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An almost fitting finale at East Lake

By Rex HoggardSeptember 25, 2017, 12:16 am

ATLANTA – At precisely 4:24 p.m. ET the season of synchronicity reached its undisputed apex, the confluence of convoluted math and an endearing friendship.

It was Brooks Koepka who set the stage for the year’s ultimate conclusion with a birdie at the 13th hole to move into a tie for sixth at the Tour Championship.

It’s the butterfly effect, only with calculators.

While Koepka was only remotely in contention for the title at the finale and not even in the FedExCup conversation, his late charge slightly altered the points so that Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas were projected in a tie for the lead in the season-long race.

JT vs. Jordan. Jordan vs. JT. It was only apropos that the 2016-17 season would come down to such a potentially dramatic and anticipated finish. Spieth with three victories and a major (The Open) and Thomas, a five-time winner including the PGA Championship, had spent the entire year one-upping each other and building on a friendship that began over a decade ago.

“I laughed when I saw it,” said Thomas of the tie that was projected on leaderboards across East Lake. “I thought honestly, this probably will happen and the golf world will completely blow up and lose its mind if Jordan and I were in a playoff for the FedExCup. I don't think anybody would have known what to do with themselves.”

In a fitting piece of foreshadowing, Spieth wondered earlier this week what it would be like to have to wait and watch as others decide your competitive fortunes, like then-points frontrunner Dustin Johnson had to last year at East Lake.


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Final FedExCup Playoff points standings


“It's tough,” he said on Tuesday. “I mean [Johnson] is sitting there not able to control a $7 million difference, like that doesn't happen anywhere else. It's like having a $7 million bet on a fight that you're not even taking part in.”

Instead, this particular convoluted fight featured a cast of eclectic characters.

Throughout all of its iterations, there has been a single unchanged theme to the playoffs – it takes a village to crown a FedExCup champion.

If Koepka was the one who tempted us with a possible $10 million showdown between Spieth and Thomas, it was Kevin Kisner’s birdie at the sixth to temporarily move into the lead by himself that propelled Spieth into the projected points hot seat. Forty-five minutes later, it was Tony Finau’s birdie to close his week that prompted an equally dramatic flip, with Thomas moving into the top spot.

You get the idea.

A game that invests so much in individual accomplishments turns into a crowd-sourcing experiment at the circuit’s big finish, and it was no surprise that it was the play of those on the periphery that had such an influence on the outcome.

Within an eight-minute window, Paul Casey, the overnight leader who struggled to a closing 73, and Kisner found the water with their tee shots at the par-3 15th hole and both made bogey, a twist that began to bring some much-needed clarity into the picture.

Throughout it all, Spieth – who began the week first on the points list – sat helpless as the scenarios and situations dictated his emotions, but it didn’t take long for his fate to be sealed. Less than 20 minutes after finishing his round, the last remnants of hope faded into the humid afternoon when Thomas birdied the 17th hole to take a share of the lead.

“I almost cheated my way into winning the FedExCup,” Spieth figured during what amounted to a concession speech with Thomas and eventual winner Xander Schauffele still on the course.

Instead, it was Thomas who had the longer wait after wrapping up the season-long title with a par at the 18th hole. From there, the Tour Championship came down to the presumptive Player of the Year vs. the presumptive Rookie of the Year.

Schauffele, who just three months ago was grinding away hoping to secure his Tour card for next season, made birdie at the last hole to become the first rookie to win the Tour Championship. But if the 23-year-old’s victory was something of a surprise to casual observers, it fit perfectly with his own tempered expectations for this week.

“I just feel very fortunate to even be here really starting off the week,” Schauffele said. “I was just happy to walk around the property, the Tour Championship, last 30 guys in the field. It was a very eerie vibe walking around and I just felt very lucky and here I am talking to you so I feel even luckier.”

For just the third time in the playoff era that began in 2007 the winner of the Tour Championship didn’t also take home the season-long trophy, and although his competitive zeal is quickly becoming legendary, Thomas took no small amount of solace in the $10 million consolation prize.

“Feels very weird,” said Thomas, who finished alone in second for his 12th top-10 finish of the season. “It's odd getting something so tremendous, one of my best achievements in my career without winning a golf tournament, so it feels different but it's still great.”

That Thomas likely wrapped up the Player of the Year Award on Sunday should also help soften the blow of coming up short at East Lake.

Nor can one ignore the significance of how the season ended, with the game’s two most consistent players battling until the very end with the high school Class of 2011 – Schauffele is also a member of that class, it should be noted – proving yet again how special and potentially historic this group can be.

As has become the status quo at the Tour Championship, the circuit’s finale is often a complicated collection of cause-and-effect relationships. Koepka birdies the 13th hole, two of the game’s titans are poised for a showdown; Finau birdies the 18th hole and Thomas readies for an eight-figure payday.

Confusing? No doubt. But don’t let the math or method detract from what was by any measure an epic season and ending by two singular players, even if it didn’t finish with an Internet-breaking showdown.

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McCarthy wins Web.com Tour Championship by 4

By Associated PressSeptember 24, 2018, 2:14 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Denny McCarthy won the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship on Sunday to earn fully exempt PGA Tour status and a spot in the Players Championship.

McCarthy closed with a 6-under 65 for a four-stroke victory over Lucas Glover at Atlantic Beach Country Club. The 25-year-old former Virginia player earned $180,000 to top the 25 PGA Tour card-earners with $255,793 in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals.

''It's been quite a journey this year,'' McCarthy said. ''The PGA Tour was tough to start out the year. I stuck through it and got my game. I raised my level and have been playing some really good golf. Just feels incredible to finish off these Finals. So much work behind the scenes that nobody really sees.''

McCarthy finished at 23-under 261.


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Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, closed with a 69. He made $108,000 to finish seventh with $125,212 in the series for the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200.

Jim Knous earned the 25th and final card from the four-event money list with $41,931, edging Justin Lower by $500. Knous made a 5-foot par save on the final hole for a 71 that left him tied for 57th. Lower missed an 8-footer for birdie, settling for a 69 and a tie for 21st.

''It was a brutal day emotionally,'' Knous said. ''I wasn't quite sure how much my performance would affect the overall outcome. It kind of just depended on what everybody else did. That's pretty terrifying. So I really just kind of did my best to stay calm and inside I was really freaking out and just super psyched that at the end of the day finished right there on No. 25.''

The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list competed against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. Sungjae Im topped the list to earn the No. 1 priority spot of the 50 total cards.

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LaCava pushed Woods to work on bunker game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 1:52 am

ATLANTA – Last week as Tiger Woods prepared to play the season finale at East Lake he sent a text message to his caddie Joey LaCava that simply asked, what do I need to do to get better?

Although when it comes to Woods his proficiency is always relative, but LaCava didn’t pull any punches, and as the duo completed the final round on Sunday at the Tour Championship with a bunker shot to 7 feet at the last the two traded knowing smiles.

“We had a talk last week about his bunker game and I said, ‘I’m glad you kept that bunker game stuff in mind,’” LaCava said. “I told him he was an average bunker player and he worked at it last week. There were only two bunker shots he didn’t get up-and-down, I don’t count the last one on 18. He recognized that after two days. He was like, ‘What do you know, I’m 100 percent from the bunkers and I’m in the lead after two days.”


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For the week, Woods got up-and-down from East Lake’s bunkers seven out of nine times and cruised to a two-stroke victory for his first PGA Tour title since 2013. That’s a dramatic improvement over his season average of 49 percent (100th on Tour).

“His bunker game was very average coming into this week,” LaCava said. “I said you’ve got to work on your bunker game. If you had a decent bunker game like the Tiger of old you would have won [the BMW Championship].”

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For Woods, is this only the beginning?

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 1:42 am

If this is Tiger Woods nine months into a comeback, wait until he actually shakes the rust off.

This was supposed to be the year he kicked the tires, to see how his body held up after all those knives digging into his back.

To see if a short game could truly be rescued from chunks and skulls.

To see if a 42-year-old living legend could outfox the kids.

On the final breath of the PGA Tour season, it was Tiger Woods who took ours away.

Playing alongside Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club – and one group behind the current World No. 1 and eventual FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose – Woods bludgeoned the field and kneecapped Father Time. 

It was Dean Smith and the Four Corners offense.  Emmitt Smith moving the chains. Nolan Ryan mowing them down.

And all of a sudden you wonder if Phil Mickelson wishes he’d made alternate Thanksgiving plans.

Even if everybody saw a win coming, it was something else to actually see it happen, to see the man in the red shirt reach another gear just one more time.

Win No. 80 reminded us, as Roger Maltbie once said of Woods when he came back from knee surgery in 2009: “A lot of people can play the fiddle. Only one guy is Itzhak Perlman.”

It wasn’t long ago that Tiger Woods seemed headed toward a disheartening final chapter as a broken man with a broken body.


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He would host a couple of tournaments, do some great charity work, shout instructions into a walkie talkie at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and call it a career.

There would be no Nicklaus 1986 Masters moment, no Hogan Mystique at Merion.

He would leave competitive golf as perhaps both the greatest to ever play the game and its greatest cautionary tale.

Willie Mays with the New York Mets. Muhammad Ali taking punishment from Larry Holmes.

But then Brad Faxon and Rickie Fowler started whispering at the end of 2017 that Tiger was healthy and hitting the ball hard. 

There was that hold-your-breath opening tee shot at the Hero World Challenge, a bullet that flew the left bunker and bounded into the fairway.

Rollercoaster rides at Tampa and Bay Hill, backward steps at Augusta and Shinnecock, forward leaps at The Open and the PGA.

He switched putters and driver shafts (and shirts, oh my!) and seemed at times tantalizingly close and maddeningly far.

That he even decided to try to put his body and game back together was one of the all-time Hail Marys in golf.

Why go through all of that rehab again?

Why go through the scrutiny of having your current game measured against your untouchable prime?

Because you’re Tiger Woods, is why, because you’ve had way more wonderful days on the golf course than poor ones, despite five winless years on the PGA Tour.

Suddenly, Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins is in jeopardy and Jack Nicklaus, holder of a record of 18 major championships, is at the very least paying attention.

Woods has put the golf world on notice.

It won’t be long until everyone starts thinking about the 2019 major schedule (and you’d better believe that Tiger already is).

The Masters, where he has four green jackets and seven other Top 5 finishes. The PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he won in 2002 by 3. The United States Open at Pebble Beach, where he won in 2000 by 15.

The Open at Royal Portrush, where his savvy and guile will be a strong 15th club.

But that’s a talk for a later date.

Tiger is clearly still getting his sea legs back.

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Nonfactor McIlroy mum after lackluster 74

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2018, 1:04 am

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy didn’t have anything to say to the media after the final round of the Tour Championship, and that’s understandable.

McIlroy began the final round at East Lake three shots behind Tiger Woods. He finished six back.

McIlroy closed in 4-over 74 to tie for seventh place.

In their matchup, Woods birdied the first hole to go four in front, and when McIlroy bogeyed the par-4 fourth, he was five in arrears. McIlroy went on to make three more bogeys, one double bogey and just two birdies.


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McIlroy was never a factor on Sunday and ultimately finished tied for 13th in the FedExCup standings.

The two rivals, Woods and McIlroy, shared plenty of conversations while walking down the fairways. On the 18th hole, Woods said McIlroy told him the scene was like the 1980 U.S. Open when people were shouting, “Jack’s back!”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t have the tight pants and the hair,’” Woods joked. “But it was all good.”

It’s now off to Paris for the upcoming Ryder Cup, where Woods and McIlroy will again be foes. It will be McIlroy’s fifth consecutive appearance in the biennial matches, while Woods is making his first since 2012.