Game on: Tiger finally finds true rival in Rory

By Doug FergusonAugust 14, 2012, 8:04 pm

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – The next major is eight months away. The next showdown is nine days away.

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are assured of being paired together next week at The Barclays for the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs. And while these playoff events are more about making money than making history, this could become meaningful down the road.

Woods has never faced a rival with this kind of potential.

He has never won at least three times in a year without being looked upon as the undisputed best player in golf.

For the first time in his quest to break Jack Nicklaus' record in the majors, the biggest challenge for Woods is no longer overcoming a failed marriage, four knee surgeries, a tender Achilles tendon or even the fact that he's simply getting older.

It's another player.

McIlroy and Woods have played in the same tournament 12 times this year. McIlroy has finished ahead of Woods seven times, including wins at the Honda Classic and the PGA Championship. They both tied for 40th at the Masters. McIlroy has seven top 5s in those events, along with three missed cuts.

This is not about where they were at a similar stage in their careers. Woods is incomparable in that regard. McIlroy has won twice in his first 16 majors as a pro. Woods won five majors in that span, including the career Grand Slam at age 24.

It's about where they are now.

So dominant was McIlroy at Kiawah Island, where he had rounds of 67-66 on the weekend to win the PGA Championship by eight shots, that it's easy to get caught up in all things Rory. He is only 23, younger by some four months than when Woods won his second major, and he is doing things only thought possible by Woods. A record score at the U.S. Open last summer at Congressional. A record margin of victory at the PGA Championship on Sunday at Kiawah Island.

McIlroy has won two majors by a combined 16 shots.

To put that in perspective, only five majors have been won by eight shots or more in the last 35 years - three by Woods, two by McIlroy.

But let's see how this plays out.

McIlroy could turn out to be like Johnny Miller, a comet on the golf horizon in the 1970s when he fired at flags and slaughtered the competition. Miller won two majors, with a 63 on the last day at Oakmont and a 66 in the final round at Royal Birkdale.

Perhaps McIlroy will be like Tom Watson, who was 10 years younger than Nicklaus.

Nicklaus already had the record for most majors when Watson won his first one, although Watson kept him from winning more. He beat Nicklaus twice in 1977, in the Masters and in the ''Duel in the Sun'' at Turnberry. He beat him again in 1981 at Augusta National and kept him from a record five U.S. Open titles in 1982 at Pebble Beach, when Watson chipped in for birdie on the 17th hole.

McIlroy is 13 years younger than Woods. They have never gone head-to-head on Sunday in a major. Ultimately, that will be the measure. Along the way, however, McIlroy is stashing away large bits of confidence that few others could when Woods was at his peak.

There is no reason for McIlroy to be intimidated. His name on the leaderboard means just as much. He is a favorite in any color shirt.

Nick Faldo once explained why Woods had such a huge advantage in the majors. Faldo thought after the 1997 Masters that Augusta National would be the only place Woods could win a major because the golf course suited him and because it was the only major where the media was kept outside the ropes. Only later did he realize that Woods was the only one who could handle the commotion inside the ropes in the final round.

''Other guys will step into that arena one week and go back out,'' Faldo said in a 2007 interview. ''He's there all the time. And good luck coming into his world.''

McIlroy now has been atop the leaderboard 10 out of the last 40 rounds in the majors.

He has more experience than most his age, good and bad. What he took away from blowing a four-shot lead in the 2011 Masters was to set a target score. He set his target at 12-under at the Ocean Course, played the final round without a bogey and did one better than that by finishing at 13-under 275.

''I feel these days when I give myself a chance to win one of these big tournaments, I can draw on the memories of Augusta, of Congressional and now of today,'' he said Sunday at Kiawah. ''And know what I did out there and know what to do again.''

It was never going to be easy for Woods to break Nicklaus' record of 18 majors. He said even in good times that Nicklaus achieved that mark over 25 seasons.

Woods lost two full years because of the strife he created in his personal life, and then more leg injuries and then hiring his third swing coach.

In handicapping Woods' chances of breaking the record, one popular analogy was that he would have to match Phil Mickelson's career wins in the majors (four) just to tie the record. This never made much sense, though, because Woods and Mickelson never belonged in the same conversation when the topic was majors. Mickelson went 42 majors before he won his first. Woods had won 12 of them in the same span. They're not the same player, then or now.

The main problem for Woods has been his head. His game is in great shape, and he knows it. He is pressing to win a major, to resume his pursuit of Nicklaus and shut up the critics. But this is the wrong game to try too hard. Maybe that's one lesson to take away from Kiawah.

The bigger problem could turn out to be McIlroy.

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Still missing the PLAYOFF part of the playoffs

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 18, 2018, 5:10 pm

The PGA Tour huddled for 3 ½ years, consulted with the geniuses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and ran countless simulations for its strokes-based system.

It still didn’t get it right.

In a move that surely will alienate many of its hardcore fans, the Tour on Tuesday unveiled its new format for the Tour Championship. Beginning next year, players will begin the week at East Lake with a predetermined total based on their position on the points list, the leader starting at 10 under par.

In an age of points and projections, the Tour’s desire for simplicity is understandable – RIP, Steve Sands’ whiteboard – but its new-look finale violates the spirit of competitive sports.

There are no head starts in sports. That’s the beauty of them.  

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots don’t open the Super Bowl with a 7-0 lead.

Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors don’t start the best-of-7 NBA Finals with a one-game advantage.

Lindsey Vonn doesn’t begin the Olympics with a three-second lead.

Roger Federer doesn’t automatically take a 1-0 lead on his Wimbledon opponent.  

But the PGA Tour has essentially created a handicapped tournament for its grand finale, for the 30 best players of the season.

What a missed opportunity.


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No system is perfect, but this is exactly the kind of contrived idea that emerges when the Tour continually tries to conflate season-long performance with a season-ending “playoffs.”

It’s messy and unnecessary.

The most common criticism of the current FedExCup model is that the best players are rarely rewarded for season-long success. (Example: Brooks Koepka, a two-time major winner this season, starts this week as the No. 7 seed.) That’s taken care of with the new Wyndham Rewards Top 10, which will pay out $10 million in bonus money, including $2 million to the top points-earner, after the regular-season finale at the Wyndham Championship.

Perfect.

End it there.

Celebrate Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas or Bryson DeChambeau for their season-long excellence.

Then start the playoffs – a real playoff – where everyone starts at zero and where past performance guarantees nothing but a spot in the elimination tournament.

Only those who make the cut in the 100- or 125-man Northern Trust advance to the 70-player BMW Championship. If Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth play poorly and miss out, well, tough luck. Play better. Survive and advance.

At the BMW Championship, it’ll be a fight to finish inside the top 30 on the leaderboard, and it’s easy to imagine a 5-for-2 playoff at the conclusion of play for those attempting to crack the Tour Championship field.

Once the top 30 is finalized, there’s no need for a staggered stroke start.

Play a three-round stroke-play qualifier (Wednesday-Friday), then cut to the low 16 players and have a knockout match-play bracket over the weekend for $15 million.

Sure, some of the stars will have been cut in the previous two playoff events.

Others will fail to make the top 16 at East Lake.

But even if the final is whittled down to Kyle Stanley vs. Patton Kizzire, how cool would it be to watch two players go head to head for the richest prize in all of sports?

At least they’d have earned their spot in the championship.

At least the event would have stayed true to what it really is – a well-run tournament at the end of a long season that is a glorified cash grab.

The Tour wanted to create a unique end to the season, but that shouldn’t mean turning its big-money finale into a net tournament.

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Spieth's schedule violation 'resolved' and a 'win' for fans

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 4:15 pm

ATLANTA – For the first time in his career Jordan Spieth failed to qualify for this week’s Tour Championship, an unexpected turn that also found him on the wrong side of a new PGA Tour regulation.

Under the circuit’s strength-of-field requirement, which began last season, a player must add an event to their schedule that they haven’t played the last four years if they didn’t play at least 25 events in the previous or current seasons.

Since he didn’t qualify for the finale, Spieth will finish the season with 24 events (including the Ryder Cup) and under the policy he “shall be subject to a major penalty,” which is a fine of at least $20,000 or even suspension.


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What that means specifically for Spieth remains unclear, but on Tuesday at East Lake Andy Pazder, the Tour’s chief of operations, said the matter has been addressed.

“I have talked to Jordan and we’ve resolved it,” Pazder said. “We have come to a resolution. I’m not going to be able to share the details of that, [but] I will say the result is something that you will see next season. It’s resolved in a way that’s going to be a win for our tournaments, our fans and golf in general.”

Pazder’s response suggests that Spieth will likely add at least one new event to his schedule next year.

Spieth was not the only player to violate the policy the season. Ian Poulter only played 20 events in 2018, the same as he played last season, and he did not add a new event to his schedule. Pazder said that after the Englishman won the Houston Open in April he justifiably shifted his focus to qualifying for the European Ryder Cup team and played five events this summer in Europe, which kept him from reaching his 25-event minimum or adding an new event.

“We’ve come to a resolution on how he is going to address that,” Pazder said.

Spieth and Poulter are the first players to violate the policy.

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How the new Tour Championship format would look this year and last

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 18, 2018, 2:39 pm

The PGA Tour announced on Tuesday plans to change the FedExCup format for the 2018-19 season. Part of that plan is to assign pre-tournament strokes to players in the Tour Championship based on their playoff standings in the first two events. 

Per GolfChannel.com senior writer Rex Hoggard:

The No. 1 player on the post-season points list will begin the finale at 10 under par. The next four players will start at 8 under through 5 under, respectively, while Nos. 6-10 will begin the tournament at 4 under par with the total regressing by one stroke every five players with those ranked 26th through 30thstarting at even par. The winner at East Lake will also claim the FedExCup.

Here's a look at where players would start this year's Tour Championship under the new format (through the three events already contested):

1 Bryson DeChambeau 10 under
2 Justin Rose 8 under
3 Tony Finau 7 under
4 Dustin Johnson 6 under
5 Justin Thomas 5 under
T-6 Keegan Bradley 4 under
T-6 Brooks Koepka 4 under
T-6 Bubba Watson 4 under
T-6 Billy Horschel 4 under
T-6 Cameron Smith 4 under
T-11 Webb Simpson 3 under
T-11 Jason Day 3 under
T-11 Francesco Molinari 3 under
T-11 Phil Mickelson 3 under
T-11 Patrick Reed 3 under
T-16 Patrick Cantlay 2 under
T-16 Rory McIlroy 2 under
T-16 Xander Schauffele 2 under
T-16 Tommy Fleetwood 2 under
T-16 Tiger Woods 2 under
T-21 Aaron Wise 1 under
T-21 Kevin Na 1 under
T-21 Rickie Fowler 1 under
T-21 Jon Rahm 1 under
T-21 Kyle Stanley 1 under
T-26 Paul Casey Even par
T-26 Hideki Matsuyama Even par
T-26 Gary Woodland Even par
T-26 Marc Leishman Even par
T-26 Patton Kizzire Even par

Here's a look at how last year's Tour Championship played out, with Xander Schauffele winning the event and Justin Thomas claiming the overall FedExCup title, and how it would have looked, all things equal, under the new system (in which Jordan Spieth began the finale as the No. 1 seed and would have started the event at 10 under par). In the new system, Thomas would have been the FedExCup champion.

2017 Tour Championship Player Final score   2017 in new system Player Final score
1 Xander Schauffele -12   1 Justin Thomas  -19
2 Justin Thomas  -11    2 Jordan Spieth  -17 
T-3 Russell Henley  -10    3 Paul Casey  -13 
T-3 Kevin Kisner  -10    T-4 Jon Rahm  -12 
5 Paul Casey  -9    T-4 Brooks Koepka  -12 
6 Brooks Koepka  -8    T-4 Kevin Kisner  -12 
T-7 Tony Finau  -7    T-4 Xander Schauffele   -12
T-7 Jon Rahm  -7    T-8 Justin Rose  -10 
T-7 Jordan Spieth  -7    T-8 Russell Henley  -10 
T-10 Sergio Garcia  -6    T-10 Dustin Johnson  -9 
T-10 Matt Kuchar  -6    T-10 Matt Kuchar  -9 
T-10 Justin Rose  -6    12 Tony Finau  -8 
T-13 Patrick Reed  -5    T-13 Daniel Berger  -7 
T-13 Webb Simpson  -5    T-13 Webb Simpson  -7 
15 Daniel Berger  -4    T-13 Sergio Garcia  -7 
16 Pat Perez  -3    T-16 Pat Perez  -6 
T-17 Jason Day  -2    T-16 Patrick Reed -6 
T-17 Dustin Johnson  -2    18 Marc Leishman  -3
19 Gary Woodland  -1     T-19 Kyle Stanley  -1 
T-20 Patrick Cantlay    T-19 Gary Woodland  -1 
T-20 Jason Dufner    T-21 Jason Day 
T-20 Kyle Stanley  E   T-21 Adam Hadwin 
23 Adam Hadwin  +1   T-21 Patrick Cantlay 
T-24 Brian Harman  +3    T-21 Jason Dufner 
T-24 Marc Leishman  +3    25 Brian Harman  +1 
T-26 Rickie Fowler +6    T-26 Rickie Fowler  +2 
T-26 Hideki Matsuyama  +6    T-26 Hideki Matsuyama  +2 
T-28 Kevin Chappell  +9    28 Charley Hoffman  +6 
T-28 Charley Hoffman  +9    29 Kevin Chappell  +7 
30 Jnonattan Vegas  +10    30 Jhonattan Vegas  +8 
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Stock Watch: Up or down for FedExCup changes?

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 18, 2018, 2:20 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Angela Stanford (+9%): In this era of youthful dominance, Justin Rose and now Stanford offer reminders that sometimes the long, winding journey is even more rewarding. It took Rose 20 years to reach world No. 1; for Stanford, she needed 76 major starts (and 15 years after a major playoff loss) before she finally became a Grand Slam winner, at age 40.

Sang-Moon Bae (+6%): The next time you complain about losing your game after a few weeks away, remember that the two-time Tour winner shelved his clubs for TWO YEARS to fulfill his South Korean military obligations and then regained his card. That’s a heckuva achievement.

FedExCup changes (+5%): Though the Tour Championship shouldn’t count as an official victory – come on, the playoffs leader has a TEN-SHOT head start over No. 26! – the strokes-based system is no doubt easier to follow than the various points fluctuations. RIP, Steve Sands’ whiteboard.

Tyler McCumber (+3%): Maybe he’s on his way to challenging his famous father, who won 10 times on the PGA Tour. A three-time winner this season in Canada, McCumber clinched Mackenzie Tour Player of the Year honors and will be one to watch next year on the Web.

Matthew Wolff (+2%): The reigning NCAA Freshman of the Year is now 2-for-2 this season, winning at both Pebble Beach and Olympia Fields with a 67.2 scoring average. He’s a primetime player.  


FALLING

Amy Olson (-1%): To win a major most need to have their heart broken at least once … but that ugly 72nd-hole double bogey could linger for longer than she probably hoped.  

Lexi (-2%): As heartwarming as it was to watch Stanford snap her major-less drought, keep in mind that the best U.S. player – the 23-year-old Thompson – next April will be five years removed from her lone LPGA major title.

Web final (-3%): Twenty-five Tour cards will be on the line this week at the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship, but here’s guessing you won’t even notice – for some reason, it conflicts with the big tour’s season finale. Why couldn’t this have been played last week, when the Tour was dark and the Web could get some much-needed exposure?

Player of the Year debate (-5%): As much as the Tour might promote otherwise during its big-money conclusion, Justin Thomas said it best on Twitter: Majors trump all. It’s Brooks Koepka’s trophy this year.  

Repairing damage (-6%): Golf’s governing bodies are confident that the new rules (out Jan. 1!) will speed up pace of play, but it’s hard to see how that’s possible when they now will allow players to tap down spike marks on the green. With $1 million and major titles on the line, you don’t think guys will spend an extra minute or two gardening?