Fever Pitch

By Rex HoggardSeptember 5, 2011, 10:53 pm

NORTON, Mass. – “Fever Pitch,” the 2005 tome to the end of Boston’s curse, it wasn’t, not with two playoff events, four Fall Series tilts, a Presidents Cup and more silly stops than one season can stomach. But as a litmus test for the game’s ever-evolving postseason Deutsche Bank Championship, Monday was a sign of progress.

The FedEx Cup playoffs may never resonate like postseasons in other sports, a concept complicated by the intricacies of a game dominated by independent contractors and a history written at the majors, but on Monday the Tour’s experiment took a step forward, if not with the masses then with the men who vie for the Cup. Or maybe it’s the $10 million jackpot waiting at the end of the road in Atlanta.

Not that it mattered to Ernie Els, who has used these end-of-days playoffs to rekindle a competitive fire that had been missing; or Chez Reavie, a Tour outcast of sorts that wasn’t just playing for his playoff future but his year. And certainly not for Webb Simpson, who in three short weeks has vaulted from prospect to prohibitive FedEx Cup favorite.

Cynics will dismiss the playoffs as a money grab – millionaires playing for millions, and, essentially, the postseason has amounted to little more than that for four seasons. But on Monday at TPC Boston, the cash dash delivered a product that was well, playoff-like.

The money may bring the players calling, but it is the thrill of the hunt that the collective savors.

“The joy I get from what I do is not from money. It’s about getting into playoffs and the thrill of trying to win,” said Simpson, who closed with an eventful 65 and laid two birdies in extra frames on Reavie to take his second Tour title in three weeks.

That the dramatic finish put Simpson in line to win the Cup filled with $10 million was of less interest to him than a pair of clutch birdie putts in overtime to clip Reavie.

Let the record show that although TPC Boston is often maligned with the title “bomber’s paradise,” the layout served as an equal opportunity scoring-fest, rewarding the plodders as well as the ponders on Monday.

Two-way traffic is the sign of any good championship, but on Monday at TPC Boston the flow resembled that of Interstate-495, deadlocked on the northbound side with vacationers returning from Cape Cod following a holiday weekend, but nearly abandoned headed south.

No fewer than five players held a share of the lead through a windswept afternoon, and that didn’t include Bubba Watson who began the day with a one-stroke advantage but quickly became an afterthought as the traffic ahead picked apart TPC Boston.

Even before Watson teed off he’d fallen behind Brandt Snedeker, who played his first five holes in 4 under. By the turn the top spot was shared by world No. 1 Luke Donald, Snedeker and Simpson.

But as the wind and pressure picked up on the back side, players fell away. Donald airmailed the green at the 12th, caught his third shot heavy, his fourth thin and penciled in a double bogey-6, while Snedeker was undone by three late bogeys. Leaving just Reavie, who birdied four of his last eight holes and was nursing a one-stroke lead before he flew the final green and failed to convert his 12 footer for par.

It was about the only thing Reavie missed all day.

TPC Boston may be a bomber’s course, but the playoff came down to the week’s top two putters. Simpson – who had 13 one-putt greens on Monday, including the playoff – finished tied for third in putting and first in “putts made distance,” tied with Reavie.

For Simpson, his putting epiphany occurred during his opening round at the PGA Championship when he noticed on the 15th green that his routine to line up putts was much faster during the round than it was when he practiced. Since he’s adjusted, he’s 2-for-3, adding the Deutsche Bank to his Wyndham Championship title.

“It was a big turning point that we worked on and trusted it,” said Simpson, who carded all four rounds in the 60s (69-68-67-65) to finish at 15 under.

Yet playoff pressure transcended the leaderboard. There was Els, who has now played his last three events facing FedEx Cup elimination, grinding down the stretch to crack the top 70 and advance to the BMW Championship in two weeks. He birdied the last to finish 68th.

When asked if he could compare the pressure he felt on Monday to that of trying to actually win a tournament, Els’ response was telling: “It’s worse. You screw up on 18 to win a tournament you still get second place and $600,000. Screw up here and you’re going home.”

Chris Stroud could relate. Following a double bogey at No. 14 he figured his playoffs were over. “I knew I’d blew myself out there,” he said.

It is a measure of the playoff’s growing appeal, however,  it was Stroud that drew a media crowd following his round – not playing partner Hunter Mahan, whose closing 66 gave him a however-fleeting clubhouse lead at 10 under.

“I saw I was 76 (in FedEx Cup points) on 15 green (following a double bogey-bogey stretch) and figured I needed to birdie the last three to have a chance,” Stroud said. There was no birdie-birdie-birdie finish. Instead, he nearly holed his second shot from 232 yards at the par-5 closing hole for a tap-in eagle to advance to the third round of the playoffs.

Geoff Ogilvy, however, may have been the ultimate playoff poster child. Following bogeys at Nos. 14 and 16 he also assumed his postseason days were numbered, but a birdie at the last lifted him into, and Kevin Na out of, the top 70.

“I get rewarded with a trip to Cog Hill,” said Ogilvy, a back-handed comment considering the Australian’s antipathy toward the Rees Jones redesign in Chicago, but compelling stuff none the less.

What the playoffs lack in “curb appeal,” they seem to be making up for at the grass-roots level with the rank and file. Just ask Reavie, who just days earlier had cut short an explanation on his limited Tour status – essentially he currently is not qualified to play the Fall Series but he is in the Tour Championship – for an impromptu moment of show-and-tell.

As he rolled up his right pant leg to expose a 6-inch scar, the byproduct of ACL surgery last June that sent him to an extended stay on the “DL” and a questionable Tour future, he allowed himself a moment of self-indulgence: “I just want to win,” he said after Friday’s round. Four days and 56 holes later he was still overwhelmed by the thought.

“It's unbelievable,” an emotional Reavie allowed. “Starting the year on a medical (exemption) and not knowing what's going to happen, to be able to go to the Tour Championship is a goal. It's what I wanted to do.”

No, the Tour’s postseason is not quite “Fever Pitch,” but it’s getting there.

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Kang (69) wins Buick LPGA Shanghai by two

By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:11 am

SHANGHAI - Danielle Kang shot a 3-under 69 on Sunday to win the LPGA Shanghai by two strokes for her second career title.

Kang, who started the final round one stroke off the lead, offset a lone bogey on the par-5 fourth hole with four birdies after the turn to finish at 13-under 275 and hold off a late charge by Lydia Ko, who had the day's lowest score of 66.

Ko, who had seven birdies and a lone bogey, tied for second at 11 under with a group of seven players that included Brittany Altomare (71), Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and overnight co-leader Sei Young Kim (72).

Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos

Carlota Ciganda, who also held a share of the lead after the third round, shot a 73 to fall into a tie for ninth with Bronte Law and local favorite Lu Liu.

Paula Creamer carded three birdies against a pair of bogeys for a 71 to finish in sole possession of 12th place.

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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New world No. 1 Koepka already wants more

By Nick MentaOctober 21, 2018, 8:48 am

If there is a knock on Brooks Koepka, it’s that he’s a little too cool.

Gary Woodland, who threw 11 birdies at Koepka on Sunday and still finished four shots back, inadvertently captured that exact sentiment after Saturday's third round.

“You know," he said, "Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much."

In context, Woodland meant that there was little anyone in the field could do to rattle the 54-hole leader. (He proved himself right, by the way.)

And out of context, the comment speaks to the general narrative surrounding Koepka. That he’s just detached enough for fans to have trouble attaching themselves to him. That he’s just a jock here to cash checks and collect trophies, to kick ass and chew bubblegum.

But for a few moments Sunday in South Korea, it became clear that Brooks Koepka does care. Crouched on the 72nd green with some time to stop and think as Ian Poulter lagged a bit behind, Koepka finally let a moment get to him. Cameras caught the three-time major champion appearing unusually emotional.

Of course, less than a minute later, those same cameras caught him yawning. The contrast was almost too perfect. It was as if he knew he had just been found out and needed to snap back into character – which he did.

He promptly poured in an eagle putt to cap off a final-round 64, to win the CJ Cup by four, and to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

“To be world No. 1 is something I dreamed of as a kid,” Koepka said on the 18th green, moments after closing out his fifth PGA Tour victory and third this year. “I don't think this one's going to sink in.”

What is beginning to sink in is that Koepka now unequivocally belongs in the conversation, the one golf fans and analysts have been having over and over since Tiger Woods fell from golf's greatest heights.

Who’s the best at their best?

In the two years between his first PGA Tour win and his first U.S. Open victory, Koepka was touted as having the kind of talent to compete with the game's elites. It took him a little while for him to get here, but Koepka has taken over as the latest player to look like he’ll never lose again. Just as it was for Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas before him, this is Koepka's moment. This is his run of dominance.

It’s a run that will have to end at some point. Every one of the guys just mentioned did cool off eventually. Koepka will, too. Maybe it will be fatigue, maybe it will be injury, and maybe it’ll just be golf. This talent pool is simply too deep for anyone to remain on top for too long.

But what Koepka has done this year – in defending his U.S. Open title, in staring down Tiger at the PGA, in claiming the Player of the Year Award, in ascending to the top of the world rankings – is put his name at the forefront of the conversation. If he was unappreciated at times before, those days are behind him. He's already accomplished too much, proven himself too good, to be overlooked any longer.

And he’s far from done.

“For me, I just need to keep winning,” the new world No. 1 said Sunday. “I feel like to win a few more regular Tour events and then keep adding majors. I feel like my game's set up for that. I've gotten so much confidence off winning those majors where, it's incredible, every time I tee it up, I feel like I really have a good chance to win whether I have my A-game or not. It's something I'm so excited [about] right now, you have no idea. I just can't wait to go play again.”

Watch: Koepka holes out from off the green at 16

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 21, 2018, 5:36 am

Brooks Koepka faced a stiff challenge from Gary Woodland on Sunday in South Korea, but eventually it came time to end the suspense.

Having clung to a slim lead for much of the back nine, Koepka looked as though he was going to have to scramble just to save par when he missed the green at 16. 

Instead, caddie Ricky Elliott was able to leave Koepka's putter in the bag.

That holeout combined with a bogey from Woodland at 17 put Koepka ahead by three, allowing him to walk to victory and to the top of the world rankings.

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Koepka wins CJ Cup, ascends to world No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 21, 2018, 5:07 am

Brooks Koepka eagled the 72nd hole Sunday to cap off a final-round 64, win the CJ Cup and supplant Dustin Johnson as the new No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here's how Koepka took over the golf world Sunday in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-21), Gary Woodland (-17), Ryan Palmer (-15), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-15), Jason Day (-12), Scott Piercy (-12)

What it means: This is Koepka's fifth career PGA Tour victory but only his second in a non-major, following his maiden win back at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open. Up four to start the day, Koepka saw his lead evaporate as Woodland rocketed up the leaderboard and kept pace with him for much of the back nine. But every time Sunday's result appeared in doubt, Koepka reclaimed his lead in dramatic fashion. He nearly aced the par-3 13th to go ahead by two and later holed out for birdie at the par-4 16th to go up three with two to play. He finished par-eagle at 17 and 18 to shoot a back-nine 29 and close out his third victory in the last five months. With the win, Koepka ascends to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.

Round of the day: Ryan Palmer set a Nine Bridges course record when he birdied his final seven holes in a row en route to a bogey-free round of 10-under 62 and a solo third-place finish.

Best of the rest: Woodland played his first 16 holes in 9 under par to storm from five back and catch Koepka atop the leaderboard. But his furious Sunday charge finally came to an end when he failed to get up and down for par from the back bunker at 17. He carded his 11th birdie of the round at the 18th hole to sign for 63 and finish solo second.

Biggest disappointment: In retrospect, Woodland called it correctly on Saturday when he said: "You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can. You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number." Woodland put as much pressure on Koepka as he could. He went out and posted that number. Koepka never blinked.

Shot of the day: Koepka's holeout at the par-3 16th, which put him ahead by three, unofficially ending the proceedings:

Quote of the day: "To be world No. 1 is something I dreamed of as a kid. I don't think this one is going to sink in." - Koepka