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DJ-Spieth duel is as good as it gets

By Rex HoggardAugust 28, 2017, 12:24 am

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – It just doesn’t happen very often, not at this level with so many quality players and the natural competitive ebb and flow of even the game’s best.

Even in their prime, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson – the undisputed alpha and omega of their era – went head-to-head on a Sunday with a title on the line just five times out of roughly 300 events they played together.

That’s the sum total of more than two decades of hype and hope, and it proves the stars simply don’t align that often, which makes Sunday’s extra-holes extravaganza at The Northern Trust between Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson worth more than the sum of the outcome.

DJ vs. Jordan. The world’s Nos. 1 and 3 (Spieth would move to second in the world with his runner-up finish) mano a mano at a playoff event that is often overlooked as little more than an extension of the regular season. No disrespect to Hideki Matsuyama, the Japanese machine who was ranked second in the world, but this is as good as golf gets at the moment.

It wasn’t supposed to be this epic, not with Spieth three strokes clear and cruising through 54 holes. Things looked even more unlikely when the lead went to five strokes after five holes.

With Spieth anything is possible, as anyone who watched last month’s Open Championship can attest, but it certainly didn’t feel probable.

But like he did at Royal Birkdale, when Spieth squandered a three-stroke lead with an opening nine of 37, the Golden Child slowly let a golden opportunity slip through his grasp, first with a rinsed tee shot at the sixth hole, double bogey, and then a tugged approach shot at No. 9, bogey.

By the time the duo walked to the 11th tee the day’s final pairing was tied at 11 under, the byproduct of back-to-back two-stroke swings at the ninth and 10th holes and some clutch golf from Johnson.


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“When he made his putt on 10 [for birdie], that's when I said, ‘OK, we've got a bunch of wedge holes here,’” said Spieth, who was 5-for-5 with a 54-hole lead of two shots or more in his career. “I expect him to go a couple under coming in. Therefore, I've got to step up to the plate now and deliver a couple birdies myself, and was able to do that.”

At the 17th hole, Spieth did what Spieth does in these situations when he rolled in an 18-footer for par to keep pace with Johnson; which made DJ’s 17-footer for par on the 18th hole to force overtime that much more impressive.

“I wasn't rooting for him to make that putt,” smiled Spieth when asked about Johnson’s par save at the last. “About 3 feet out, I thought it was high from my angle. But I thought it was missing high, but his body language was hanging in. I'm like, does that really still have a chance? My initial thought was: I just did that exact same thing to him the hole before.”

But if beating Spieth at his own game was satisfying, it didn’t take long for Johnson to revert to more familiar ways, with a drive on the first extra hole (No. 18) that sailed 341 yards and left just a wedge in from 95 yards. By comparison, Spieth took a conservative approach off the tee, playing to the right side of the fairway and was left with 174 yards to the hole.

On Saturday, Spieth was asked if he enjoys playing alongside Johnson at America’s annual team matches: “It's a lot of fun playing from DJ's shots. I love playing alternate-shot with DJ,” he laughed.

Against Johnson, however, is an entirely different story.

If ever there was an example of how Johnson’s power can so dramatically tilt the scales of a competition it came at the 73rd hole when he had only a 60-degree wedge shot into a bowled green, which he hit to 3 ½ feet for a title-clinching birdie, to Spieth’s 7-iron, which just missed the green right and left a winding 25-footer for birdie that he missed.

“It's a tough shot to that flag to get a 7-iron close. I mean, Jordan hit a pretty good shot. It just chased through the green,” said Johnson, who closed with a 66. “I was coming in with a 60 [degree wedge], so the odds went to my favor for sure.”

Sunday at Glen Oaks was just the second time the two had been paired together on the PGA Tour on a Sunday, and the first in the final group, which makes the title bout that much more intriguing giving the duo’s high-profile status in the game.

The 2015 U.S. Open had its moments, but back at Chambers Bay Johnson and Spieth weren’t paired together on that glorious Sunday, and at the time Spieth and Johnson were ranked second and seventh, respectively, in the world ranking.

Since then the two have been on a collision course, with Johnson winning the ’16 U.S. Open and three World Golf Championships and Spieth adding this year’s Open Championship to his major resume.

With Rory McIlroy still on the mend after an injury-plagued season and Jason Day struggling with inconsistent play, Johnson and Spieth have emerged as the default leading men in what has become an al a carte rotation of would-be world-beaters and on Sunday the golf world got what they wanted.

“I thought that was a fun show to be a part of. I was hoping it wasn't going to be that much fun,” said Spieth, who has now struggled to keep a lead in three of his last four starts, including his dramatic victories at the Open and Travelers Championship.

Even Johnson, whose lack of outward emotion on the course is legendary, flashed a rare moment of excitement with what he called a “weak” fist pump following his final putt in regulation.

“I like playing with Jordan in the last group, hopefully we play in the last group the last three [playoff] tournaments,” Johnson said.

It’s a sentiment that’s likely shared by many, but the harsh reality is these types of high-profile showdowns between the game’s best players just don’t happen very often, so take some time and savor one of the season’s most exciting Sundays.

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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.