Phil highlights FedExCup bubble boys at BMW

By Will GraySeptember 16, 2017, 11:04 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – There’s a trophy at stake at the BMW Championship, a nice piece of silver that will look great in pictures and, in all likelihood, will belong to Marc Leishman by Sunday night.

But whether or not the Aussie converts his five-shot lead, another tournament will play out in a different section of the high-definition leaderboards lining Conway Farms Golf Club.

Each stop along the FedExCup Playoffs brings with it a bubble watch, but nowhere is the cut more dramatic than here. Players talk all season long about hoping to make it to the season-ending Tour Championship and giving themselves a shot at a $10 million bounty.

In the case of Phil Mickelson, it could provide a satisfying conclusion to a tumultuous year.

Mickelson hasn’t made it to East Lake since 2013, and earlier this season it appeared he would end that drought with ease. The southpaw continued his winless run but amassed a string of high finishes, stockpiling points along the way.

But then he switched caddies, and missed the cut in the season’s final two majors. Suddenly Mickelson entered this week’s event outside the bubble at No. 34, still with work to do.

Saturday’s round served as a bit of a microcosm for Mickelson, as he raced out with three birdies over his first six holes to move comfortably inside the top-30 projections. He then played his next 12 holes in 2 over and watched his name drift back to the wrong side of the bubble.

“It was a little disappointing,” Mickelson said. “I’ve got a good round in me. [I'm] playing too well not to go out and shoot a number and get in the top 10 to make it to next week.”

Mickelson will start the final round in a tie for 15th, 32 projected points behind Gary Woodland, who clings to the 30th and final spot. He will be one of several players whose postseason fates will be determined by the permutations of the final-round leaderboard.

Some will stay glued to the standings with each projected change – but not Mickelson.


BMW Championship: Articles, video and photos

Current FedExCup Playoff points standings


“I just kind of set a number,” he said. “I know I’ve got to shoot probably 4, 5 under par. Like I said, I’m playing well enough to do that with ease. I let a lot of shots slide today.”

The final-round stakes extend far beyond a bigger piece of the prize pool in Atlanta. Make it to East Lake and you’re in the first three majors of 2018, not to mention the WGC-Mexico Championship.

It’s an enticing prospect for rookie Mackenzie Hughes, who has worked his way from 31st to 24th in the projected standings through three rounds, as well as Patrick Cantlay, who started the year on a major medical extension but will still tee off Sunday inside the top 30.

But young and old, the benefits of making the season’s final event are unmistakable.

“If you’re in the top 30, your schedule is just different,” said Stewart Cink. “You’re just in all the tournaments you want to be in, and you can look ahead to things.”

Cink knows full well the spoils of making the Tour Championship. He was there each of the first three years of the FedExCup, and the former Georgia Tech standout relished an opportunity to play in front of partisan crowds. But he hasn’t been back since 2009.

Now 44 years old and eight years removed from his last win, Cink bogeyed the final two holes of his third round to drop from inside the projected top 30 to No. 44. So there’s work to be done, but he’s not shying away from the stakes.

“There’s no point in trying to hide from it, because there’s no way you’re not going to see it or hear it, or something’s going to alert you to it. And then what are you going to do?” Cink said. “You can’t un-know it or un-hear it. So I don’t think it’s appropriate to try to ignore it. You have to embrace it.”

It’s an interesting dynamic here in the season’s penultimate event. The top 20 or so players have already booked hotels for Atlanta, while most of those who started the week outside the top 50 know full well that they are heading into their final competitive round until next season.

But for the handful of players in the middle, those with realistic aspirations of either staying inside the top 30 or crashing the party at the last minute, there’s everything still to play for and only 18 holes left to make a move.

“Where I am, and the season so far and my career, and my age and all that stuff, I’ve got nothing to lose except to go out there and try to go all out tomorrow,” Cink said. “One good round might just be enough to get me in the Tour Championship.”

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.