Top 10 Newsmakers: FedExcitement

By Mercer BaggsDecember 10, 2010, 10:55 am

Top 10 NewsmakersAfter two lackluster campaigns, the FedEx Cup produced a bit of drama in 2009. Thanks to a change in the points system, a player could have won the first three events and still not have captured the $10 million bonus prize. Fair or not, it added excitement until the end, when Tiger Woods won the top prize and Phil Mickelson captured the Tour Championship.

The PGA Tour liked what it saw enough to offer no alterations for 2010. And, again fair or not, it produced four great tournaments with a grand finale.

It began at The Barclays in Paramus, N.J., continued with the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston, carried over into the BMW Championship near Chicago, and concluded with a free-for-all at the Tour Championship in Atlanta.

The Barclays

the Barclays Logo 2007Ernie Els entered the playoffs atop the FedEx Cup standings following a reset of points. Els, however, hadn’t won since March and ultimately finished ninth after four unimpressive performances.

Jim Furyk was third in the initial playoff standings, but nearly dropped out of the picture when his cell phone, which he uses as an alarm clock, died on the eve of the tournament and he missed his pro-am time. Under PGA Tour rules, he was disqualified from the tournament proper.

But the big story leading into the event was Tiger Woods. The two-time FedEx Cup champion began the playoffs 112th in points, with the top 100 advancing to Round 2. Despite a blasé T-12, he still managed to move onto Boston in 65th place.

In the end, it was Matt Kuchar holding The Barclays trophy, along with his two sons, thanks to one clutch shot and two poor putts from Martin Laird.

Laird needed only to two-putt from 25 feet on the final hole of regulation to win his first PGA Tour event. Instead, he ran the first putt 7 feet past and missed the comeback putt for par. On the first hole of sudden death, Kuchar hit a 7-iron from 192 yards out of the rough. The ball ran through the green, caught the back fringe, turned left toward the hole and settled 30 inches away for the winning birdie.

Kuchar, who was arguably the most consistent player of the “regular” season despite not winning, was both victorious and in the mix for Player of the Year.

Deutsche Bank Championship

DeutscheBank Logo 2007The second playoff event saw similarities to the first. There was Chad Campbell, who like Furyk before him, was disqualified. Campbell’s offense – failing to register – knocked him out of the playoffs, though.

There was Woods, who posted a mundane T-11 and managed to stay alive as well as winless.

And there was Phil Mickelson, who for the umpteenth time had a chance to usurp Woods atop the world ranking, but fell flat with a closing 76.

The Deutsche Bank conclusion, however, was quite dissimilar to The Barclays’. There was no playoff, no dramatic final shot. Just a dominating final round by Charley Hoffman.

The mop-topped Californian lit off Labor Day fireworks with a 9-under 62 at TPC Boston to win by five over three others.

Hoffman moved from 59th in the FedEx Cup standings to second. He also locked up a spot in the finale as well as all four majors in 2011, including what will be his first Masters Tournament.

BMW Championship

BMW ChampionshipThe third event of the playoffs will be remembered for two items: Dustin Johnson’s resolve and Tiger Woods’ fall.

For the first time, Woods failed to qualify for the Tour Championship. His tie for 15th left him well outside the cut line for the top 30.

“That’s just the way it is,” Woods said. “I didn’t play well early in the year, and I didn’t play well in the middle of the year.”

Johnson had played well all year. He won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for a second consecutive season and nearly captured two majors – nearly.

Johnson led by three through 54 holes in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, but imploded early in the final round and shot 82. At the PGA Championship, he led by one on the 72nd hole and seemingly made bogey to fall into a three-way playoff. It was determined soon thereafter that he unwittingly grounded his club in a fairway bunker and his 5 was changed to a 7. No playoff, no major title.

There was also no self pity and no loathing. Johnson refused to wallow and instead rebounded for his second victory of the year at Cog Hill.

Playing in the final group, the 26-year-old blasted a monumental tee shot over the trees on the par-4 17th to set up a tap-in birdie for the outright lead. Up one, and just a month removed from being in a similar situation at the PGA, Johnson calmly made par to showcase his grit – and immense talent.

Tour Championship

THE TOUR Championship by Coke 2007 LogoEven sans Woods, the Tour Championship was full of drama. In addition to the tournament title and FedEx Cup crown being up for grabs, so, too, was the Player of the Year award.

For once, it seemed like the PGA Tour had what it wanted during football season – an ultimate event that would determine a true champion, much like the NFL does with their final game which we aren’t legally allowed to mention by name.

As was the case a year ago, due to the points system, all 30 players in the field had a chance to win the Cup. But this time, five of them held their fate in their hands.

Kuchar, Johnson, Hoffman, Steve Stricker and Paul Casey could win the $10 million bonus with a win in Atlanta.

Kuchar, who was a celebrated amateur at Georgia Tech, held the top spot in the standings and was also among the favorites for Player of the Year, along with Johnson and Masters champion Mickelson.

Then there were a pair of intriguing side stories involving Casey. The Englishman had not been granted a roster spot on the European Ryder Cup team and was dead set on proving to captain Colin Montgomerie that the Scot had made a huge mistake. There was also the matter of winning, which Casey had not done on Tour this year and projections showed that he could fail to win the Tour Championship as well and still claim the FedEx Cup.

Casey gave it a great run, eventually finishing T-4. His performance was better than the four guys in front of him in the standing, Kuchar (T-25), Johnson (T-22), Stricker (T-25) and Hoffman (sixth). But – once again – it wasn’t good enough.

From the shadows emerged Furyk, the man who missed the first playoff event due to a faulty cell phone/alarm clock.

Thanks to an even-par 70 during a demanding third round, Furyk held a one-shot lead entering the final stanza. But because he was 11th in the FedEx Cup standing to start the week, he needed more than to just win the event in order to capture the Cup.

Casey, who was four back through 54 holes, could still finish solo second and win the $10 million bonus. Charley Hoffman, who was five back, could finish alone in third and do the same.

It made for an intriguing final 18 holes, and it wasn’t settled until the final shot.

Within the final hour of play, five people still had a chance to win the Cup. But when Casey bogeyed the 17th and Furyk birdied 15, the latter held a three-stroke lead.

He almost let it slip away however, like sand through his fingers. Furyk bogeyed 16 and 17 to enter the final hole with a one-shot advantage.

On the par-3 18th, Furyk hit his tee shot into the left greenside bunker. With rain steadily falling, and a bogey meaning a sudden-death playoff with Luke Donald, Furyk hit the bunker shot of his life, nearly holing it and landing it to inside 3 feet.

Turning his hat backward to keep the rain from dripping off its bill, Furyk rapped in the par putt and let out his most exuberant fist pump ever. 

'It just hit me,' Furyk said of his reaction. 'I was excited and dropped the putter and ... I don't know. I guess at that moment, you're not really responsible for what happens next.'

There was good cause to celebrate: Furyk won the $1.35 million first-place prize, the $10 million bonus and wrapped up Player of the Year honors with his third win of the season.

He also put a big, flashy bow on what was easily the most exciting PGA Tour Playoffs in its brief four-year existence.

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After Further Review: Nelson lost in the shuffle?

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 21, 2018, 3:40 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the Nelson's future ...

If the goal was “different” by bringing the AT&T Byron Nelson to Trinity Forest, consider it achieved. But bringing a world-class field south of Dallas could still be tricky.

Yes, the tournament can always rely on local resident and AT&T spokesman Jordan Spieth to throw his hat in the ring. But even with Spieth strolling the fairways this week, the field strength was among the worst all season for a full-point event.

The debut of the sprawling, links-like layout likely did little to sway the undecideds, with only the third round offering the challenging conditions that course co-designer Ben Crenshaw had envisioned. And the schedule won’t do them any favors next year, as a revamped itinerary likely puts the Nelson right before the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

The course will inevitably get better with age, and Spieth expects positive word of mouth to spread. But it might be a while before the stars truly align for an event that, for the moment, feels lost in the shuffle of a hectic schedule. – Will Gray

On Jordan Spieth's putting ...

Jordan Spieth’s putting is plainly bad right now, but it isn’t going to stay this bad forever.

He is the second ranked player on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, just like he was last year. This putting slump has lingered, but it’s unfathomable to think this guy just forgot how to putt.

Sooner rather than later he’s going to remember he’s Jordan Spieth and the 40-footers are going to start pouring in. He’ll be telling Greller to go get the ball because he’s too far away and the tee is in the other direction.

Bottom line, the ball striking is for real and the putting slump will pass. He’ll win soon – maybe even as soon as this week. – Nick Menta

On golf and gambling ...

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court over tuned a federal ban on sports betting in most states, a move the PGA Tour and many professional sports leagues embraced as a tool to both build fan interest and grow revenue.

Experts estimate sports betting could become a $150-$200 billion annual industry, and even a small piece of that could be significant for golf, but there will be risks.

Unlike any other sport, golf is played on multiple fields simultaneously, which inherently creates risks when gambling is introduced to the equation. Although the Tour has gone to great pains to head off any potential problems, like all bets gambling comes with great rewards, and great risks. – Rex Hoggard

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Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 3:13 am

DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.

Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.

He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.

Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.

With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.

“She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”

Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.

That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.

“I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”

Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.

“He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”

Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.

The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.

“I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”

Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.

“It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”

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Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:51 am

DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.

“Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”

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Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:33 am

DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.

Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.

Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”

Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.

“I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.