Punch Shot: Who wins FedEx Cup, who makes U.S. Ryder Cup team?

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 24, 2016, 12:20 pm

It's a big week on the PGA Tour with the start of the playoffs and the conclusion to U.S. Ryder Cup qualifying.

Who will win the FedEx Cup and who, if anyone, will play their way into the top eight and automatically qualify for the U.S. Ryder Cup team? Our writers answer both questions:


Pick to win the FedEx Cup: If history holds it won’t be Jason Day hoisting the big check and trophy in five weeks at East Lake. Just three times in the nine years since the playoffs were started has the player who began the post-season atop the points list finished the season there – and on two of those occasions that player was Tiger Woods (2007 and ’09). Although Day has had a great year, winning the FedEx Cup is almost as much about timing as it is having the best year, and Henrik Stenson has proven himself adept at a classic playoff peak having won the season-long race in 2013. Expect the Swede to be back in the hunt this post-season.

Who plays their way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team: As for the final push to qualify for this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team, don’t expect any changes to the top 8 after this week’s Barclays. Patrick Reed currently holds down the last qualifying spot at No. 8 and he hasn’t been playing his best golf of late, but the players behind him – J.B. Holmes, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler – haven’t been in their best form, either. The automatic qualifiers will remain unchanged, which means it will be time for captain Davis Love III to start making the hard decisions on his four picks.


Pick to win the FedEx Cup: Henrik Stenson. Sure, we could play the “hot hand” card here – no one has been better of late, with a pair of wins worldwide this summer and a silver medal – but there’s more to it when it comes to these playoffs. Stenson has a great history at both TPC Boston (a win and a runner-up) and East Lake (a win and a T-2 in his only two appearances) throughout his FedEx Cup career. He’s 14th in the standings entering the postseason, but figures to climb quickly thanks to his red-hot play and reconfigured points structure. Once he’s inside the top 5 for the finale, he’ll be the man to beat at a course that he’s owned in the past.

Who plays their way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team: Matt Kuchar (currently No. 11). Is there such a thing as the Olympic bump? We’re about to find out with Kuchar and Justin Rose, who shook up quiet 2016 campaigns with rousing performances in Rio. Kuchar trails fellow Team USA member Patrick Reed by less than $200,000 for the eighth and final qualifying spot, and his tee-to-green precision should be rewarded at penal Bethpage Black. Throw in the Olympics, and Kooch has seven top-10s in his last 11 starts – none of the other Ryder Cup contenders ahead of him in the standings are even close. 


Pick to win the FedEx Cup: I’ll go out on a (small) limb and peg Daniel Berger as the FedEx Cup champion. At No. 22 in the regular-season standings he’s certainly ceding some ground to the frontrunners, but keep in mind that Billy Horschel began the postseason at No. 69 just two years ago and still left with the hardware. Berger already has a win under his belt this year, and he let another golden opportunity slip away in his most recent start when he surrendered the 54-hole lead at the Travelers Championship. Berger is on the fringe of the discussion for Ryder Cup picks entering The Barclays, but as he demonstrated last year he is able to rise to the occasion in the postseason: T-12 finishes at the Deutsche Bank Championship and Tour Championship sandwiched around a runner-up at the BMW Championship at Conway Farms. Last year, Berger used an impressive run through the playoffs to net Rookie of the Year honors. This time, a similar feat might bring with it the final spot on the American roster at Hazeltine. 

Who plays their way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team: While Bethpage is certainly the type of burly layout that should suit J.B. Holmes, at the end of the week I believe Holmes will fall just short and the final qualifying spot for the U.S. Ryder Cup will go to Patrick Reed. Reed is in the midst of a busy stretch, playing the fifth of seven straight events in a run that will include 12 of 13 weeks from the U.S. Open through the BMW Championship. But Reed has displayed a knack for playing through similar stretches in the past, and the tantalizing incentive of a Ryder Cup berth will spur him on this week on Long Island. Reed’s lead is less than $31,000 over Holmes, but it’s Holmes who will be feeling the most pressure after three straight missed cuts. Reed, more likely than Holmes to be added as a pick by Davis Love III if he falls to ninth, has had a quietly impressive season that includes nine top-10 finishes. Needing one more big week to clinch a trip to an event he dearly covets, Reed will do enough to keep at bay the likes of Holmes, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar.


Pick to win the FedEx Cup: Jason Day didn’t claim any of the four most coveted prizes this year, getting shut out in the trophy grabs in the majors, but he’s going to take home the biggest bundle of cash this year and put an exclamation mark on another Player of the Year run. It may take the FedEx Cup to tilt favor away from Dustin Johnson in the POY race. After winning three times in the first half of the year, it hasn’t been a bad summer for Day. He was T-8 at the U.S. Open, T-3 at the WGC Bridgestone and made a brilliant run at winning the PGA Championship before finishing T-2. He won a pair of FedEx Cup events last year but didn’t get the big jackpot. He remedies that showing how even more well-rounded his game has become this year. 

Who plays their way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team: If J.B. Holmes is going to make the team, he is probably going to have to make it on points. Yes,  he’s only ninth in points now, falling just outside the top eight cutoff this past week, but he’s been going the wrong direction in a hurry. He has missed four of his last five cuts. Still, he’s basically only $31,000 behind Patrick Reed now. He is in the best  position to make this late move. Plus, his career is defined by what he has overcome. He can do this with his big game a match for the big ballpark that is Bethpage Black. 

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Lopez fires flawless 63 for lead in Arkansas

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 12:41 am

ROGERS, Ark. – Former Arkansas star Gaby Lopez shot a career-low 8-under 63 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship.

Lopez, a three-time All-American for the Razorbacks, matched her career best by finishing at 8 under - doing so after missing the cut in her last two tournaments. The Mexican player began the tournament at Pinnacle Country Club ranked 136th in the world but finished just two shots off the course record of 10 under in her third year on the LPGA Tour.

Moriya Jutanugarn was a stroke back along with Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew, Nasa Hataoka, Lizette Salas, Mirim Lee and Aditi Ashok.

Local favorite Stacy Lewis, expecting her first child in early November, had a 66.

Defending champion So Yeon Ryu, coming off a victory Sunday in Michigan, shot a 67.

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Harman rides hot putter to Travelers lead

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:28 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – There are plenty of big names gathered for the Travelers Championship, and through two rounds they’re all chasing Brian Harman.

Harman opened with a 6-under 64, then carded a 66 during Friday’s morning wave to become the only player to finish the first two rounds in double digits under par. The southpaw is currently riding a hot putter, leading the field in strokes gained: putting while rolling in 12 birdies and an eagle through his first 36 holes.

“Putted great today,” said Harman, who ranks 22nd on Tour this season in putting. “Got out of position a couple of times, but I was able to get myself good looks at it. I started hitting the ball really well coming down the stretch and made a few birdies.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Harman, 31, has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship. While he doesn’t have a win this year, he started his season in the fall by reeling off five straight finishes of T-8 or better to quickly install himself as one of the leaders in the season-long points race.

Now topping a leaderboard that includes the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, he realizes that he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s going to leave Connecticut with trophy No. 3.

“The putter has been really good so far, but I’ve been in position a lot. I’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Harman said. “I’m just able to put a little pressure on the course right now, which is nice.”

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10-second rule costs Zach Johnson a stroke

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:06 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Zach Johnson heads into the weekend one shot back at the Travelers Championship, but he was a matter of seconds away from being tied for the lead.

Johnson had an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3 at TPC River Highlands, his 12th hole of the day, but left the ball hanging on the lip. As Johnson walked up to tap the ball in, it oscillated on the edge and eventually fell in without being hit.

Was it a birdie, or a par?

According to the Rules of Golf, and much to Johnson’s chagrin, the answer was a par. Players are afforded “reasonable” time to walk to the hole, and after that they are allowed to wait for 10 seconds to see if the ball drops of its own accord. After that, it either becomes holed by a player’s stroke, or falls in and leads to a one-shot penalty, resulting in the same score as if the player had hit it.

According to Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions, Johnson’s wait time until the ball fell in was between 16 and 18 seconds.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Once he putts the ball, he’s got a reasonable amount of time to reach the hole,” Russell said. “Then once he reaches the hole, he’s got 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, the ball is deemed to be at rest.”

Johnson tried to emphasize the fact that the ball was oscillating as he stood over it, and even asked rules officials if marking his ball on the edge of the hole would have yielded a “bonus 10 seconds.” But after signing for a 2-under 68 that brought him within a shot of leader Brian Harman, the veteran took the ruling in stride.

“The 10-second rule has always been there. Vague to some degree,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is I went to tap it in after 10 seconds and the ball was moving. At that point, even if the ball is moving, it’s deemed to be at rest because it’s on the lip. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is.”

While Johnson brushed off any thoughts of the golf gods conspiring against him on the lip, he was beaming with pride about an unconventional par he made on No. 17 en route to a bogey-free round. Johnson sailed his tee shot well right into the water, but after consulting his options he decided to drop on the far side of the hazard near the 16th tee box.

His subsequent approach from 234 yards rolled to within 8 feet, and he calmly drained the putt for an unexpected save.

“I got a great lie. Just opened up a 4-hybrid, and it started over the grandstands and drew in there,” Johnson said. “That’s as good of an up-and-down as I’ve witnessed, or performed.”

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Travelers becoming marquee event for star players

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 11:29 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Get lost in the throngs following the defending champ, or caught up amongst the crowds chasing the back-to-back U.S. Open winner, and it’s easy to forget where this tournament was a little more than a decade ago.

The Travelers Championship was without a sponsor, without a worthwhile field, without a consistent date and on the verge of being jettisoned to the PGA Tour Champions schedule. The glory days of the old Greater Hartford Open had come and gone, and the PGA Tour’s ever-increasing machine appeared poised to leave little old Cromwell in its wake.

The civic pride is booming in this neck of the woods. Main Street is lined with one small business after the next, and this time of year there are signs and posters popping up on every corner congratulating a member of the most recent graduating class at Cromwell High School, which sits less than two miles from the first tee at TPC River Highlands.

Having made it through a harrowing time in the event’s history, the local residents now have plenty of reason to take pride.

The Tour’s best have found this little New England hamlet, where tournament officials roll out the red carpet in every direction. They embrace the opportunity to decompress after the mind-numbing gauntlet the USGA set out for them last week, and they relish a return to a course where well-struck shots, more often than not, lead to birdies.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Ten years ago, this tournament was also held the week after the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink won, and for his efforts he received a paltry 36 world ranking points. But thanks to a recent influx of star-power, this week’s winner will pocket 58 points – the same amount Rory McIlroy won at Bay Hill, and two more than Justin Rose got at Colonial. Now at the halfway point, the leaderboard backs up the hefty allocation.

While Brian Harman leads at 10 under, the chase pack is strong enough to strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned veteran: McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson, they of the combined eight major titles, all sit within three shots of the lead. Former world No. 1 Jason Day is one shot further back, and reigning Player of the Year Justin Thomas will start the third round inside the top 20.

Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau, both likely participants at the Ryder Cup this fall, are right there as well at 8 under. Casey lost a playoff here to Watson in 2015 and has come back every year since, witnessing first-hand the tournament’s growth in scope.

“It speaks volumes for what Travelers have done and how they treat everybody, and the work that Andy Bessette and his team put in to fly around the country and speak highly of this event,” Casey said. “And do things which matter, to continue to improve the event, not just for players but for spectators.”

Part of the increased field strength can be attributed to the Tour’s recent rule change, requiring players who play fewer than 25 events in a season to add a new event they haven’t played in the last four years. Another portion can be attributed to the short commute from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands, a three-hour drive and even shorter across the Long Island Sound – an added bonus the event will lose two of the next three years with West Coast U.S. Opens.

But there’s no denying the widespread appeal of an event named the Tour’s tournament of the year, players’ choice and most fan-friendly in 2017. While Spieth’s return to defend his title was assumed, both Day and McIlroy are back for another crack this year after liking what they saw.

“Anyone that I talked to could only say good things about the tournament about the golf course, how the guys are treated here, how the fans come out, and how the community always gets behind this event,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I witnessed that for the first time last year, and I really enjoyed it.”

After starting the week with all four reigning major champs and five of the top 10 players in the latest world rankings, only Masters champ Patrick Reed got sent packing following rounds of 72-67. The remaining top-flight contingent will all hit the ground running in search of more low scores Saturday, with Spieth (-4) still retaining a glimmer of hope to keep his title defense chances alive, perhaps with a 63 like he fired in the opening round.

The Tour’s schedule represents a zero-sum game. Outside of the majors and WGCs that essentially become must-play events for the game’s best, the rest of the legs of the weekly circus become victim of a 12-month version of tug-of-war. Some players like to play in the spring; others load up in the fall. Many play the week before majors, while a select group block off the week after for some R&R far away from a golf course.

But in an environment where one tournament’s ebbs can create flows for another, the Travelers has continued a steady climb up the Tour’s hierarchy. Once in jeopardy of relegation, it has found its footing and appears in the process of turning several of the Tour’s one-name stars into regular participants.

Rory. Jordan. Bubba. JT.

It’s been a long battle for tournament officials, but the proof is in the pudding. And this weekend, the reward for the people of Cromwell – population 14,000 – looks to be a star-studded show.

“All the events are incredible,” Thomas said. “But this is kind of one of those underrated ones that I think until people come and play, do they realize how great it is.”