NORTON, Mass. – Robert Allenby was more dejected than angry after the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship. He finished out of the top 50 for the second straight playoff event. Time is running out for him.
Only this had nothing to do with the FedEx Cup and its $10 million prize.
“It’s about a tournament that doesn’t pay a dime,” Allenby said.
Allenby is among three Australians – Geoff Ogilvy and Aaron Baddeley are the others – who care more about going to Royal Melbourne for the Presidents Cup than to East Lake for the Tour Championship and a shot at golf’s biggest payoff.
U.S. captain Fred Couples made it hard on himself for promising a pick toTiger Woods, who has gone two years without a win and has played only two tournaments the last five months. That leaves Couples only one more pick, with complaints sure to follow that someone was unfairly left out.
International captain Greg Norman might have it tougher. He has two picks, and three Aussies who might need them.
Making it even more compelling is that all three grew up in Melbourne, where the Presidents Cup will be played Nov. 17-20. And all three of them were in the gallery in 1998, when the matches were last held at Royal Melbourne.
With two weeks left to qualify, one could get left out.
The Presidents Cup might not mean much to everyone, but it does to them. It means everything. That’s why Allenby was so melancholy after he finished at the TPC Boston, and the normally cheerful Baddeley barely cracked a smile when he shot his second straight 75 and tied for last.
“Definitely a big goal,” Baddeley said. “It was a disappointing week.”
Baddeley, who won this year at Riviera and has revived his game since returning to swing coach Dale Lynch, has done well enough that he is No. 25 and comfortably made it to the third playoff event next week outside Chicago – the final event before the Presidents Cup teams are determined.
That wasn’t the case for Ogilvy, whose year has been bizarre since slicing open his finger on a piece of coral in the Pacific Ocean two days before the season opener in Hawaii.
He was No. 91 in the FedEx Cup standings, and only the top 70 moved on to Chicago. Ogilvy had to birdie one of the last two holes at the TPC Boston to advance, and it didn’t look good when he hit his tee shot on the 17th behind a rock, leading to a one-shot penalty. He made a 20-foot putt to escape with par, and then made a 6-foot birdie on the last hole.
That gave him one more week, either to move into the top 10 in the team standings, or to audition for Norman.
Ogilvy is likely to be a pick. He doesn’t want it come down to that.
“Obviously, you would want as many Australians on the team as you could. That’s only natural,” said Ogilvy, who has a house off the fairway at Royal Melbourne. “But you also have to balance that with the 12 best players to give you a chance to win. If there was an obvious great player – Ernie Els or somebody who was out – it would be hard to pick two Australians ahead of that. If everything else is equal, you’d pick the Australians.
“But,” he added, “nothing is ever equal.”
Ogilvy was a 21-year-old who had just turned pro when the Presidents Cup first came to Australia. He remembers missing the cut in New Zealand and flying home to watch Australia’s biggest golfing event ever at the time.
“I never had seen anything like that,” he said. “I had never heard noise like that. It was an amazing affair.”
Ogilvy is only a fraction of a world ranking point behind Louis Oosthuizen, who didn’t qualify for the playoffs. That’s why it was so important to get to Chicago, giving him another shot at making the team. Even so, he still can’t believe he’s in this position. The notion of missing the Presidents Cup never crossed his mind in January.
“I never felt better about my golf game – ever,” he said. “If you had asked me in Maui the morning I hurt my finger, I would have said this was the best year I was going to have. I felt that way. But life happens. You hurt yourself. Then you hurt yourself again. It’s nothing half the tour doesn’t put up with each year.”
Once the right finger healed, he injured his shoulder at the Masters and wasn’t fully healthy until the summer, just in time to cope with a parasite that affected his stomach.
Allenby knows about injuries.
He once was hailed as the next Greg Norman, particularly when he nearly won the Australian Open at Royal Melbourne as an amateur. Then came a horrific car accident in late 1996 that nearly killed him. Allenby was just getting back to form when the Presidents Cup came to his hometown in 1998. He was there, but only as a spectator.
Allenby gets a rap in America for not winning enough – his last PGA Tour win was in 2001. It’s a different story Down Under. He has 14 wins in Australia, including 2005 when he won the Triple Crown – the Australian Masters, Australian Open and Australian PGA.
“I’m just trying to play as good as I can and work my way into the top 10 instead of having to rely on being a pick. It makes for a tough decision for Greg,” Allenby said. “I haven’t played bad. I’m hitting the ball as good as I’ve ever hit it, but I’m not making any putts. I think I’m forcing it. Greg knows how much this means to me.”