

Yet instead of criticizing McIlroy, we should be applauding him for his brutal honesty.

After all, he's right on both accounts: (1) The FedEx Cup IS a 30-man cash grab, and it remains to be seen how much longer these bonuses will entice the game's elite; and (2) the 26-year-old has already eclipsed $28 million in career on-course earnings. A few years ago, he inked a huge endorsement deal (upwards of $200 million) with Nike, and he has other lucrative contracts with Bose and Omega. Money isn’t what motivates him; he's already fabulously wealthy.

He is playing for the titles, the prestige, the history. The cash is merely a very welcome byproduct. 

Jordan Spieth earned $3,623 per shot this season. Please try to keep down your lunch. 

Friendly reminder that the new PGA Tour season begins in 17 days. 

Even more proof the Tour is trending young, really young: After Furyk’s withdrawal, Zach Johnson, at age 39, was the oldest player in the field at the Tour Championship.

Don’t feel too bad for Furyk or the week’s other withdrawal, Louis Oosthuizen. They each received a last-place, unofficial paycheck of $132,000.

Andrew Loupe, one of the game's longest hitters, locked up his PGA Tour card with a victory at the Tour's Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship. Two years ago, he averaged – averaged! – 315.2 yards per pop off the tee. 

• Remember how good Jimmy Walker looked in the spring? Since his win at the Valero Texas Open, he posted only one other top-10 in his next 15 starts. The reason? Well, it wasn’t his putter – he finished the season No. 2 in strokes gained-putting. He was outside the top 100 in driving accuracy and greens hit.

The worst break of the week goes to Chris Wood, who saw this putt drop (and then rim out) at the European Open: 

Derek Ernst’s fifth-place finish at the third leg of the Tour Finals was his first top-10 anywhere since winning the 2013 Wells Fargo Championship.

In his final PGA Tour event before reporting for military service in South Korea, Sang-Moon Bae closed with 69 and tied for 18th at the Tour Championship. Bae, 29, who will also play in next week's Presidents Cup, will have full status on Tour when he returns from 21 months of service.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.