Late FedEx fluctuations decide BMW field

By Will GraySeptember 1, 2014, 11:50 pm

NORTON, Mass. – After salvaging a par on the final hole, Carl Pettersson strode into the scoring area at TPC Boston and headed right for the numbers guru.

“Is it enough?” he asked Tom Alter, the PGA Tour’s VP of Communications, who moonlights as the circuit’s chief playoff projection specialist.

It was, Alter told him. The Swede entered the week No. 93 in the standings, with only 70 players advancing to next week’s – er, this week’s – BMW Championship, but a final-round 66 got the job done.

Upon hearing the news, Pettersson let out a clap, grabbed a Diet Coke and sat down in a seat to review his scorecard, breathing a visible sigh of relief.

Welcome to the FedEx Cup playoffs, and remember to bring your own abacus.

Throughout the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, players jumped inside the bubble, then outside, then back in again. The fluctuations were constant, and the final ticket to Cherry Hills was punched based on the finish of … Rory McIlroy.

Of course it was.

Only two players eagled the par-5 18th during the final round, and as fate would have it, those two men ended up straddling the final top-70 bubble. Jerry Kelly, who appeared on the outside looking in with an hour to go in the final round, has a tee time Thursday at Cherry Hills.

Robert Streb, whose 966 point total put him less than two points behind Kelly, is headed home.

Such are the machinations of the playoffs, a points system designed with volatility in mind and whose swings are often impossible to predict.

2014 FedEx Cup standings

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Kelly is no stranger to bubble situations. During the peak of his career, he finished 11th on the Ryder Cup points list when the top 10 names advanced. Twice. He missed advancing at Q-School by a single shot on three other occasions.

“Every single year,” he said. “I’m always right there. Right around the edges.”

After a bogey on the 17th hole, Kelly’s fate appeared bleak, but he displayed the poise and savvy of a veteran during the 50-yard walk to the final tee.

“Walking off 17, I said, ‘Don’t let this be a hole that you think about until next season,’” he said. “’Do something here to know that you’ve done everything you could to get in.’”

That’s exactly what he did, nestling a 3-wood to within 4 feet of the hole. Eagle. It vaulted him to No. 68 in the standings, and onto the cusp of safety.

Fast forward three hours, and Streb was walking to the home hole in need of something big. His approach rolled to within 7 feet, and it appeared an underdog upset would come to fruition for Streb, a 27-year-old who finished last year 126th on the points list.

“I knew where I stood,” explained Streb, who started this week No. 97 in the standings. “It was pretty exciting walking up there because I knew I needed to make it.”

The excitement for Streb was short-lived, though, as myriad late results created a domino effect that bumped him to No. 71.

First Morgan Hoffmann, who began the final round 3 over for his first six holes, birdied Nos. 17 and 18 to jump to No. 68 and achieve “Denver-bound” status.

“My caddie and I kind of kicked ourselves coming in, and we got it done,” he said. “It’s just a bonus for me. I’m just happy to make it past The Barclays.”

The remaining dominoes impacting Streb began with Chesson Hadley, who birdied the final hole to join him in a tie for ninth for the tournament. After starting the week at No. 84, the rookie is now headed to the third playoff event.

A 72nd-hole birdie from Jason Day moved him into a tie for seventh, further eroding Streb’s projected point total. That tally took another hit when McIlroy birdied 16, then added another birdie on 18.

While Chris Kirk and Billy Horschel decided the tournament, it was McIlroy’s finish that decided the bubble. Kelly, who left the course before McIlroy teed off, is moving on at No. 70. Streb comes up one spot short once again.

Six players moved into the top 70 this week at TPC Boston, and five players – Kelly, Hoffmann, Pettersson, K.J. Choi and Ben Crane – would have seen their seasons end had they taken even one more shot this week.

The darker side of the bubble had tales of regret, as Streb was one of three players who missed the top 70 by a single shot.

David Hearn played early in the morning, and came to the 18th at 7 under for his round. He thought he needed one more, though, and played aggressively from 92 yards to a tucked pin. He missed with his wedge, then failed to get up-and-down, and left with a closing bogey. A par, as it turned out, would have been enough. He finished No. 74.

Jason Kokrak knew he needed birdie on the final hole, but he caught his 5-iron from 222 yards thin. The ball bounced off rocks in front of the green and into a hazard. While he got up-and-down from the drop zone for par, it became clear minutes after his round that he was likely on the outside.

“One bad mis-hit on the last hole,” he said. “I knew I needed to make birdie to really solidify my spot in the BMW.”

After swilling his soda in the scoring area, Pettersson admitted that he had two flights booked for Monday evening from Boston: one home to Raleigh, N.C., and one to Denver. The departure times were separated by 30 minutes, and he knew the FedEx Cup calculators would ultimately decide which flight he would board.

“It’s been a fun ride,” he said.

For the likes of Kokrak and Streb, the season ends here. But for Pettersson and 69 others, the ride now heads west to Cherry Hills, with a $10 million prize still looming on the horizon.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.