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Catch him if you can: Spieth leads by three in N.Y.

By Rex HoggardAugust 26, 2017, 11:08 pm

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – You know the deal, in the playoffs things can change faster than a New York minute, although to be accurate it took the better part of 20 minutes on Saturday to completely shake things up at the Northern Trust.

In consecutive groups, co-leaders Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Jhonattan Vegas bogeyed the opening hole at Glen Oaks. Just like that, Dustin Johnson went from absolute gridlock to gliding along like he was heading east on the Long Island Expressway after a long holiday weekend.

That solitude didn’t last. It never does in these parts.

Spieth tied Johnson with a 21-footer for birdie at the fifth and pulled away with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 7 and 8 on his way to a 6-under 64 which tied for the day’s lowest round and set him three strokes clear of Johnson and a cool five shots ahead of everyone not named Dustin.

Glen Oaks has proven to be a formidable first-time test, particularly the club’s outward loop that has played nearly a stroke harder than the closing nine, but unless there’s a similar early shakeup like the one that highlighted Saturday’s round this could quickly turn into a walk-off for Spieth.

“There's a lot of bogey, birdie, two-, three-shot swings on holes out here because if you're in the fairway, a lot of them become birdie holes versus in the rough they become really difficult pars,” Spieth said. “So anything can happen tomorrow.”

Of course Spieth would say that, it’s what he’s supposed to say and of all the 24-year-old’s attributes humility is by far his most endearing, but some of those who will begin Sunday chasing didn’t share his optimism.


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FedExCup standings entering the playoffs


When Tiger Woods donned the black and red on Sunday in his prime with a field goal advantage there was a general sense of admiring acceptance that everyone else was playing for second place. Spieth isn’t that guy. Maybe he’ll get there when he wins 11 more majors, but there is something about the Golden Child that gives the field pause.

“You didn't see Tiger hitting it off the practice ground at an Open Championship and making errors, and then amazing come backs,” said Paul Casey, a reference to Spieth’s historic scrambling victory last month at Royal Birkdale. “Jordan's got something very special. What he did at the Open Championship was brilliant, absolutely brilliant, after the start. He has something.”

Casey will begin the final round in a large group at 7 under that includes Patrick Reed, Jon Rahm and Matt Kuchar; with Johnson at 9 under thanks to a closing birdie that helped narrow the gap on Speith.

That’s not exactly a group that lacks either experience nor firepower, nor are they the type of players who shrink from a challenge, but given Spieth’s track record this season, having won The Open and Travelers Championship in dramatic fashion, it should be no surprise that they would gauge their title chances with a dollop of realism.

“You're going to have to ask for some help from the guy at the top who doesn’t normally give much help,” said Reed, a likely partner of Spieth’s in a few weeks at the Presidents Cup. “If he goes out and shoots even par and gets to 12 under, that means a lot of us are going to have to shoot 4 or 5 under just to catch him.”

Spieth’s track record is rather clear on this front. He’s 5-for-5 with a 54-hole lead of two shots or more in his career, and he’s converted nine of his last 10 54-hole leads.

Although there have been some high-profile stumbles this season, he’s always seemed to emerge unscathed.

At the Travelers Championship in June, he began the final round a stroke clear of the field and stumbled to a closing 70 only to beat Daniel Berger in a dramatic playoff; and at The Open he turned a three-stroke 54-hole lead into a deficit late on the back nine only to play his last five holes in 5 under and win his third major.

While those victories were memorable, Spieth admitted he would much rather enjoy a Sunday like the one he had in February when he began the final lap six clear of the field at Pebble Beach and cruised home to a 70 for a four-stroke victory.

“I think that's what anyone would prefer. I don't expect it, though,” Spieth said. “I've got DJ within three and Rahm, Paul Casey, some guys who have been playing extremely well this whole year. So you expect them to shoot 4 or 5 under rounds; and therefore, I need to go out and do what we've been doing.”

Although the Pebble Beach scenario would be ideal, he’ll take a victory any way he can get it. Just don’t expect him to have the same impact on the field as Woods did in his prime, when his name atop a leaderboard was worth a stroke a side.

“I imagine it's not like guys that were chasing Tiger where you almost felt hopeless,” Spieth said. “I've shown that, you know, things can get a little off and have to get back on track.”

Things can happen quickly when players are this talented, the rough is this thick and the stakes this high, but those who wish to make Sunday something other than a stroll for Spieth will have to make an early move if they don’t want this tournament to be over in, well, a New York minute.

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.


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"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.


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"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.

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Vogel Monday qualifies for eighth time this season

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:27 pm

The PGA Tour's regular season ended with another tally for the Monday King.

While Monday qualifiers are a notoriously difficult puzzle to solve, with dozens of decorated professionals vying for no more than four spots in a given tournament field, T.J. Vogel has turned them into his personal playground this season. That trend continued this week when he earned a spot into the season-ending Wyndham Championship, shooting a 5-under 66 and surviving a 4-for-3 playoff for the final spots.

It marks Vogel's eighth successful Monday qualification this season, extending the unofficial record he set when he earned start No. 7 last month at The Greenbrier. Patrick Reed earned the nickname "Mr. Monday" when he successfully qualified six different times during the 2012 season before securing full-time status.

There have been 24 different Monday qualifiers throughout the season, with Vogel impressively turning 19 qualifier starts into eight tournament appearances.

Vogel started the year with only conditional Web.com Tour status, and explained at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May that he devised his summer schedule based on his belief that it's easier to Monday qualify for a PGA Tour event than a Web.com tournament.


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"The courses that the PGA Tour sets the qualifiers up, they're more difficult and sometimes they're not a full field whereas the Web, since there's no pre-qualifier, you have two full fields for six spots each and the courses aren't as tough," Vogel said. "So I feel like if you take a look at the numbers, a lot of the Web qualifiers you have to shoot 8-under."

Vogel has made three cuts in his previous seven starts this year, topping out with a T-16 finish at the Valspar Championship in March. The 27-year-old also played the weekend at the Nelson and the Wells Fargo Championship, missing the cut at The Greenbrier in addition to the RSM Classic, Honda Classic and FedEx St. Jude Classic.

While Vogel won't have another Monday qualifier opportunity until October, he has a chance to secure some 2019 status this week in Greensboro. His 51 non-member FedExCup points would currently slot him 205th in the season-long race, 13 points behind Rod Pampling at No. 200. If Vogel earns enough points to reach the equivalent of No. 200 after this week, he'd clinch a spot in the upcoming Web.com Tour Finals where he would have a chance to compete for a full PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season.

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Woods adds BMW Championship to playoff schedule

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:01 pm

Tiger Woods is adding a trip to Philadelphia to his growing playoff itinerary.

Having already committed to both The Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship, Woods' agent confirmed to GolfChannel.com that the 14-time major champ will also make an appearance next month at the BMW Championship. It will mark Woods' first start in the third leg of the FedExCup playoffs since 2013 when he tied for 11th at Conway Farms Golf Club outside of Chicago.

This year the Sept. 6-9 event is shifting to Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., which is hosting the BMW for the first time. The course previously hosted the Quicken Loans National in both 2010 and 2011. Woods won the BMW en route to FedExCup titles in both 2007 and 2009 when it was held at Cog Hill in Illinois.


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Woods was already in good position to make the 70-man BMW field, but his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship vaulted him from 49th to 20th in the season-long points race and assured that he'll make it to Aronimink regardless of his performance in the first two postseason events.

Woods' commitment also means a packed schedule will only get busier leading into the Ryder Cup, where he is expected to be added as a captain's pick. Woods' appearance at the BMW will cap a run of five events in six weeks, and should he tee it up in Paris it could be his seventh start in a nine-week stretch if he also qualifies for the 30-player Tour Championship.