Cut Line: FedEx Cup Playoffs deliver, for the most part

By Rex HoggardOctober 2, 2015, 3:12 pm

Cut Line takes a final look back at this year’s postseason before moving on to a new calendar. Remember, “Opening Day” is just two weeks away at the Open.

Made Cut

Heir Jordan. Maybe Jordan Spieth had simply grown tired of the narrative. Maybe he realized, at the tender age of 22, that the first three playoffs stops are little more than appetizers to the Tour Championship entrée. Or maybe he just wanted to end this season the way he began it.

Either way, the FedEx Cup champion put an exclamation point on what was an already historic season, winning the Tour Championship by four strokes to secure the FedEx Cup, Player of the Year Award and every other postseason honor.

But as impressive as Spieth’s play was at the finale it may be his mind that impressed the most in this playoffs. As he explained last week East Lake, it’s difficult to maintain major championship intensity week in and week out and he dedicated himself to peaking at the Tour Championship.

“I would do it every week if it was possible and I wouldn’t get worn out,” said Spieth, who missed the cut in the first two playoff stops. “I knew that at this point I could sleep for two or three days and give it everything I had.”

Tiger Woods dominated for more than a decade with a single-minded focus to compete, and win, every week. As successful as that formula was, give young Jordan credit for understanding that may not be an option for everyone.

Tweet of the week:

Five wins, two majors, $12 million in earnings, $22 million in total income (counting the FedEx Cup bonus), yep . . . nice year.

Playoff payoff. Say what you will about the Tour’s contrived postseason but even the most hardened cynic would be challenged to find a reason to nitpick this year’s playoffs.

Your four playoff winners were Jason Day (Barclays), Rickie Fowler (Deutsche Bank Championship), Day (BMW Championship) and Jordan Spieth (Tour Championship), the year’s top three players be it regular- or postseason.

The playoffs are not perfect (see Garcia item below), but in nine years they have accomplished the primary goal of keeping the top players engaged and active after the PGA Championship in four major markets.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

English lesson. There are, however, still glitches in the playoff math as Harris English learned last week.

English – who narrowly advanced to the Tour Championship after coming up just short the last two seasons, finishing 32nd and 31st on the points list the last two years – was informed after Louis Oosthuizen withdrew with an injury that his FedEx Cup chances were headed out of town with the South African.

Oosthuizen’s withdrawal, along with Jim Furyk’s WD earlier in the week, reduced the field to 28 players. According to the Tour’s number crunchers, English had to win the Tour Championship and Day had to finish outside the top 29 for English to win the FedEx Cup.

“I knew a lot of stuff had to happen and I had to win so it wasn’t a huge surprise, but it was kind of weird when they told me,” English said.

So much for anything can happen at East Lake.

Schedule sea change. After trying, and failing, for decades to create some sort of regulation that would assure player participation across the schedule, Tour officials seem cautiously optimistic a new proposal will finally bridge the gap.

The proposal, which still must be approved by the Tour policy board, would require any player who finished inside the top 125 the past five years to play at least one event per season they hadn’t played in the previous five years.

“It doesn't require a player to play any particular event. But it's a requirement that you have to have some more movement in your schedule,” commissioner Tim Finchem said last week. “I should emphasize, it's under discussion.”

On this, the independent contractors have been very clear and the Tour’s attempt to mandate schedules, no matter how nuanced, is sure to be heavily scrutinized.

Missed Cut

El No-show. While the Tour examines ways to ensure greater participation, players like Sergio Garcia have made it clear there is virtually no amount of money that can inspire action.

Garcia’s decision to skip the first two playoff stops cost him a shot at winning the FedEx Cup and the $10 million bonus. Considering that on Aug. 16 after the PGA Championship the Spaniard was 31st on the points list, his decision to play just one more event (BMW Championship) was a clear statement of where the playoffs rank in his paradigm of importance.

“I’m not trying to prove anything,” Garcia said. “I’ve been out here for 16 years, and I’m not getting any younger. People don’t realize how much it takes out of you when you’re traveling as much as I do. If I just played the PGA Tour and I was living here in the U.S., it’s different. But when you’re going back and forth, it’s a lot of traveling and it takes a bit out of the body.”

Garcia may not have intended to make a statement, but considering he earned the same number of points as Spieth through the first two postseason starts, that would be zero, he certainly started a conversation.

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

Getty Images

Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

Getty Images

After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

Getty Images

Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.