Hawk's Nest: LaCava's Tiger decision keeps looking better

By John HawkinsMay 27, 2013, 12:48 pm

Wind. Rain. Cold. Pro golf has its Big Three, and we had ours at the Little Brown Dog’s annual member/member, my personal favorite among the three or four big events at the club. Bidding was up – a couple of teams went for $2,600 in the Calcutta – but we weren’t playing it down, as the atrocious conditions led to preferred lies everywhere but in bunkers and other hazards.

Casual water, anyone? Competing with a partner, especially one who chips and putts like Bobby D., will always float my boat, but the excess energy required to play in lousy weather can be a real drain on the middle-aged psyche. All those layers of clothing in addition to the fear and loathing, then fluffing it up in the rough and trying to putt through a creek suddenly bisecting the fifth green …

“I’ve never heard of a wind-chill index on Memorial Day weekend,” Kano cracked Saturday afternoon. Easy for him to say – he’d withdrawn from the tournament two days earlier because we had an odd number of participants. See? Sometimes, nice guys do finish first.

MY LONGTIME FRIEND Joe LaCava obviously had better things to do over the holiday than test the threshold of his rain gear. Since getting to know LaCava in the mid-1990s while he was solidifying his reputation as one of the game’s best caddies under Fred Couples, I’ve always been impressed with his abundance of instinctive intelligence. He’s smart in a very simple kind of way.

Two years have passed since LaCava left Couples to work for Dustin Johnson, a relationship that lasted for five months before he was hired by Tiger Woods. In October 2011, many people thought LaCava was making a huge mistake by leaving Johnson, who had won three times in 18 months and appeared to be evolving into one of the world’s top players.

Woods was still struggling from the repercussions of post-hydrant syndrome. With each start that summer, he looked less and less like the player he’d once been, but to me, LaCava’s decision to accept Tiger’s offer fell somewhere between a calculated risk and a no-brainer.

Even at 75 or 80 percent of the level he’d reached in his prime, Woods was and is a better player than Johnson. A much better putter, a far more tenacious competitor and clearly more durable under Sunday pressure. I said it repeatedly on my live chats during the 2011 FedEx Cup playoffs: LaCava would be nuts not to go work for Woods, and the caddie I know doesn’t have a single pistachio in his mental makeup.

As usual, LaCava made the smart move. Tiger’s high ceiling isn’t the only reason Joe did the right thing, however. More on Johnson in a bit.

NOT TO BRAG or anything, but I did pick Boo Weekley in the Fantasy Challenge this past week. I indulge in this brief moment of self-glorification not because I’m very good at picking winners, which I am not, but because Weekley and Colonial make perfect sense. If a PGA Tour venue requires you to drive it straight and hit lots of precise iron shots into tiny greens, Boo is a can-do.

You know where else Weekley might emerge as a serious factor? Merion GC, site of the upcoming U.S. Open. Don’t listen to me, though. I’m pretty awful at predicting the future.

TWO MEMBERS OF last fall’s U.S. Ryder Cup team failed to hold 54-hole leads in Texas. Keegan Bradley at the Byron Nelson, then Matt Kuchar at Colonial, and though each guy led by only a stroke going into Sunday, there is an element to their demises that relates to my take on Johnson.

Three of his seven Tour victories have come in 54-hole events, a freakish trend even when you consider that Johnson has come up short on Sunday three times at major championships. Now it’s not Johnson’s fault that the weather was lousy at Kapalua, The Barclays and Pebble Beach – you don’t give back a quarter of the winner’s check because there never was a final round.

About half of all 54-hole leaders go on to win the event. Would Johnson have finished first in all three of those tournaments if they hadn’t been shortened by weather? Perhaps, but we’re talking about a very talented player who suffered through an unsightly meltdown at the 2010 U.S. Open, a guy who missed a spot in the playoff at the PGA Championship two months later because he didn’t know a local rule posted all over the locker room, a guy who shanked an iron out of bounds with the game on the line at the 2011 British Open.

History doesn’t lie, regardless of whether it tells the entire story. Some people out there think Johnson could become a dominant player, but I’m not one of them. I think he lacks the focus and passion to become a big, big deal, and nothing in his personal life will lead me to feel any differently about him anytime soon.

I don’t understand how anyone that big and strong can continue to struggle with injuries. I don’t understand the wild inconsistencies in his putting statistics over the course of his career, and I definitely don’t understand how a kid who grew up in Myrtle Beach can be so lousy in a bunker.

Without question, Johnson has immense physical gifts. It explains why he can be so slipshod in several aspects of the game and still collect $4 million a year in earnings. If LaCava had stayed with him, Johnson might be further along in his career than he is now, but that is something of a moot point at this juncture.

I’ve probably been harder on Woods than any athlete I’ve covered in my 30 years as a sportswriter. I also think he is the greatest pressure performer who ever lived – a man of such enormous mental toughness that many of his conquests have come about because of sheer will.

When I contacted LaCava Saturday to ask him about he decision he made in the summer/fall 2011, he politely declined to comment, saying, “I would just [like to] lay low and fly under the radar. Certainly hope you understand.”

I’m probably not the only one. I told you he was a smart guy.

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Spieth's schedule violation 'resolved' and a 'win' for fans

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 4:15 pm

ATLANTA – For the first time in his career Jordan Spieth failed to qualify for this week’s Tour Championship, an unexpected turn that also found him on the wrong side of a new PGA Tour regulation.

Under the circuit’s strength-of-field requirement, which began last season, a player must add an event to their schedule that they haven’t played the last four years if they didn’t play at least 25 events in the previous or current seasons.

Since he didn’t qualify for the finale, Spieth will finish the season with 24 events (including the Ryder Cup) and under the policy he “shall be subject to a major penalty,” which is a fine of at least $20,000 or even suspension.

Current FedExCup standings

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

What that means specifically for Spieth remains unclear, but on Tuesday at East Lake Andy Pazder, the Tour’s chief of operations, said the matter has been addressed.

“I have talked to Jordan and we’ve resolved it,” Pazder said. “We have come to a resolution. I’m not going to be able to share the details of that, [but] I will say the result is something that you will see next season. It’s resolved in a way that’s going to be a win for our tournaments, our fans and golf in general.”

Pazder’s response suggests that Spieth will likely add at least one new event to his schedule next year.

Spieth was not the only player to violate the policy the season. Ian Poulter only played 20 events in 2018, the same as he played last season, and he did not add a new event to his schedule. Pazder said that after the Englishman won the Houston Open in April he justifiably shifted his focus to qualifying for the European Ryder Cup team and played five events this summer in Europe, which kept him from reaching his 25-event minimum or adding an new event.

“We’ve come to a resolution on how he is going to address that,” Pazder said.

Spieth and Poulter are the first players to violate the policy.

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How the new Tour Championship format would look this year and last

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 18, 2018, 2:39 pm

The PGA Tour announced on Tuesday plans to change the FedExCup format for the 2018-19 season. Part of that plan is to assign pre-tournament strokes to players in the Tour Championship based on their playoff standings in the first two events. 

Per GolfChannel.com senior writer Rex Hoggard:

The No. 1 player on the post-season points list will begin the finale at 10 under par. The next four players will start at 8 under through 5 under, respectively, while Nos. 6-10 will begin the tournament at 4 under par with the total regressing by one stroke every five players with those ranked 26th through 30thstarting at even par. The winner at East Lake will also claim the FedExCup.

Here's a look at where players would start this year's Tour Championship under the new format (through the three events already contested):

1 Bryson DeChambeau 10 under
2 Justin Rose 8 under
3 Tony Finau 7 under
4 Dustin Johnson 6 under
5 Justin Thomas 5 under
T-6 Keegan Bradley 4 under
T-6 Brooks Koepka 4 under
T-6 Bubba Watson 4 under
T-6 Billy Horschel 4 under
T-6 Cameron Smith 4 under
T-11 Webb Simpson 3 under
T-11 Jason Day 3 under
T-11 Francesco Molinari 3 under
T-11 Phil Mickelson 3 under
T-11 Patrick Reed 3 under
T-16 Patrick Cantlay 2 under
T-16 Rory McIlroy 2 under
T-16 Xander Schauffele 2 under
T-16 Tommy Fleetwood 2 under
T-16 Tiger Woods 2 under
T-21 Aaron Wise 1 under
T-21 Kevin Na 1 under
T-21 Rickie Fowler 1 under
T-21 Jon Rahm 1 under
T-21 Kyle Stanley 1 under
T-26 Paul Casey Even par
T-26 Hideki Matsuyama Even par
T-26 Gary Woodland Even par
T-26 Marc Leishman Even par
T-26 Patton Kizzire Even par

Here's a look at how last year's Tour Championship played out, with Xander Schauffele winning the event and Justin Thomas claiming the overall FedExCup title, and how it would have looked, all things equal, under the new system (in which Jordan Spieth began the finale as the No. 1 seed and would have started the event at 10 under par). In the new system, Thomas would have been the FedExCup champion.

2017 Tour Championship Player Final score   2017 in new system Player Final score
1 Xander Schauffele -12   1 Justin Thomas  -19
2 Justin Thomas  -11    2 Jordan Spieth  -17 
T-3 Russell Henley  -10    3 Paul Casey  -13 
T-3 Kevin Kisner  -10    T-4 Jon Rahm  -12 
5 Paul Casey  -9    T-4 Brooks Koepka  -12 
6 Brooks Koepka  -8    T-4 Kevin Kisner  -12 
T-7 Tony Finau  -7    T-4 Xander Schauffele   -12
T-7 Jon Rahm  -7    T-8 Justin Rose  -10 
T-7 Jordan Spieth  -7    T-8 Russell Henley  -10 
T-10 Sergio Garcia  -6    T-10 Dustin Johnson  -9 
T-10 Matt Kuchar  -6    T-10 Matt Kuchar  -9 
T-10 Justin Rose  -6    12 Tony Finau  -8 
T-13 Patrick Reed  -5    T-13 Daniel Berger  -7 
T-13 Webb Simpson  -5    T-13 Webb Simpson  -7 
15 Daniel Berger  -4    T-13 Sergio Garcia  -7 
16 Pat Perez  -3    T-16 Pat Perez  -6 
T-17 Jason Day  -2    T-16 Patrick Reed -6 
T-17 Dustin Johnson  -2    18 Marc Leishman  -3
19 Gary Woodland  -1     T-19 Kyle Stanley  -1 
T-20 Patrick Cantlay    T-19 Gary Woodland  -1 
T-20 Jason Dufner    T-21 Jason Day 
T-20 Kyle Stanley  E   T-21 Adam Hadwin 
23 Adam Hadwin  +1   T-21 Patrick Cantlay 
T-24 Brian Harman  +3    T-21 Jason Dufner 
T-24 Marc Leishman  +3    25 Brian Harman  +1 
T-26 Rickie Fowler +6    T-26 Rickie Fowler  +2 
T-26 Hideki Matsuyama  +6    T-26 Hideki Matsuyama  +2 
T-28 Kevin Chappell  +9    28 Charley Hoffman  +6 
T-28 Charley Hoffman  +9    29 Kevin Chappell  +7 
30 Jnonattan Vegas  +10    30 Jhonattan Vegas  +8 
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Stock Watch: Up or down for FedExCup changes?

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 18, 2018, 2:20 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.


Angela Stanford (+9%): In this era of youthful dominance, Justin Rose and now Stanford offer reminders that sometimes the long, winding journey is even more rewarding. It took Rose 20 years to reach world No. 1; for Stanford, she needed 76 major starts (and 15 years after a major playoff loss) before she finally became a Grand Slam winner, at age 40.

Sang-Moon Bae (+6%): The next time you complain about losing your game after a few weeks away, remember that the two-time Tour winner shelved his clubs for TWO YEARS to fulfill his South Korean military obligations and then regained his card. That’s a heckuva achievement.

FedExCup changes (+5%): Though the Tour Championship shouldn’t count as an official victory – come on, the playoffs leader has a TEN-SHOT head start over No. 26! – the strokes-based system is no doubt easier to follow than the various points fluctuations. RIP, Steve Sands’ whiteboard.

Tyler McCumber (+3%): Maybe he’s on his way to challenging his famous father, who won 10 times on the PGA Tour. A three-time winner this season in Canada, McCumber clinched Mackenzie Tour Player of the Year honors and will be one to watch next year on the Web.

Matthew Wolff (+2%): The reigning NCAA Freshman of the Year is now 2-for-2 this season, winning at both Pebble Beach and Olympia Fields with a 67.2 scoring average. He’s a primetime player.  


Amy Olson (-1%): To win a major most need to have their heart broken at least once … but that ugly 72nd-hole double bogey could linger for longer than she probably hoped.  

Lexi (-2%): As heartwarming as it was to watch Stanford snap her major-less drought, keep in mind that the best U.S. player – the 23-year-old Thompson – next April will be five years removed from her lone LPGA major title.

Web final (-3%): Twenty-five Tour cards will be on the line this week at the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship, but here’s guessing you won’t even notice – for some reason, it conflicts with the big tour’s season finale. Why couldn’t this have been played last week, when the Tour was dark and the Web could get some much-needed exposure?

Player of the Year debate (-5%): As much as the Tour might promote otherwise during its big-money conclusion, Justin Thomas said it best on Twitter: Majors trump all. It’s Brooks Koepka’s trophy this year.  

Repairing damage (-6%): Golf’s governing bodies are confident that the new rules (out Jan. 1!) will speed up pace of play, but it’s hard to see how that’s possible when they now will allow players to tap down spike marks on the green. With $1 million and major titles on the line, you don’t think guys will spend an extra minute or two gardening?

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FedExCup gets massive overhaul for next season

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 2:05 pm

ATLANTA – The PGA Tour unveiled more dramatic changes to the FedExCup and its playoffs on Tuesday, outlining a new model to determine the season-long champion and giving a boost to the circuit’s regular season.

Starting next year when the Tour transitions from four post-season events to three, the FedExCup champion will be determined solely on the outcome at the Tour Championship, with players beginning the week at East Lake with a predetermined total based on their position on the points list.

The No. 1 player on the post-season points list will begin the finale at 10 under par. The next four players will start at 8 under through 5 under, respectively, while Nos. 6-10 will begin the tournament at 4 under par with the total regressing by one stroke every five players with those ranked 26th through 30th starting at even par. The winner at East Lake will also claim the FedExCup.

Current FedExCup standings

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The new system removes the confusing calculations that have highlighted the finale since the season-long race began in 2007 and avoids awkward moments like last year when Xander Schauffele won the Tour Championship but Justin Thomas claimed the FedExCup.

“As soon as the Tour Championship begins, any fan – no matter if they’ve followed the PGA Tour all season or are just tuning in for the final event – can immediately understand what’s going on and what’s at stake for every single player in the field,” commissioner Jay Monahan said in a statement.

A player’s rank on the points list will be based on their play in the first two playoff events, The Northern Trust (125 players) and BMW Championship (70 players), and a victory at East Lake will count as an official triumph, although it remains to be seen if players will receive world ranking points at what is essentially a handicapped event.

The Tour also announced the addition of a regular-season bonus pool called the Wyndham Rewards Top 10. The $10 million bonus pool will be based on regular-season performance, with the No. 1 player on the points list after the Wyndham Championship, the final regular-season event, earning $2 million.

In addition to the format changes at the Tour Championship and regular-season race, Monahan announced that the FedExCup bonus pool will increase to $60 million, up from $35 million, with the champion receiving $15 million.

“Now is the time to make these changes,” Monahan said, “and thanks to significant input in the process by our players, partners and fans, I believe we’re making exactly the right moves.”