Plenty at stake in BMW Championship

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 16, 2015, 9:15 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – It’s all about the top five.

Players have been saying it for months: As long as they’re inside the top five in the FedEx Cup standings entering the Tour Championship, they can – all together now – control their own destiny and have a clear shot at the $10 million bonus. 

So what’s the incentive for some of the PGA Tour’s biggest stars this week?

Jason Day and Jordan Spieth are already assured of being in the top five next week at East Lake, no matter what happens here at Conway Farms. The third member of that featured group, Rickie Fowler, is virtually guaranteed to stay there too, barring an upside-down week at the BMW.

There is still plenty to play for, of course. The 70-man BMW still counts as an official PGA Tour victory. It still features a full purse, with $1.48 million to the winner. And it still offers plenty of world ranking points, which is good news for Day and Spieth, who are vying for Rory McIlroy’s top spot. But there is no denying that their work weeks don’t quite have that win-or-go-home intensity.

“As far as the final tally of the FedEx Cup, it’s not going to make much of a difference if I win this week or finish 70th because it’ll be re-paired and I’ll be in the top five; you control your own destiny,” Spieth said. “When you think about the FedEx Cup picture, it doesn’t make that much of a difference.”

Or does it?

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We know this much: If any of the top five players in the standings win next week at the Tour Championship, then they take home the FedEx Cup and the biggest cash prize in golf.

We know this, too: With the points reset before the final event – the top seed starts at 2,000 points, second place at 1,800 and third at 1,600, etc. – the top players can still win the FedEx Cup even without a win at East Lake … though it’s worth noting that the winner of the Tour Championship has gone on to take the FedEx Cup every year since the system was revamped in 2010. At the end of the day, it still comes down to how a player performs at crunch time.

Nine years into the FedEx Cup era, and players still don’t fully grasp all of the probabilities and permutations. It’s complicated math, but it’s a mistake to assume that there is no difference between who is first and fifth heading into East Lake.

In fact, from a probability standpoint, the No. 1 overall seed has a nearly 29 percent chance to win the FedEx Cup, opposed to just 11 and 8 percent, respectively, for Nos. 2 and 3.

Or how about this: The No. 1 player in the standings can still win the FedEx Cup if he finishes 29th in the 30-man field at the Tour Championship. The No. 2 guy needs to be among the top six to have a chance to win the Cup. The odds for the No. 5 man are even worse – he must finish no worse than second.

Your head spinning yet?

“The higher, the better,” Fowler said of his mindset.

So the BMW, then, actually features three intriguing storylines: the race to get inside the top 30, which gives everybody a shot at the big prize; the race for the top five, which guarantees a FedEx Cup title with a win next week; and then the race for position inside the top five, which isn’t sexy, not at all, but it is important, for each slot offers better odds.

Said 2014 FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel: “It’s an event that we all need to play well in, whether you’re already in East Lake or trying to get there.”

No-cut events always have a laid-back vibe – especially this time of year – but there’s plenty at stake this week.

Leading the race is Day, who is playing the best golf of his career and has another chance to realize a lifelong goal of reaching world No. 1. It would require a furious finish – and probably two consecutive wins – but there’s still a chance that he could steal some Player of the Year votes if he were to win the FedEx Cup.

“I know that I just have to suck it up for the next two weeks and go out and play as hard as I can,” he said. “I’ve got no excuses. I need to go out and play good. That’s the only thing that I have to focus on right now.”

After missing consecutive cuts in these playoffs, Spieth is relieved that he will at least accrue some points this week. He says he isn’t dealing with a major hangover and simply had four bad rounds. He’ll approach the Tour Championship as if it were a major, and these next two events present an opportunity to end his historic season with the exclamation point that it deserves.

Because of the points reset, and because he’s already assured of one of the five prized spots, Spieth says that it’s a “free-rolling scenario” and that he will play more aggressively to get his game in gear for East Lake.

“It makes you feel like you may as well go for broke here,” he said, “and play some shots under pressure that are more dangerous so that you can almost have it ready for next week.”

Those two are safe. Everyone else is trying to peak at the right time to cash in.

Every player currently inside the top 29 could move into the top five with a win this week – a group that includes Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy.

And players who survive the 70-to-30 cut are exempt into all four majors next year, which is a big deal for guys like Daniel Summerhays (No. 26), Jason Bohn (28) and rookie Justin Thomas (35), who have combined for 11 Grand Slam appearances since 2010.

Hey, if we’ve learned anything over these past nine years, it’s this: At the big-money free-for-all, every spot matters.

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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.