Why the playoffs matter

By Jason SobelAugust 23, 2011, 11:01 pm

EDISON, N.J. ' So, you say the FedEx Cup playoffs will never be considered more important than a major championship? I say no doubt, although they were never supposed to anyway.

You say these events simply fatten the wallets of world’s richest golfers? I say there are 10 million reasons you’re absolutely right.

You say the points system is too contrived? I say amen.

You say the entire idea doesn’t even matter to the 125 players who qualified during the season? I say you’re dead wrong.

Say what you will about the PGA Tour’s annual end-of-season playoff series, approaching its fifth installment starting at this week’s Barclays tournament, but it’s inarguable that the competitors don’t care about their impending result over the next four weeks.

For the most elite players, such relevance stems from the tangible effects that can be gained from a few positive results. With a quartet of strong fields, there will be plenty of Official World Golf Ranking points available. Like last year, when Jim Furyk prevailed for the title, this season’s Player of the Year award is still very much up for grabs.

And, oh by the way, there’s a handsome little $10 million first-place prize that will come in handy to whoever finishes the Tour Championship with the highest point total.

While players at the top of the current standings obviously own a better chance to succeed than those further down the list, it’s the guys in the middle of the pack and beyond who may have the most to gain by playing well over the next month – or even just parts of the next month.

Exhibit A: Kevin Na.

Two years ago, Na entered the playoffs at No. 23 on the points list. He finished T-24, T-11 and T-8 in the first three events – enough to qualify for the festivities at East Lake, where he finished dead last in the 30-man field.

No matter, though, because his inclusion in that tournament alone got him entry into each of the next year’s four major championships and the WGC event at Doral.

In an ever-overlapping domino theory, Na parlayed made cuts in two of the four majors last year into 41st position on the points list prior to the playoffs. Once again, he got semi-hot at the right time, finishing T-36, T-33 and T-3 at the first three events to secure his place in the Tour Championship field, in turn qualifying for those five elite tournaments the next year, as well.

“If you don’t have a win and you get to the Tour Championship, you’ve had a good year,” said Na, who enters this year’s playoffs at 47th on the points list. “That’s the way I look at it. I did it the last two years and got into the majors. It’s great. You can set your schedule up. Once again, this year, that’s my goal.”

While most experts point to Heath Slocum, who entered the 2009 FedEx Cup playoffs at 124th on the points list before winning The Barclays, as the poster child for what playoff success can induce, the reality is that players need not win nor even seriously contend to dramatically affect their schedules over the next 12 months.

Exhibit B: Jason Dufner.

Three years ago, Dufner played so poorly that he needed to attend Q-School in order to retain his status for the upcoming season. That next year, he reached the playoffs, but missed the cut in the first round. On the verge of seeing his playoff bubble burst at the Deutsche Bank Championship, he posted a final-round 65 to finish in a share of second place, vaulting him into the Tour Championship a few weeks later.

Like Na, inclusion in the field also granted him inclusion into those five elite fields the next year. Dufner finished T-5 at the PGA Championship and – if you believe in the butterfly effect – could possibly trace his recent second-place result at this year’s edition of that event to that one great round at TPC-Boston which led to a world of experience he wouldn’t have otherwise received.

“For somebody in my position in 2009, I had a nice year, I had played pretty decent,” Dufner recalled, “but my schedule for the next year was still in limbo. Getting into that top-30 really set me up. So it’s a win-win.”

Exhibit C: Martin Laird.

When he agonizingly three-putted the final green at last year’s Barclays to fall into a playoff, then lost on the first extra hole to Matt Kuchar, the prevailing theme surrounding Laird’s calamity was one of sorrow.

Looking back, though, the second-place result got him into the Tour Championship – where much like Na one year earlier, he finished in last place, but still gained entrance into the elite fields for the next season. Using that same butterfly effect, his T-10 at Doral preceded a T-5 at the Transitions Championship and then a second career PGA Tour victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“It definitely helped my year this year,” Laird said. “There are a lot of things riding on it. If a guy comes in at 125 and he plays good this week, he can pretty much guarantee he’ll be in the first three events. That’s going to help him on the money list with keeping his card and if he keeps playing good, he’ll get into the Tour Championship.”

Call it the power of the playoffs.

If a player fares well this time of year and continues advancing to subsequent events, not only will he find himself at East Lake for the finale, but at each of the important tourneys for the next season, too.

“Just like with any other sport,” Na explained, “you can have a so-so season, but if your team puts it together in the playoffs, you start weeding out the top seeds and you can make it.”

It may not be the perfect scenario in all aspects, but the FedEx Cup playoffs matter. Just ask the players.

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Wise wins first Tour title at AT&T Byron Nelson

By Nick MentaMay 21, 2018, 1:22 am

On the strength of a final-round 65, 21-year-old Aaron Wise broke through for his first PGA Tour victory Sunday, taking the AT&T Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest. Here's how Wise beat the field and darkness following a lengthy rain delay:

Leaderboard: Wise (-23), Leishman (-20), Branden Grace (-19), J.J. Spaun (-19), Keith Mitchell (-19)

What it means: This is Wise’s first PGA Tour win in just his 18th start as a member. Tied with Leishman to start the final round, Wise raced ahead with six birdies in a seven-hole stretch from Nos. 4-10 and never looked back. He'd make eight straight pars on his way into the clubhouse and the winner's circle. The 2016 NCAA Division I individual champion just locked up Tour status through 2019-20 season and guaranteed himself a spot in the PGA Championship.

Best of the rest: Leishman reached 20 under par but just couldn’t keep pace with Wise. This is his second runner-up of the season, following a solo second in the CJ Cup in October.

Round of the day: Grace carded a 62 – where have I heard that before? – with eight birdies, an eagle and a bogey to end up tied for third, his best finish of the season on Tour.

Biggest disappointment: Adam Scott looked as though he had done enough to qualify for the U.S. Open via the Official World Golf Ranking when he walked off the golf course. Unfortunately, minutes later, he’d drop from a four-way tie for sixth into a three-way tie for ninth, narrowly missing out on this week's OWGR cutoff.

Break of the day: Wise could very well have found the hazard off the tee at No. 9 if not for a well-placed sprinkler head. Rather than drop a shot, he took advantage of his good fortune and poured in another birdie putt to extend his lead.

Quote of the day: "It's a dream come true to win this one." - Wise

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Otaegui wins Belgian Knockout by two

By Associated PressMay 21, 2018, 1:20 am

ANTWERP, Belgium – Adrian Otaegui beat Benjamin Hebert by two shots in the final of the Belgian Knockout to win his second European Tour title.

The hybrid format opened with two rounds of stroke play on Thursday and Friday, before the leading 64 players competed in nine-hole knockout stroke play matches.

Otaegui and Hebert both finished three shots off the lead at 5 under after the first two days and worked their way through five matches on the weekend to set up Sunday's final at the Rinkven International Golf Club.

Full-field scores from the Belgian Knockout

''I'm very happy, very relaxed now after the last nine holes against Ben that were very tight,'' Otaegui said. ''I'm just very proud about my week.

''I just tried to play against myself. Obviously your opponent is just next to you but I just tried to focus on my game.''

Scotland's David Drysdale beat James Heath of England by one shot in the playoff for third spot.

Herbet said he was ''just a little short this week.''

''Adrian is a very good player, especially in this kind of format,'' he said. ''He's already won one tournament in match play last year. This format is fun, it puts you under pressure almost every hole because everything can happen. I think it's a great idea.''

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Spieth looking forward to Colonial after T-21

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:10 am

DALLAS – Jordan Spieth finally got a few putts to drop at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but after a frustrating week he’s looking forward to heading across town.

Spieth shot a 4-under 67 amid soggy conditions at Trinity Forest Golf Club, his lowest score of the week but one that still left him in a tie for 21st at 11 under par. His frustrations had a common theme throughout the week, as he ranked seventh among the field in strokes gained: tee to green but 72nd in strokes gained: putting.

“Felt like I played better than I scored,” Spieth said. “Just burned the edges or barely missed, and I misread a lot of putts, too. Overall just struggled a little bit matching line and speed and kind of getting it all together out here.”

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth remains in search of his first win since The Open in July, but his results in the interim haven’t exactly been a struggle. This marks his seventh top-25 finish in his last nine starts as an individual.

Spieth is in the midst of a busy part of his schedule, and will play his third of four events in a row next week at the Fort Worth Invitational. With runner-up finishes in 2015 and 2017 sandwiched around a victory there two years ago, Spieth did little to contain his excitement for a return to venerable Colonial Country Club.

“It’s one of those courses where whether I have my A game or not, I seem to find my way into contention, which is really cool,” Spieth said. “It’s one of four or five places I go into, no matter where the game is at, I’m excited to get started and feel like I have a chance to win.”

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Razorbacks, Fassi scrambling to recover in NCAAs

By Ryan LavnerMay 21, 2018, 12:56 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – We’re not even halfway through this NCAA Championship, and the top women’s player in the country is already worn out.

Indeed, it’s been three rounds of hard work for Maria Fassi as she tries to claw herself and second-ranked Arkansas back into contention at Karsten Creek.

“I haven’t been able to create momentum of any kind,” she said after a third-round 73 left her at 16-over 232, 23 shots off the individual lead and outside the top 90. “I’ve been fighting every single hole. It’s just been exhausting.”

It’s been that way for her teammates, too.

Arkansas entered nationals as one of the pre-tournament favorites. The Razorbacks won the SEC Championship for the first time. They won seven events, including a regional title in which they shot 26 under par on the University of Texas’ home course. They were comfortable knowing that they not only had Fassi, the top-ranked player and a six-time winner this season, but also a strong supporting cast that includes Baylor transfer Dylan Kim and Alana Uriell.

And then the first two rounds happened. The Razorbacks had shot a team score in the 300s just once all season, but they posted two in a row here at Karsten Creek (308-300).

Fassi’s play has been even more of a mystery. In the opening round she shot 81 – with two birdies. She followed it up with a second-round 78, then birdied her last two holes just to shoot 73 on Sunday. She thought she had a smart game plan – taking fewer drivers, putting the ball in play on arguably the most difficult college course in the country – and it just hasn’t worked out.

“I just need to stay really patient, be true to myself and keep fighting,” she said. “I know what I’m capable of doing, and if I play my game it’s going to be plenty good.”

So what’s been the conversation among teammates the past two nights?

“It involved a lot of cuss words,” Fassi said. “We know this is not Arkansas golf. We know this is not the game that we play.”

The top-15 cut line should have been an afterthought for a team as talented as the Razorbacks, and yet they needed a 1-over 289 just to play Monday’s fourth round of stroke-play qualifying.

“Backs against the wall, they had to go get it done and they did an awesome job,” said Arkansas coach Shauna Taylor. “In our locker room we call it ‘Do the Possible.’ It’s doing what you’re capable of doing.”

And now the Razorbacks sit in 11th place, just six shots off the top-8 cut after their two worst rounds all season. They still have a chance to advance.

“You can’t panic,” Taylor said. “We’ve played great golf all year. We’ve put ourselves in a hole and it was time to go to work and dig yourselves out of it.”