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It all comes down to Casey

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2017, 12:28 am

ATLANTA – Fate can be cruel or fate can be liberating.

On Sunday at the Tour Championship, Paul Casey gets to find out which side of the cosmic tumblers awaits.

The endearing Englishman overcame a few early miscues on Saturday at steamy East Lake to maintain his spot atop the field at the finale. He’s 12 under par, two shots clear of Kevin Kisner and rookie Xander Schauffele and once again perched on the precipice between good and great.

Casey’s title drought now stretches some eight years, back to the 2009 Shell Houston Open when he seemed invincible and was bound for the top 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

But along the way there were injuries and a nasty divorce and too many near misses to count; and that he’s wrested himself out of the competitive badlands and to within 18 holes of the game’s ultimate double-header – a chance to win both the Tour Championship and the FedExCup – is something of a mixed blessing.

Sure, he’s happier, both on and off the golf course.

“It's pretty good,” Casey figured. “It would be nicer if I was at home with my daughter and my son and my wife, but I love doing what I do so yeah, it's great.”

That kind of inner peace may make it easier to endure professional adversity, but it does little to temper a player who was and remains a fierce competitor.

For Casey, it’s an $11.5 million question with only a single acceptable answer, but an answer that has eluded him for some time.


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Current FedExCup Playoff points standings


He nods knowingly when he hears the familiar statistics. Casey leads the Tour this year with a 68.77 scoring average on Day 1, but drifts as the weekend approaches and plummets all the way to 67th in final-round scoring (70.33).

“Yeah, too much pressure,” Casey said. “It's better to be in this position. But the scoring average is still the scoring average. Why is it wrong? I don't know.”

Casey is quick to point out that he closed with a 64 last year at East Lake on his way to a fourth-place finish, but he did begin the 2016 final round some five strokes off the lead, not exactly a pressure-packed scenario considering the circumstances.

The more relevant examples are also the ones that are still fresh. Casey began his playoff run this season at The Northern Trust with three solid rounds and was tied for third and three strokes back through 54 holes. On Sunday he hit 6 of 14 fairways and took 30 putts on his way to a closing 71.

A week later at the Dell Technologies Championship, he again began the last lap in third place, this time just a stroke back. On Sunday, he again needed 30 putts on his way to a final-round 70 to finish tied for fourth.

To put it another way, Sunday hasn’t exactly been funday for Casey.

When he was asked about his suspect Sunday performances earlier this week, Casey admitted he and his caddie Johnny “Long Sock” McLaren have discussed it, but he offered no real answers.

Following his round on Day 3, he offered a more detailed glimpse into what might be behind his final-round troubles.

“We've got to do more to get myself into a position going into Sunday because being two or three back is not good enough because it seems like everybody you're going up against, Hideki [Matsuyama], Dustin [Johnson], Jordan [Spieth], [Justin Thomas], they're two ahead and they crack on and shoot 65, 64, 63,” Casey said. “Unbeatable.”

Having a cushion will help, no doubt. Having a solid history at East Lake - he’s never finished outside the top 5 in his three previous starts at the finale - is a boost. Having two players with a combined two PGA Tour titles being your primary opponents could also factor into the outcome.

When Schauffele, who won The Greenbrier Classic, has had a stellar first year on Tour and moved into the hunt with a third-round 65, was asked where the Tour Championship ranked on his pre-season goals list, his answer was telling.

“Somewhere up in the clouds, to be honest,” he laughed. “That was definitely not what I was thinking about even a few months ago, so to be out here is surreal.”

While Kisner, who won his second Tour title earlier this year at Colonial, is considered one of the game’s most dogged competitors and is poised to be next week’s standout newcomer for the U.S. Presidents Cup team, his history at East Lake isn’t exactly stellar and he may be a tad distracted after taking a helicopter to Athens, Ga., on Saturday after his round to watch his beloved Georgia Bulldogs play Mississippi State.

The next closest players are five strokes back, although Justin Thomas, who struggled on Day 3 to an even-par 70, could make things interesting for the season-long race and is currently projected second on the points and is in a tie for fourth place at 7 under.

Since the dawn of the FedExCup playoffs, the Tour Championship has a history of serving up nuanced and varied storylines through to the final putt. But on Sunday it’s just a single tale that awaits, and that’s which side of fate looms for Casey.

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McCarthy wins Web.com Tour Championship by 4

By Associated PressSeptember 24, 2018, 2:14 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Denny McCarthy won the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship on Sunday to earn fully exempt PGA Tour status and a spot in the Players Championship.

McCarthy closed with a 6-under 65 for a four-stroke victory over Lucas Glover at Atlantic Beach Country Club. The 25-year-old former Virginia player earned $180,000 to top the 25 PGA Tour card-earners with $255,793 in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals.

''It's been quite a journey this year,'' McCarthy said. ''The PGA Tour was tough to start out the year. I stuck through it and got my game. I raised my level and have been playing some really good golf. Just feels incredible to finish off these Finals. So much work behind the scenes that nobody really sees.''

McCarthy finished at 23-under 261.


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Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, closed with a 69. He made $108,000 to finish seventh with $125,212 in the series for the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200.

Jim Knous earned the 25th and final card from the four-event money list with $41,931, edging Justin Lower by $500. Knous made a 5-foot par save on the final hole for a 71 that left him tied for 57th. Lower missed an 8-footer for birdie, settling for a 69 and a tie for 21st.

''It was a brutal day emotionally,'' Knous said. ''I wasn't quite sure how much my performance would affect the overall outcome. It kind of just depended on what everybody else did. That's pretty terrifying. So I really just kind of did my best to stay calm and inside I was really freaking out and just super psyched that at the end of the day finished right there on No. 25.''

The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list competed against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. Sungjae Im topped the list to earn the No. 1 priority spot of the 50 total cards.

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LaCava pushed Woods to work on bunker game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 1:52 am

ATLANTA – Last week as Tiger Woods prepared to play the season finale at East Lake he sent a text message to his caddie Joey LaCava that simply asked, what do I need to do to get better?

Although when it comes to Woods his proficiency is always relative, but LaCava didn’t pull any punches, and as the duo completed the final round on Sunday at the Tour Championship with a bunker shot to 7 feet at the last the two traded knowing smiles.

“We had a talk last week about his bunker game and I said, ‘I’m glad you kept that bunker game stuff in mind,’” LaCava said. “I told him he was an average bunker player and he worked at it last week. There were only two bunker shots he didn’t get up-and-down, I don’t count the last one on 18. He recognized that after two days. He was like, ‘What do you know, I’m 100 percent from the bunkers and I’m in the lead after two days.”


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For the week, Woods got up-and-down from East Lake’s bunkers seven out of nine times and cruised to a two-stroke victory for his first PGA Tour title since 2013. That’s a dramatic improvement over his season average of 49 percent (100th on Tour).

“His bunker game was very average coming into this week,” LaCava said. “I said you’ve got to work on your bunker game. If you had a decent bunker game like the Tiger of old you would have won [the BMW Championship].”

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For Woods, is this only the beginning?

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 1:42 am

If this is Tiger Woods nine months into a comeback, wait until he actually shakes the rust off.

This was supposed to be the year he kicked the tires, to see how his body held up after all those knives digging into his back.

To see if a short game could truly be rescued from chunks and skulls.

To see if a 42-year-old living legend could outfox the kids.

On the final breath of the PGA Tour season, it was Tiger Woods who took ours away.

Playing alongside Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club – and one group behind the current World No. 1 and eventual FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose – Woods bludgeoned the field and kneecapped Father Time. 

It was Dean Smith and the Four Corners offense.  Emmitt Smith moving the chains. Nolan Ryan mowing them down.

And all of a sudden you wonder if Phil Mickelson wishes he’d made alternate Thanksgiving plans.

Even if everybody saw a win coming, it was something else to actually see it happen, to see the man in the red shirt reach another gear just one more time.

Win No. 80 reminded us, as Roger Maltbie once said of Woods when he came back from knee surgery in 2009: “A lot of people can play the fiddle. Only one guy is Itzhak Perlman.”

It wasn’t long ago that Tiger Woods seemed headed toward a disheartening final chapter as a broken man with a broken body.


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He would host a couple of tournaments, do some great charity work, shout instructions into a walkie talkie at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and call it a career.

There would be no Nicklaus 1986 Masters moment, no Hogan Mystique at Merion.

He would leave competitive golf as perhaps both the greatest to ever play the game and its greatest cautionary tale.

Willie Mays with the New York Mets. Muhammad Ali taking punishment from Larry Holmes.

But then Brad Faxon and Rickie Fowler started whispering at the end of 2017 that Tiger was healthy and hitting the ball hard. 

There was that hold-your-breath opening tee shot at the Hero World Challenge, a bullet that flew the left bunker and bounded into the fairway.

Rollercoaster rides at Tampa and Bay Hill, backward steps at Augusta and Shinnecock, forward leaps at The Open and the PGA.

He switched putters and driver shafts (and shirts, oh my!) and seemed at times tantalizingly close and maddeningly far.

That he even decided to try to put his body and game back together was one of the all-time Hail Marys in golf.

Why go through all of that rehab again?

Why go through the scrutiny of having your current game measured against your untouchable prime?

Because you’re Tiger Woods, is why, because you’ve had way more wonderful days on the golf course than poor ones, despite five winless years on the PGA Tour.

Suddenly, Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins is in jeopardy and Jack Nicklaus, holder of a record of 18 major championships, is at the very least paying attention.

Woods has put the golf world on notice.

It won’t be long until everyone starts thinking about the 2019 major schedule (and you’d better believe that Tiger already is).

The Masters, where he has four green jackets and seven other Top 5 finishes. The PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he won in 2002 by 3. The United States Open at Pebble Beach, where he won in 2000 by 15.

The Open at Royal Portrush, where his savvy and guile will be a strong 15th club.

But that’s a talk for a later date.

Tiger is clearly still getting his sea legs back.

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Nonfactor McIlroy mum after lackluster 74

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2018, 1:04 am

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy didn’t have anything to say to the media after the final round of the Tour Championship, and that’s understandable.

McIlroy began the final round at East Lake three shots behind Tiger Woods. He finished six back.

McIlroy closed in 4-over 74 to tie for seventh place.

In their matchup, Woods birdied the first hole to go four in front, and when McIlroy bogeyed the par-4 fourth, he was five in arrears. McIlroy went on to make three more bogeys, one double bogey and just two birdies.


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McIlroy was never a factor on Sunday and ultimately finished tied for 13th in the FedExCup standings.

The two rivals, Woods and McIlroy, shared plenty of conversations while walking down the fairways. On the 18th hole, Woods said McIlroy told him the scene was like the 1980 U.S. Open when people were shouting, “Jack’s back!”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t have the tight pants and the hair,’” Woods joked. “But it was all good.”

It’s now off to Paris for the upcoming Ryder Cup, where Woods and McIlroy will again be foes. It will be McIlroy’s fifth consecutive appearance in the biennial matches, while Woods is making his first since 2012.