FedEx Cup trying its best to deliver the goods

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2009, 2:56 am

THE TOUR Championship by Coke 2007 LogoATLANTA – The sign along Glenwood Avenue says it all, “Welcome to the playoff finale,” with the subtle trace of something special left unspoken but thick in the humid Georgia air.

The only thing that’s missing from the sign adjacent East Lake Golf Club is the tag, “Brought to you by the same folks who gave us the Pythagorean theorem, Mensa and Rubik’s Cube.”

Where Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and an army of PGA Tour lawyers had failed, the eggheads delivered. Where 2007 and 2008 were sleepy coronations, pit stops for most on the way to silly and off seasons, the most recent edition of the Tour’s big finish suggests a competition spiced with a dollop of anticipation.

As well as Woods played last we saw him on the Southside of Chicago, it would take some grand odds and a strong gut not to bet the kids’ college fund on the world No. 1 to win this week’s Tour Championship and that $10 million, FedEx Cup side action.

But stranger things have happened (see Y.E. Yang, Heath Slocum, Kanye West). And if the right stranger survives a soggy four days at East Lake, speculation becomes a spectacle. As unreasonable as all that may sound, it’s Reason 1 why FedEx Cup 3.0 works.

That’s not to say the current system is perfect. Truth is, like the golf swing, there is no perfect when trying to wedge golf’s round peg into sport’s square-holed playoff concept.

If Woods were to win the first three playoff events he could, in theory the detractors say, get back doored by a Jim Furyk, who hasn’t won a Tour event since 2007. It is a mathematical reality born from playoff volatility and a points reset that dramatically narrowed the gap between the 30 would-be kings at East Lake.

Tour types dismiss such logic, pointing to the New England Patriots team that went 18-0 in 2008, but somehow lost the Super Bowl.

“Golf is a little bit different,” Wood said. “You try and have this season-long championship be our big event, but there’s four other ones that are pretty big, too.”

Without being dismissive, Woods’ take cuts to the heart of the issue. Golf already has four Super Bowls played in April, June, July and August and the playoffs will never play-through that foursome. Nor should they even try.

The last four weeks have, however, drawn together the game’s top players, in major markets and added a measure of excitement that hasn’t been seen in these parts since David Toms was wedging his way past Phil Mickelson at the 2001 PGA Championship down the road at Atlanta Athletic Club. And that’s not too bad.

The number crunchers also figured out that Woods could have skipped the first three playoff events and arrived at East Lake the third-seed with a better-than-average chance to haul in his second FedEx Cup with a victory at the finale.

“I’m glad he didn’t,” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.

Finchem concedes there is no perfect for golf’s playoff formula. A game that has been defined by the Grand Slams for decades will embrace the Draconian nature of a playoff only reluctantly. And, to the extent that each of the 30 players who tee off on Thursday have a mathematical shot at the grand cash grab, that’s not too bad, either.

“We’re trying to have excitement with lots of possibilities,’ Finchem said. “You’ve got to beat the best, you’ve got to beat them regularly, and you still have to turn right around and perform here.”

And here is where the mathematicians seemed to have gotten the decimals in the right spots. If the stars align properly and the storm clouds leave East Lake to drip dry, a tortured soul could possibly have an $11.3 million putt come Sunday. That’s $10 million for the FedEx Cup, and $1.3 million in walkin’ around money for the Tour Championship haul.

Ask Brandt Snedeker how important it was to earn his spot at East Lake, a mental miscue he made on the 72nd hole at Cog Hill that resulted in an unsightly, and unnatural, four-putt from 12 feet.

“This is what we wanted. We wanted 4 footers to mean something,” a dejected Snedeker said.

And the Tour wanted East Lake to mean something – check and check. For that, Mensa members world wide should rejoice. If this week’s finale doesn’t make math club popular, nothing will.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”