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Randall's Rant: Keep the playoffs, ditch the points

By Randall MellAugust 28, 2017, 8:15 pm

The FedExCup Playoffs are like one of those ideas Forrest Gump inspired in the 1994 film.

Inexplicable success keeps pouring forth from a head-scratching source.

It’s like that scene where Gump’s face is splashed with mud at a truck stop, and a T-shirt salesman hands Gump a shirt to wipe himself, and Gump turns the mess into a smiley face that makes the salesman millions.

That’s the FedExCup Playoffs

It’s a beautiful mess of an idea.

It’s amazing how the PGA Tour’s postseason has thrived for 11 years in spite of itself, in spite of a convoluted, confusing and confounding points system.

We saw it again Sunday, when Dustin Johnson defeated Jordan Spieth in a terrific duel at The Northern Trust, the opening playoff event. It was great theater, with this postseason giving us meaningful golf we wouldn’t enjoy without the playoffs concept.

You put up a $10 million jackpot, get the best players in the world to compete in a series of individual tournaments played in a traditional format, and you’ve got the foundation for something special. It’s what makes the postseason work in spite of the muddle the points create in the end.

Yes, this is old, trampled down territory, but it’s relevant again with first-year PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan opening the door to change. He would like to improve on the FedExCup playoff idea, if possible. So, now’s the time to propose meaningful changes.

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Where to begin?

Scrap the points formula.

Points are so maddeningly counterintuitive to golf, where par and money are the traditional measuring sticks. It’s not that fans can’t understand the points system. It’s how there are so many maddening possibilities in the fluctuating projections, which only serve to dampen the drama in the end, instead of intensify it.

We’ve learned to try to block out the points in the end, to tune into the golf we understand, where par matters in the individual tournament’s outcome.

Eleven years in, and Bill Haas still owns the defining moment of these playoffs. No, not the moment when he saved par from the water to keep his chances alive at the Tour Championship in 2011. The defining moment is his reaction after he won the FedExCup that year. It’s his confusion seeing the FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship trophies being set out in front of him.

“So who won the FedExCup?” Haas asked.

Even Haas didn’t know he won it.

The Vince Lombardi Trophy, the Stanley Cup and the FIFA World Cup were never presented to guys scratching their heads.

So ditch the points.

A better idea lies in what Paul Azinger said about pressure. He said golfers need to know what they’re choking over at the end of an event. As Haas attested, players aren’t choking over FedExCup points at the end of the Tour Championship.

Give us par, Commish, or give us more confusion.

Monahan’s answer, a better playoff system, lies partly in setting up a tried-and-true formula where players know what they’re choking over on a last putt. That means using par to determine who wins the cup.

Use money to determine who gets into these playoffs, and then use par to determine who wins them.

If these really are “playoffs,” everyone starts from scratch once they begin, just like the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball.

Yes, you want to keep the drama building through the playoffs, and reward overall postseason performances, so don’t re-set points. Instead, re-set scores to par. Have two leaderboards in the playoffs, a tournament leaderboard and a FedEx Cup leaderboard, both linked to par. In principle, it’s no different than re-setting points, but a lot easier to comprehend.

It’s tough going, keeping the drama alive through the playoffs and crowning a deserving FedExCup playoff winner. Here’s hoping Monahan can figure out exactly how to do that, because since the FedExCup’s inception in 2007, nobody’s offered a can’t-miss idea.

Another thing, trim these playoffs to three events, as seems already in the works, and disqualify any player who doesn’t compete in all three events.

Mostly, somehow, some way, Mr. Commish, give us par, because with points, “The FedExCup Playoffs are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

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Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

"I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

"I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've get experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."

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Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

But he isn't celebrating just yet.

"I think I've won and lost actually from four ahead, so I've got experience both ways," Rose said. "Just shows you can't get ahead of yourself.

"It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

"So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."

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Grillo still hunting follow-up to debut win

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:53 pm

Following a round of 1-under 69 Saturday, Emiliano Grillo will enter Sunday's final round at Colonial four shots behind leader Justin Rose.

Grillo is hunting his first win since he took the 2015 Safeway Open in his rookie debut as a PGA Tour member. 

The young Argentinian finished 11th in the FedExCup points race that season, contending in big events and finishing runner-up at the 2016 Barclays.

In the process, Grillo had to learn to pace himself and that it can be fruitless to chase after success week to week.

"That was a hot run in there," Grillo said Saturday, referring to his rookie year. "I played, in 2016, I played the majors very well. I played the big tournaments very well. I was in contention after two, three days in most of the big events.

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"I think, you know, I wanted to do better. I pushed for it. Some of the tournaments I ended up being 50th or 60th just because I wanted to play. I wanted to play well so badly. That played against me, so I learned from that. In that rookie year, I learned that."

Grillo was still plenty successful in his sophomore season, advancing to the BMW Championship last fall.

But now he's beginning to regain some of that form that made him such an immediate success on Tour. Grillo has recorded four top-10 finishes year - a T-9 at Mayakoba, a T-8 at Honda, a T-3 at Houston, and a T-9 at Wells Fargo - and will now look to outduel U.S. Open champs in Rose and Brooks Koepka on Sunday at Colonial.

"Well, he's top 10 in the world, so everything he does he does it pretty well," Grillo said of Rose. "You know, he does his own thing. Like I say, he's top 10 in the world. Nothing wrong with his game. ...

"He's in the lead on a Sunday. Doesn't matter where you're playing, he's got to go out and shoot under par. He's got 50 guys behind him trying to reach him, and I'm one of those. I've just got to go out and do what he did today on those first five or six holes and try to get him in the early holes."

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Koepka looking to make hay on Horrible Horseshoe

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:26 pm

The Horrible Horseshoe - Nos. 3, 4 and 5 at Colonial Country Club - annually ranks as one of the toughest three-hole stretches on the PGA Tour.

Consider Brooks Koepka undeterred.

Last year's U.S. Open champ has played the stretch 2 over this week but knows that if he's going to have any chance at catching Justin Rose on Sunday, he's going to need take advantage of the par-5 first and then find a way to pick up shots on the Horseshoe.

"I feel like just need to get off to a good start on this golf course," Koepka said after a third-round 67 Saturday. "If you can get 2 or 3 under through six holes, I think you'll be right there."

Koepka will start the final round four behind Rose, as he looks to win for the first time since his maiden major victory last year.

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The big-hitter missed nearly four months this year with a wrist injury and is progressing quickly in his comeback despite dislocating his wrist on two different occasions over the last two months.

Koepka missed the cut with partner Marc Turnesa at the Zurich Classic in his competitive return before following up with a tie for 42nd at the Wells Fargo Championship and a tie for 11th at The Players Championship.

Now, thanks to a closing birdie Sunday, he finds himself playing alongside Rose in the final group on Sunday.

"I feel like my game is coming around," he said. "[At Zurich], I was five days into touching clubs. I am finally finding a rhythm and feel like I'm getting really close. ...

"Just want to get off to a good start [tomorrow]. That's really all I am trying to do. You put together a good solid round tomorrow, you never know what can happen. The important thing is we were just trying to get in that final group. I thought the putt on 18 was kind of big to get in that final group and play with Rosey."

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Rose leads Koepka, Grillo by four at Colonial

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 9:06 pm

On the strength of a 4-under 66 Saturday, Justin Rose will take a four-shot lead over Brooks Koepka and Emiliano Grillo into the final round of the Fort Worth Invitational. Here's where things stand through 54 holes at Colonial Country Club.

Leaderboard: Rose (-14), Koepka (-10), Grillo (-10), Corey Conners (-8), Jon Rahm (-8), Louis Oosthuizen (-8), J.T. Poston (-8), Ryan Armour (-8)

What it means: The fifth-ranked player in the world is 18 holes from his ninth PGA Tour victory and his second this season. Up one to start the third round, Rose extended his lead to as much as five with birdies on four of his first six holes. Through 54 holes, Rose has made 17 birdies and just three bogeys. The 2013 U.S. Open winner and 2016 Olympic gold medalist has a history of winning at iconic venues - Muirfield Village, Aronimink, Cog Hill, Doral, Merion and Congressional - and now looks to add Colonial to the list. He'll be chased on Sunday by Grillo, the young Argentinian who won his first Tour start as a member in 2015, and Koepka, last year's U.S. Open winner who continues to impress in his injury comeback despite ongoing wrist issues.

Round of the day: Corey Conners and Ted Potter both turned in 7-under 63. Potter was bogey-free and Conners came home in 6-under 29 on the back nine.

Best of the rest: Jon Rahm, Louis Oosthuizen, Brian Harman and Michael Thompson all signed for 64. Rahm called his six-birdie start the best 10 holes he's played so far this year.

Biggest disappointment: Jordan Spieth has finished second-first-second in the last three years at this event, but he's yet to find his normal Colonial form through three rounds. Spieth, who said Friday he was capable of shooting "10 or 12 under" over the weekend, shot even-par 70 Saturday. He sits in T-38 at 3 under for the week, 11 back.

Shot of the day: Rory Sabbatini closed out his third round Saturday with this eagle holeout from 134 yards at the 18th.

His colorful scorecard featured three bogeys, two birdies, a double bogey and that eagle. It added up to a 1-over 71.