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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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.

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Spieth selected by peers to run for PAC chairman

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 6:43 pm

Jordan Spieth may still be relatively young, but he has gained the confidence of some of the PGA Tour's most seasoned voices.

Spieth is one of two players selected by the current player directors of the Tour's Policy Board to run for Chairman of the Player Advisory Council (PAC). Spieth will face Billy Hurley III in an election that will end Feb. 13, with the leading vote-getter replacing Davis Love III next year on the Policy Board for a three-year term through 2021.

Last year's PAC chairman, Johnson Wagner, replaces Jason Bohn as a player director on the Policy Board beginning this year and running through 2020. Other existing player directors include Charley Hoffman (2017-19), Kevin Streelman (2017-19) and Love (2016-18).

The 16-member PAC advises and consults with the Policy Board and Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on "issues affecting the Tour."

In addition to Spieth and Hurley, other PAC members for 2018 include Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Chesson Hadley, James Hahn, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri, Geoff Ogilvy, Sam Saunders, Chris Stroud, Justin Thomas, Kyle Thompson and Cameron Tringale.

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Florida golfers encounter python-wrapped alligator

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 6:29 pm

Alligator sightings are pretty common on Southern golf courses - see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Also, here. (RIP, Timmy the Turtle.)

But here's one that deserves distinction.

Those images come from the Golf Club at Fiddler's Creek, down in Naples - in case you're booking a vacation to Southwest Florida or just looking for a Hot Deal this week. Hit 'em straight, folks.

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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.