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Punch Shot: Hits and misses from FedExCup changes

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 18, 2018, 6:42 pm

GolfChannel.com senior writer Randall Mell and staff writer Will Gray examine the recently announced changes to the FedExCup and Tour Championship, and weigh in on the pros and cons.

GRAY: We've got some more changes for 2019 to digest, both with the FedExCup and how the Tour Championship will be determined. No more points reset, no more scenarios ... but, instead, a staggered start at East Lake with the top seed beginning the tournament at 10 under. What's your biggest takeaway from all of these changes?

MELL: Love it and hate it. I love that there's definitive clarity to the FedExCup finish, that the winner doesn't need a slide rule or calculator to know he's over a putt to win. I love going to a traditional leaderboard to determine who wins the Cup. I hate that the Tour Championship was sacrificed at the altar of the FedExCup. It's no longer a tournament in the traditional sense.

GRAY: Fair points on both sides. This is certainly going to take some getting used to, and it goes against a lot of the underlying principles of individual and team sports. No other league determines its overall champion by offering a head start. But I do think that once play begins, it'll be a lot easier to keep track of everything – especially for the casual fan.

MELL: Yes, that's the great upside. Fans didn't really tune in to the Tour Championship to see who would win the FedExCup. Not really. They tuned in to see the best players in the world playing to win the tournament. Now, it's all about the FedExCup. The Tour fixed that. Still, there's a big problem. The Tour hasn't solved its "playoffs" problem. These still aren't playoffs. Choosing to sell the FedExCup as "The Playoffs" continues to complicate golf's postseason. It's why people who don't like today's news hate hearing a guy is going to start the Tour Championship with a 10-shot lead on some of the field. If fans can get their heads around the fact that the Tour Championship isn't really a tournament anymore, that it's the FedExCup "finale," they could embrace it. But they think of it as the Super Bowl finish to the PGA Tour playoffs. It ain't that.



GRAY: It's certainly contrived, but I have no problem with getting a little creative to cap a champion in a way that ensures some drama. My biggest issue in all of this might just be counting this as an official victory. How can a player add this to his resume, and potentially use it as a tally down the road in a Hall of Fame discussion, if his raw 72-hole score isn't the lowest even among the smallest field of the year?

MELL: I agree. I don't see it as a tournament anymore, but a "finale," a finish to the FedExCup series. If they have to credit it as a victory, they ought to give credit for one-and-a-half wins, because it's harder to win the FedExCup than it is to win a PGA Tour tournament. And it isn't like the winner of the finale won't know what he's putting for in the end. There will be more pressure to close out than anything outside a major.

GRAY: And perhaps that's a scenario that the Tour had originally envisioned, especially now that it will all play out before football crowds the sports calendar. But given the significant changes afoot, do you see this as a net positive? It will certainly make for a more streamlined product on the final day of the season.

MELL: Yes, and I was half-kidding about one-and-a-half wins, because closing out is easier if you're spotted a lead, harder if you're trying to catch a guy who was spotted a lead. There will be fans who are offended by the lead players will be given at the Tour Championship, but I like the clarity. I like it better than the confusion we've endured at the end of every FedExCup finish. It's not perfect, for sure, but I think it's a lot better.

GRAY: Well let's look at the bottom of the barrel. If you're the No. 30 seed at East Lake, I think it's easier to pull off an epic comeback under the new rules. Currently Patton Kizzire would need to win AND have Bryson DeChambeau finish almost last, among other things. That's a big element out of his control. But with a staggered start, he could control it all himself with one amazing week at the right time. Plus, keep in mind that only a handful of players will start more than four shots ahead of Nos. 26-30. So I think it's doable and could create some fun storylines. Agree?

MELL: Yes, as controversy and second-guessing always do. The only way to make it fair from start to finish is to use cumulative scoring all the way through, from the first FedExCup "playoff" event through the Tour Championship, but it would make for some boring finishes with runaway victories. There has to be some reset to make the Tour Championship meaningful, if not totally fair.



GRAY: A promising idea, but good luck keeping track of all those moving parts during the third round of the BMW. To me, it still feels like the best way to settle things and still retain a "playoff" element would be a 32-man match-play bracket, or perhaps 36 holes of stroke play before trimming to eight (or 16) for match play. It's the game's ultimate drama! But, alas, I fear that ship has now sailed.

MELL: Match play? Now you're talking playoffs! True playoffs! But that ship's beyond the horizon. Ain't coming back. We know how exciting the start of match play is, but how ponderous a dull finals matchup can be.

GRAY: I suppose the ghosts of Andrew Magee and Kevin Sutherland still linger. But with the top 30 players from the season, would there really be that many possible duds for the final? Oh, well. Let's look at this new $10 million bonus for the top 10 players at the end of the regular season. Incentive for some guys to sprint to the finish line and maybe add the season-ending Wyndham Championship, or simply an example of the rich getting richer?

MELL: The Tour must be counting on that "integrity fee" from legalized gambling being a real gold rush ... I've lost track of what incentive means on Tour. They're playing a game with which I'm not familiar. The rich ain't getting poorer.

GRAY: With the bonus pool doubling to $70 million (including the Wyndham bonus), there will be multiple players banking in excess of $10 million in a single season when it's all said and done. Good luck explaining that to players 20 years ago, let alone 50. But I digress. Let's leave with this ... if you could tweak only one aspect of the new setup, what would it be?

MELL: It's your idea, but it's more than a tweak. It's finding that ship beyond the horizon and bringing it back to port. It's a match-play finish at the Tour Championship. With that, it truly becomes FedEx Cup Playoffs. It's a pipe dream, for the reasons I mentioned above, but it's a true and right and fair path to a playoff champion.

GRAY: Happy to bring you aboard Team Match Play, even though it seems less likely to come to pass. Maybe one year we can stage an alternate match-play event in Atlanta among 32 writers where we all play for $70 instead of $70 million. Until then, get ready to do some extra math next year at East Lake.

MELL: OK, I'll start saving up!

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain shot a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Ciganda is attempting to win her third LPGA title and first since the 2016 season, when she won two tournaments in a one-month span. Kim is chasing her eighth career LPGA win and second title of the 2018 season.

''I want to win because I didn't win last year,'' Ciganda said. ''I love playing in Asia. It's good for long hitters, playing quite long, so I'm quite comfortable.''


Full-field scores from the Buick LPGA Shanghai


Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).

Yin and Altomare have yet to break through for their first LPGA win. A win in Shanghai would make either player the ninth first-time winner of the 2018 season, which would tie 2016 for the third highest number of first-time winners in a season in LPGA history.

''I love competing,'' Yin said. ''That's why I'm playing, right? I'm excited to be in contention again going into Sunday.''

Local favorite Yu Liu was seventh after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.


Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos


"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number."

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Koepka has his chance 'to earn' his way to No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:09 am

There won't need to be any wonky math involved. He won't have to settle for finally reaching the the top via some kind of mathematical reset while he's sitting at home on the couch (or more likely working out in the gym).

No, Brooks Koepka on Sunday in South Korea will have a chance to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking the way every player would most want to - with a victory.

On the strength of a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 Saturday, Koepka will enter the final round of the CJ Cup four clear of Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, with six more players five behind.

The tournament is Koepka's to lose, and so too is the No. 1 ranking. So long as Justin Thomas doesn't somehow defend his title from 12 shots back, Koepka can supplant Dustin Johnson atop the rankings with a win or a solo second-place finish.


Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos


"It was something I wanted to do. I always wanted to become World No. 1 in a week that I was playing," Koepka said Saturday. "I thought like I could really earn it and not have a week off where it just so happens that you bump up. No, it would be very special, and to do it here would be nice and hopefully get to world No. 1 and cap it off with a win, I don't think there would be much better."

It would be a fitting end to this breakthrough year for Koepka, who successfully defended his U.S. Open title and then added his third major victory at the PGA Championship en route to claiming the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award. Oddly enough, considering his status a three-time major winner and an impending No. 1, this would be Koepka's fifth Tour victory but only his second in a non-major; his only regular Tour win to date was his first, at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

"My confidence has always been pretty high," Koepka said. "Anytime you can win three majors you're going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. To do what I've done over the last two years has been special, but I'm looking to build on that."

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Koepka ahead by four, with No. 1 ranking in his grasp

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 5:48 am

Following a closing birdie and a third-round 67 at Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy into final round of the CJ Cup. Here's how Koepka separated himself from the field in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-13), Piercy (-9), Poulter (-9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-8), Cameron Smith (-8), Jaime Lovemark (-8), Pat Perez (-8), Gary Woodland (-8), Chez Reavie (-8)

What it means: Koepka is in search of his fifth PGA Tour victory and – believe it or not – only his second non-major. The three-time major champion’s only other win came all the way back in February 2015, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One off the lead to start the day, Koepka opened with eight straight pars and birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take the outright lead at 10 under par. He added three more circles at 14, 17 and 18 to close out a bogey-free round of 5 under and go ahead by ahead by four. He'll be chased on Sunday by Piercy, a four-time PGA Tour winner who won the Zurich Classic earlier this year alongside Billy Horschel, and by Poulter, who ended a five-year worldwide winless drought back in April and is coming off a 2-2 performance at the Ryder Cup, with a Sunday singles victory over current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Speaking of which, unless Justin Thomas finds a way to win this tournament from 12 back, Koepka will for the first time ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Round of the day: After contending last week at the CIMB, Shubankhar Sharma rebounded from opening rounds of 74 and 75 with a nine-birdie, 8-under 64 to move up 45 spots into a tie for 26th through 54 holes.

Best of the rest: Four players – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ted Potter Jr., Jason Day and Brendan Steele – shot 7-under 65 Saturday. Day played his first four holes in 2 over and his final 14 in 9 under.

Biggest disappointment: The only previous winner of this event, world No. 4 Justin Thomas entered the week with a chance to take back the No. 1 ranking with a successful title defense. But rounds of 73-70-72 have him 1 under for the week. Thomas played his back nine in 1 over Saturday with six pars, a birdie, a quadruple bogey and a closing eagle.

Shot of the day: Koepka flying his tee shot 330 yards to the front edge of the green at the par-4 14th and going on to two-putt for birdie.