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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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Asia offers chance for players to get early jump on season

By Rex HoggardOctober 17, 2018, 6:00 pm

When the field at this week’s CJ Cup tees off for Round 1 just past dinner time on the East Coast Wednesday most golf fans will still be digesting the dramatic finish to the 2017-18 season, which wrapped up exactly 24 days ago, or reliving a Ryder Cup that didn’t go well for the visiting team.

Put another way, the third event of the new season will slip by largely unnoticed, the victim of a crowded sports calendar and probably a dollop of burnout.

What’ll be lost in this three-event swing through Asia that began last week in Kuala Lumpur at the CIMB Classic is how important these events have become to Tour players, whether they count themselves among the star class or those just trying to keep their jobs.

The Asian swing began in 2009 with the addition of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, although it would be a few years before the event earned full status on Tour, and expanded in 2010 with the addition of the CIMB Classic. This week’s stop in South Korea was added last season and as the circuit transitions to a condensed schedule and earlier finish next year there are persistent rumors that the Tour plans to expand even more in the Far East with sources saying an event in Japan would be a likely landing spot.

Although these events resonate little in the United States because of the time zone hurdles, for players, the Asian swing has become a key part of the schedule.

Consider that seven of the top 10 performers last year in Asia advanced to the Tour Championship and that success wasn’t mutually exclusive to how these players started their season in Asia.

For players looking to get a jump on the new season, the three Asian stops are low-hanging fruit, with all three featuring limited fields and no cut where players are guaranteed four rounds and FedExCup points.

For a player like Pat Perez, his performances last October virtually made his season, with the veteran winning the CIMB Classic and finishing tied for fifth place at the CJ Cup. All total, Perez, who played all three Asian events last year, earned 627 FedExCup points - more than half (53 percent) of his regular-season total.

Keegan Bradley and Cameron Smith also made the most of the tournaments in Asia, earning 34 and 36 percent, respectively, of their regular-season points in the Far East. On average, the top 10 performers in Asia last year earned 26 percent of their regular-season points in what was essentially a fraction of their total starts.

“It's just a place that I've obviously played well,” Justin Thomas, a three-time winner in Asia, said last week in Kuala Lumpur. “I'm comfortable. I think being a little bit of a longer hitter you have an advantage, but I mean, the fact of the matter is that I've just played well the years I played here.”

Perhaps the biggest winner in Asia last season was Justin Rose, who began a torrid run with his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and earned 28 percent of his regular-season points (550) in the Far East on his way to winning the FedExCup by just 41 points.

But it’s not just the stars who have made the most of the potential pot of Asian gold.

Lucas Glover finished tied for seventh at the CIMB Classic, 15th at the CJ Cup and 50th in China in 2017 to earn 145 of his 324 regular-season points (45 percent). Although that total was well off the pace to earn Glover a spot in the postseason and a full Tour card, it was enough to secure him conditional status in 2018-19.

Similarly, Camilo Villegas tied for 17th in Kuala Lumpur and 36th in South Korea to earn 67 of his 90 points, the difference between finishing 193rd on the regular-season point list and 227th. While it may seem like a trivial amount to the average fan, it allowed Villegas to qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals and a chance to re-earn his Tour card.

With this increasingly nuanced importance have come better fields in Asia (which were largely overlooked the first few years), with six of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking making the trip last week to Malaysia and this week’s tee sheet in South Korea featuring two of the top 5 in world - No. 3 Brooks Koepka and No. 4 Thomas.

“I finished 11th here last year and 11th in China the next week. If I can try and improve on that, get myself in contention and possibly win, it sets up the whole year. That's why I've come back to play,” Jason Day said this week of his decision to play the Asian swing.

For many golf fans in the United States, the next few weeks will be a far-flung distraction until the Tour arrives on the West Coast early next year, but for the players who are increasingly starting to make the trip east, it’s a crucial opportunity to get a jump on the season.

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Watch: Woods uses computer code to make robotic putt

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 3:10 pm

Robots have been plotting their takeover of the golf world for some time.

First it was talking trash to Rory McIlroy, then it was making a hole-in-one at TPC Scottsdale's famous 16th hole ... and now they're making putts for Tiger Woods.

Woods tweeted out a video on Tuesday draining a putt without ever touching the ball:

The 42-year-old teamed up with a computer program to make the putt, and provided onlookers with a vintage Tiger celebration, because computers can't do that ... yet.

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Woods admits fatigue played factor in Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:35 pm

There was plenty of speculation about Tiger Woods’ health in the wake of the U.S. team’s loss to Europe at last month’s Ryder Cup, and the 14-time major champ broke his silence on the matter during a driving range Q&A at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach on Tuesday.

Woods, who went 0-4 in Paris, admitted he was tired because he wasn’t ready to play so much golf this season after coming back from a fourth back surgery.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

The topic of conversation then shifted to what's next, with Woods saying he's just starting to plan out his future schedule, outside of "The Match" with Phil Mickelson over Thanksgiving weekend and his Hero World Challenge in December.

“I’m still figuring that out,” Woods said. “Flying out here yesterday trying to look at the schedule, it’s the first time I’ve taken a look at it. I’ve been so focused on getting through the playoffs and the Ryder Cup that I just took a look at the schedule and saw how packed it is.”

While his exact schedule remains a bit of a mystery, one little event in April at Augusta National seemed to be on his mind already.

When asked which major he was most looking forward to next year, Woods didn't hesitate with his response, “Oh, that first one.”

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Podcast: Fujikawa aims to offer 'hope' by coming out

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 17, 2018, 12:03 pm

Tadd Fujikawa first made golf history with his age. Now he's doing it with his recent decision to openly discuss his sexuality.

Last month Fujikawa announced via Instagram that he is gay, becoming the first male professional to come out publicly. Now 27, he has a different perspective on life than he did when he became the youngest U.S. Open participant in 2006 at Winged Foot at age 15, or when he made the cut at the Sony Open a few months later.

Joining as the guest on the latest Golf Channel podcast, Fujikawa discussed with host Will Gray the reception to his recent announcement - as well as some of the motivating factors that led the former teen phenom to become somewhat of a pioneer in the world of men's professional golf.

"I just want to let people know that they're enough, and that they're good exactly as they are," Fujikawa said. "That they don't need to change who they are to fit society's mold. Especially in the golf world where it's so, it's not something that's very common."

The wide-ranging interview also touched on Fujikawa's adjustment to life on golf-centric St. Simons Island, Ga., as well as some of his hobbies outside the game. But he was also candid about the role that anxiety and depression surrounding his sexuality had on his early playing career, admitting that he considered walking away from the game "many, many times" and would have done so had it not been for the support of friends and family.

While professional golf remains a priority, Fujikawa is also embracing the newfound opportunity to help others in a similar position.

"Hearing other stories, other athletes, other celebrities, my friends. Just seeing other people come out gave me a lot of hope in times when I didn't feel like there was a lot of hope," he said. "For me personally, it was something that I've wanted to do for a long time, and something I'm very passionate about. I really want to help other people who are struggling with that similar issue. And if I can change lives, that's really my goal."

For more from Fujikawa, click below or click here to download the podcast and subscribe to future episodes: