No doubt: FedEx Cup a resounding success

By Doug FergusonSeptember 11, 2012, 8:46 pm

CARMEL, Ind. – Phil Mickelson, an exception in so many ways, calculated the odds and did the math.

Remember, this is the guy who once had his caddie tend the flag when he was 72 yards away in the fairway at Torrey Pines because he needed eagle to force a playoff. One year at Firestone, he contemplated hitting driver off the deck on the par-5 16th and trying to skip it across the pond to get it close. And then were was Bay Hill, the year Mickelson was two shots behind Tiger Woods and tried hitting 4-iron under the trees and over the water for a chance at eagle.

He didn't pull off any of those shots, though it wasn't from a lack of effort, confidence or imagination.

Mickelson made an exception at Crooked Stick.

He stood on the 18th tee Sunday in the BMW Championship needing an eagle on the 462-yard closing hole to force a playoff with Rory McIlroy. On this rare occasion, however, Lefty wasn't willing to risk the ridiculous odds of trying to hole a shot from 192 yards for eagle, not when it might cost him a par.

Mickelson knew a par would mean a tie for second, which would move him up to No. 4 in the FedEx Cup. The top five in the standings only have to win the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus. If he had gone for glory and wound up with a bogey, Mickelson would have been No. 8 in the standings and needing some help next week at East Lake.

His shot leaked slightly away from the water and came up 70 feet away. He made a 3 1/2-footer for par and tied for second.

''I accomplished one of my goals, which was to get in the top five,'' Mickelson said after his round. ''The other would have been, obviously, to win. But more than that, I just feel really good about where my game is headed, and hopefully I'll keep improving on that for next week.''

It was an example that six years into the FedEx Cup, at least some players are starting to grasp the points system, how it works and where it can lead. For those who haven't caught on or don't care to figure it out, a bigger picture has emerged in the last three weeks about the FedEx Cup.

With so many great tournaments, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole – even the whole $10 million.

But then, that was always going to be the case.

What initially cost the FedEx Cup credibility were too many cheerleaders from PGA Tour headquarters who made the hopeless argument that this would determine anything more than who got really rich by playing the best golf in four strong tournaments, with emphasis on the last event.

It does not carry the prestige of winning a major.

It does not determine the best player in golf, as McIlroy might discover if he doesn't win the Tour Championship.

If nothing else, it gives the Tour a chance to wrap up its season with a competition that most rewards the fans as much as the players. Golf no longer limps toward the end of the year with watered-down fields at tournaments hardly anyone watches. It has four tournaments with the best players, and as Lee Westwood said on the eve of the final round at Crooked Stick, ''The cream has risen to the top, hasn't it?''

The Barclays had Sergio Garcia and Nick Watney, with Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker making a run and boosting their hopes of getting picked for the Ryder Cup (they were). The Deutsche Bank Championship had McIlroy and Louis Oosthuizen, two of the best swings in the game, being chased by Tiger Woods, Mickelson, Johnson and Snedeker. The BMW Championship featured McIlroy, Westwood, Mickelson, Woods, Johnson, Adam Scott and Vijay Singh.

Tour commissioner Tim Finchem woke up Sunday morning to find more than a dozen text messages on his phone, some filled with sarcasm about how this FedEx Cup thing isn't working, others raving about three straight weeks of strong leaderboards and compelling finishes.

That much was to be expected this year.

One reason Hunter Mahan could win twice and still not qualify for the Ryder Cup is that all the other great players were winning, too. Maybe it's a fluke, maybe it's just cyclical, but this has been a year for the stars to shine on the Tour. The 36 tournaments to date (not counting opposite-field events) have been won by 27 players who started the year in the top 50 of the world ranking.

The FedEx Cup playoffs have been no different. Bring the best players together, and it produces the best leaderboard.

Not surprisingly, each event has felt big, especially the last one. Crooked Stick had not seen the world's best players since the 1991 PGA Championship, and the result was predictable. Even during a soggy week, fans were three-deep down the 10th fairway when McIlroy and Woods (and Watney) teed off in the opening round Thursday.

It had a bigger buzz than the three World Golf Championships, and it held its own against the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, where the nines are separated by the driving range, and fans can only watch from one side of the fairway on some holes.

Now for the conclusion next week at East Lake.

It could be dramatic, similar to when Bill Haas and Mahan were in a sudden-death playoff to determine who won the FedEx Cup. There might not be any drama at all during the last hour. Or it could be one of those years, like 2009, when Mickelson won the Tour Championship, and Woods won the FedEx Cup.

''Let me see if I get this straight,'' Mickelson said that day. ''I shot 65, and he shot (70), and he gets a check for $10 million?''

Some confusion is inevitable when it takes an accountant to sort out who's winning what. But when the golf is this good, when the leaderboards are this strong, does it really matter?

Getty Images

Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.

 

A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

Getty Images

Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Web.com Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

Getty Images

5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring


3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

Getty Images

Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”