Setting the stage for the PGA Tour postseason

By Will GrayAugust 18, 2014, 5:47 pm

GREENSBORO, N.C. – We’ve finally made it.

With all due respect to Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour now has the longest regular season in sports. After all, when the season began 307 days ago, Tiger Woods’ position atop the game was unquestioned.

Instead, we wondered things like: Will Rory McIlroy ever figure out how to win with those pesky Nike clubs? Will Rickie Fowler ever add substance to his style? How many majors will Tiger win (not play) in 2014?

Oh, what a difference 10 months can make.

Forty-one events have come and gone during the split-year season, with 34 different players hoisting trophies from Jimmy Walker’s lid-lifter at the Frys.com Open in October to Camilo Villegas’ victory Sunday at the Wyndham Championship.

With all of that now in the rearview mirror, the fun begins.

The Barclays kicks off a four-week binge of postseason golf, one that will see 123 qualifiers (Dustin Johnson and Jason Dufner, both notably absent) pared down to 30 finalists at the Tour Championship and, ultimately, one FedEx Cup champion. While last season featured a mid-playoff bye week to alleviate the stress – while also halting some of the momentum – the action this time around will blend from one week to the next as the Tour visits New Jersey, Massachusetts, Colorado and Georgia in the span of 25 days.

When things begin this week, all eyes will be on Rory McIlroy as he looks to win his fourth high-profile event in a row. After two majors and a WGC victory, he has cemented his spot atop the world rankings, but the Ulsterman was in a similar position after his PGA Championship victory in 2012. He even won two postseason events that year, the Deutsche Bank Championship and the BMW Championship, but failed to leave East Lake with the FedEx Cup, which instead went to a hard-charging Brandt Snedeker.

Perhaps he’s motivated to avenge that loss, or perhaps he’s still counting his money from Valhalla and trading Twitter barbs with Ian Poulter. Time will tell.

While McIlroy has won everything in sight over the past month, several of the postseason favorites have yet to lift a trophy recently. At No. 5 in points, Jim Furyk is the highest-ranked player without a victory this season, but he’s not alone: Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth are just behind at Nos. 7 and 8, respectively, while Fowler’s quartet of top-five finishes in the majors means he will start the playoffs at No. 16 in points.

Only one player will win the $10 million annuity that comes with claiming the FedEx Cup, but there are still plenty of other meaningful incentives up for grabs. Each of the 30 players who make the Tour Championship field will be exempt into all four majors in 2015, which would be a massive bonus for someone like Charles Howell III, a native of Augusta, Ga., who seems to miss out on a trip to the Masters each year.

Howell will begin the playoffs at No. 33, while George McNeill will start at No. 41. McNeill, who came tantalizingly close to an emotional victory at The Greenbrier Classic, has won twice on the PGA Tour but has never made the trip down Magnolia Lane as a player.

And if subplots are more your thing, get ready for two weeks of WWWD: What Will Watson Do? No, not a game focused on Bubba’s mercurial relationship with caddie Ted Scott, but instead an attempt to predict what Captain Tom will do with his three U.S. Ryder Cup selections on Sept. 2.

Keegan Bradley remains a consensus pick, and will begin his two-week audition at Ridgewood. Two other notables already have a solid week of tryouts under their belts, though, as Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker matched each other shot-for-shot over the weekend in Greensboro and tied for fifth.

Neither was the low American name on the final leaderboard at Sedgefield. That was Bill Haas, who tied for second and is getting some traction as a possible selection. Outside of a withdrawal from the RBC Heritage, he hasn’t missed a cut all year.

The regular season is officially in the books, and the race is on to succeed Henrik Stenson as golf’s postseason champion. Four weeks, four elite fields, four world-class venues … Rory can’t win them all.

Right?

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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.