Bunker Shots FedEx Cup hopes for finish to remember

By Randall MellSeptember 22, 2009, 5:52 pm

With the Tour Championship at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club, the course where Bobby Jones learned to play, we set the week’s storylines with the great one’s wisdom leading the way.

A FedEx Cup fiasco...

“Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course . . . the space between your ears.” Bobby Jones.

A doomsday scenario is in play at the FedEx Cup finish this week.

It’s possible the PGA Tour Playoffs go from anticlimactic conclusions their first two seasons to irrelevant in their third.

There are two players in the 30-man field who would be delighted to make the FedEx Cup irrelevant while taking home the $10 million jackpot that goes with it.

Jim Furyk and Padraig Harrington can finish second at the Tour Championship and win the FedEx Cup without having won a PGA Tour event all year.

Actually, a winless Furyk could finish third this week and still take home the FedEx Cup.

If that doesn’t doom the FedEx Cup’s credibility and make the Tour scrap the format and start all over, nothing will.

The Tour Championship may not finish that way, but it’s no farfetched reach it will.

The fact that it’s possible ought to scare the PGA Tour brass who devised this thing.

It’s a shame the FedEx Cup hasn’t worked better, because it’s a worthy idea.

Who doesn’t like the fact that this four-tournament finale gets the best players in the world to play more often against each other?

Who doesn’t see the value in creating a definitive ending to the season, a potential big-bang finish in a sport that never really had one?

The FedEx Cup makes the PGA Tour a better product achieving these aims.

The mistake was characterizing the idea as the PGA Tour Playoffs.

The playoff concept skews our expectations, disappoints us in failing to deliver what a playoff promises and irritates us because it feels so fraudulent.

The FedEx Cup Series or FedEx Cup Extravaganza wouldn’t particularly titillate as a title, but there’s nothing misleading in the name.

The FedEx Cup has a credibility problem because it aims to be something it cannot be.

If the Tour is really creating playoffs, doesn’t the winner of the Tour Championship have to win the FedEx Cup?

Nothing else makes sense and nothing else ever will.

Certainly, these two winless FedEx Cup champion scenarios don’t make sense:

– Furyk can finish second at the Tour Championship and win the FedEx Cup if Tiger Woods finishes fourth or worse while Steve Stricker finishes third or worse and the following players do not win: Zach Johnson, Heath Slocum, Padraig Harrington, Sean O’Hair and Scott Verplank.

– Harrington can finish second at the Tour Championship and win the FedEx Cup if Woods finishes 10th or worse while Stricker finishes fifth or worse, Furyk fourth or worse, Johnson and Slocum third or worse and the following players do not win: O’Hair, Verplank, Kenny Perry, Jason Dufner, Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, Geoff Ogilvy, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen.

A FedEx Cup finish to remember

“On the golf course, a man may be the dogged victim of inexorable fate, be struck down by an appalling stroke of tragedy, become the hero of unbelievable melodrama, or the clown in a side-splitting comedy.” Bobby Jones

The FedEx Cup desperately needs a defining moment.

Three years into the playoff format, and we’re still searching for a Tour Championship highlight that touches us in a way that endures.

Phil Mickelson may not make sense as the FedEx Cup champion, given his competitive slide since his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this season, but a Mickelson victory would be the feel-good story of the year, an emotionally fulfilling climax versus the unsatisfying finishes of the first two seasons.

Throw out his tie for second at the U.S Open, when it felt like practically all of New York was rooting for him, and Mickelson’s best finish since announcing Amy’s diagnosis in May is a tie for 27th. He hasn’t been very competitive with his heart committed elsewhere, but his play can turn around quickly with a hot putter.

To win the FedEx Cup, Mickelson has to win the Tour Championship and then hope Woods finishes ninth or worse while Stricker finishes fifth or worse, Furyk finishes fourth or worse and Zach Johnson and Heath Slocum finish third or worse.

Red, white and bruised...

“The object in golf is to beat someone. Make sure that someone is not yourself.” Bobby Jones.

Na Yeon Choi’s victory Sunday at the Samsung Championship extends the international winning streak on the LPGA.

We’re at 13 consecutive events and counting now.

That’s how many tournaments have passed since an American won an LPGA tournament.

It’s the longest American drought within any of the 60 seasons in LPGA history.

Do we need reminding with the tour headed to the CVS/Pharmacy LPGA Challenge in Danville, Calif.? Yes. Does it matter if Americans win? Absolutely.

Sure, the LPGA is a global tour, but it’s American founded and American based and American companies like investing in Americans. So as long as American businesses are needed as the tour’s foundation, and Americans comprise the largest audience, it’s good for business when Americans win. So, yeah, Bunker Shots is keeping track the way it keeps track of its favorite stocks. There’s nationalistic pride, for sure, just as there is in every nation. It’s why they keep a medal count in the Olympics.

Speaking of medal counts, make that nine LPGA victories for the South Koreans this year. They’re two away from their LPGA record. South Koreans won 11 in 2006.

Americans have claimed four LPGA titles this year. If they don’t win at least two of the final six LPGA events, this year will mark the fewest victories Americans have claimed since the tour was founded in 1950. The Americans won six in ’02.


Rich blood runs through pre-qualifiers

“One reason golf is such an exasperating game is that a thing we learned is so easily forgotten, and we find ourselves struggling year after year with faults we had discovered and corrected time and again.” Bobby Jones

Gary Nicklaus and Sam Saunders add some spice to the PGA Tour Q-School pre-qualifier that starts Tuesday at the Golf Club at Dallas.

Nicklaus, 40, the fourth of Jack Nicklaus’ five children, played the PGA Tour from 2000-02 before leaving the game to work in the family business. His best finish was at the 2000 BellSouth Classic, where he lost to Phil Mickelson in a playoff after the event was shortened to 54 holes because of rain. Nicklaus regained his amateur status in 2007 but is bidding to make one more run at fulfilling his professional dreams.

Saunders, 22, grandson to Arnold Palmer, turned pro last month with a year of eligibility left at Clemson. He won a Moonlight Tour event on a Florida mini-tour before missing the cut last week playing the Nationwide Tour’s Albertsons Boise Open on a sponsor’s exemption.

The event at Golf Club of Dallas is one of five pre-qualifiers before Q-School’s first-stage events begin next month. Phil Nevin, a former Major League Baseball player, is scheduled to tee it up Tuesday at the pre-qualifier at Black Horse Golf Club in Seaside, Calif. Nevin played with seven teams before retiring after the 2006 season. He made the National League All-Star team in 2001 as a third baseman.

Three of the five pre-qualifiers are already complete. Mike Van Sickle, a standout at Marquette and the son of Sports Illustrated golf writer Gary Van Sickle, won the event staged at Yankee Hill Country Club in Lincoln, Neb. Jeff Dennis of Jacksonville, Fla., won the pre-qualifier at Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club in Dade City, Fla., and Brent Witcher of Lawrenceville, Ga., won at East Valley Golf Club in Beaumont, Calif.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”