As Good as It Gets

By Rex HoggardSeptember 6, 2010, 3:11 am

DeutscheBank Logo 2007NORTON, Mass. – Here in the shadow of Foxboro they know a thing or two about playoffs, if not semantics (Would someone please settle the score between Foxboro and Foxborough).

Storied Fenway Park is just up the interstate, a bastion of October glory. It may no longer be the “Garden,” but the Celtics don’t seem to mind. And the Patriots, well what can one say of the Pats that head coach Bill Belichick hasn’t already coined?

It is a reality that makes this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship, the second of four FedEx Cup “playoff” events, seem like an infant in an ancient world.

Deutsche Bank Championship
Fans attend Sunday's third round of the Deutsche Bank Championship. (Getty Images)
Four years into PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem’s grand postseason experiment and fans still struggle with the concept, players still offer lukewarm accolades and the media continues to hold the entire affair at laptop's length.

To be fair, the watered-down initial version that begat the wildly volatile 2008 edition which begat something in between the last two years appears to have at last taken root.

Maybe the biggest problem with the entire shebang is a matter of semantics, golf is no more adaptable to the vagaries of a true playoff than football is to the concepts of self-policing and competitive integrity.

From the outset, the word “playoff” never fit Finchem’s grand plan, but then “a $10 million money grab to make the Tour Championship mean something” doesn’t really move the marketing needle.

But if one can get past the title, what the Tour has created is better than the alternative, which was a Tour Championship that rarely held any drama and a competitive calendar that faded into the darkness of football season.

Last year, with Tiger Woods hoisting the FedEx Cup and Phil Mickelson taking the consolation prize at the Tour Championship, is as good as it ever may get for the playoffs. But that’s not to say the Ponte Vedra Beach math and minutia is without sin.

Geoff Ogilvy for one is a fan, albeit a fan with a footnote.

“If you want them to be a playoff they are really good,” says Ogilvy, one of the circuit’s most thoughtful types.

To prove his point, Ogilvy explains that Matt Kuchar, who won the first postseason event in New Jersey, could win this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship, he is currently tied for 13th place, and next week in Chicago and still not win the FedEx Cup.

“The whole deal is that if you’re in the top 5 going into East Lake and win (the Tour Championship) you will be (the FedEx Cup champion),” he says.

Such is the mathematical tinkering the Tour instituted two years ago following Vijay Singh’s waltz to the cup in 2008, when the Fijian needed to only remain upright for four days in Atlanta to cash the $10 million lottery ticket.

“I don’t think that’s quite right,” says Ogilvy before quickly conceding, “For the most part the right guy has won it three years in a row. Vijay won it before he went to East Lake and that can’t be right either. This is about as good as you can get it.”

Six frat brothers played their way into the top 100 and onto the first tee at TPC Boston with solid week’s at The Barclays, a formula that is largely considered a cozy middle ground between the sleepy first year and the explosive second try.

But if Ogilvy’s support seems couched, he’s not alone.

Jason Bohn considered the question on Sunday for a long moment before pointing out that the current playoff system seems to reward too generously for good, but not great, finishes. Exhibit A: Martin Laird began the playoffs 95th on the points list, finished runner-up last week at Ridgewood and vaulted to third on the list.

“Someone can finish second at a playoff event and lock themselves into the Tour Championship,” Bohn says. “There are too many perks to play the Tour Championship. You get in all the majors and all the invitationals. I think they over-value second place.”

With that the Atlanta-area native paused to consider the other options. If the Tour wants the four playoff events to be considered in a similar light to the majors, a wildly lofty yet understandable goal, maybe the current system isn’t that bad.

“That’s tough. Maybe they have it right,” says Bohn, who was a member of the Player Advisory Council when the Tour was tinkering with the FedEx Cup format.

By comparison, quantum physics suddenly seems remedial. Without a stake in any of the game’s Grand Slam gatherings, the Tour made the most with what they had – four deep fields in major markets and something to talk about in September.

It’s not perfect. It’s not even a playoff. But all things considered, it’s better than the alternative.
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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.

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Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.

Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.

The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.

Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.

"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"

The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin: