McIlroy does the double play

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2016, 12:55 am

ATLANTA – There’s no need for a FedEx Cup task force.

At least that was the feeling as dusk descended on East Lake with both the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup hanging in the balance and a playoff that wouldn’t end.

Why would you want it to end?

If the FedEx Cup is sometimes guilty of fading into a post-major championship season lull, all PGA Tour officials needed to spice up the season-ending finale was a new routing for East Lake and an absolute best-case scenario on Sunday.

It was an embarrassment-of-riches deal, with Rory McIlroy, Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell heading back down the newly christened 18th hole for extra innings to decide the Tour Championship winner, FedEx Cup champion and, in all likelihood, the final U.S. Ryder Cup captain’s pick.

With all the subtext of a Russian novel, each would-be champion set out with his own unique baggage.

A twice-bitten FedEx Cup bridesmaid after having been pencil-whipped by the playoff math in 2013 and ’14, McIlory closed with mid-Ryder Cup form a few days early to steal the show with one clutch shot after another.

For Chappell, a three-time runner-up this season, the near misses were there for all to see, and he cut deep regarding his title chances on the eve of the final turn.

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“No one else thinks it's going to happen. The scenario hasn't happened. So no one believes in me. So I got nothing to lose,” Chappell said.

Then there was Moore, the quietly unassuming bulldog who has made a career out of staying under the radar, so much so that they called him “stealth” during his junior golf days.

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III came to the party late, inviting Moore to last week’s practice session at Hazeltine National. He declined, citing the need for some R&R after playing eight of nine weeks.

It was so Ryan.

Of course, it was all predicated by Dustin Johnson’s stunning collapse. Two strokes clear of everyone not named Chappell to begin the final round, the American bomber had more bogeys on his opening nine of the final round than he did for his first 27 holes and double bogeyed the 12th on his way to a tie for sixth.

Had DJ’s about-face been slightly less dramatic he could have assured himself the FedEx Cup jackpot, if not the Tour Championship title, thanks to the postseason algorithms.

As a result, midway through Sunday’s sweltering finish, McIlroy found himself two strokes away from winning both the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup as Johnson faded, and when the Northern Irishman holed his approach shot for eagle at the 16th hole from 137 yards the home of the finale took on the chaotic glow of Hazeltine South.

“I knew I needed to do something. At that point, I was in the middle of the 16th fairway,” said McIlroy, who closed with rounds of 66-64 to win the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup for the first time. “So I was trying to just do something, make something happen. Fortunately, I hole a wedge shot, and I get myself in position to have a chance to win.”

In a nod to the decision to reverse East Lake’s nines, McIlroy finished his round with a birdie, while Moore and Chappell both failed to convert their birdie attempts.

After another trip down the par-5 18th hole in OT, which eliminated Chappell who again failed to make birdie, the event took on a distinctly Ryder Cup feel – with McIlroy and Moore trading knockout blows.

McIlroy missed walk-off attempts from 6 feet on the first extra hole (eagle), 19 feet at the second (birdie) and 57 feet (birdie) at the third before finally putting things away with a 14-footer at the fourth extra hole, but only after Moore converted a par attempt from 16 feet to force the conversion.

Last year, McIlroy turned heads when he suggested the $10 million FedEx Cup payday really didn’t move his needle, but on Sunday after collecting a cool $11.5 million, which included the $1.5 million winner’s check, his story didn’t change.

This was personal.

In 2012, McIlroy won the second and third playoff stops, finished tied for 10th at the finale and watched Brandt Snedeker cash the big check; a year later he began the playoffs first on the FedEx Cup points list, finished second at East Lake and third in the season-ending pool.

This time he created his own equation – win and let the math take care of itself.

“After 2012 and 2014, it definitely feels that little bit sweeter that I've been able to get it done,” said McIlroy, who began this postseason 36th on the points list before moving into the playoff picture with his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

As for that Ryder Cup task force – you know the one that was designed to revitalize America’s chances in the biennial matches and set up much of Sunday’s drama with two of the three leading men, Moore and Chappell, making 11th-hour bids to join Love’s dozen next week in Minnesota – if the final spot in the U.S. locker room isn’t reserved for Moore or Chappell it might be time to go back to the community drawing board.

In fact, considering Sunday’s script with both would-be Ryder Cuppers in the mix well past the end of regulation maybe the PGA of America/Ryder Cup task force should have saved two picks for after East Lake.

There is no shortage of reasons to pick either Moore or Chappell, but if Sunday’s showdown against Europe’s best doesn’t count as earned credit it’s hard to imagine what does matter to Love & Co.

“I didn't earn a spot. I've left it up to other people to make that decision for me,” said Moore, who was paired with McIlroy on Day 4 and matched him for every shot (64) until the 22nd hole. “I kind of thought I had to win this golf tournament, and I didn't. So we'll see what happens from here.”

Instead, Moore was still focused on the chain of events that wrapped up the 2015-16 Tour season.

“It was a blur,” he said.

It was the best.

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain fired a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).

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Local favorite Yu Liu was in sole possession of seventh place after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

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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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.

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"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "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."

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Koepka has his chance 'to earn' his way to No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:09 am

There won't need to be any wonky math involved. He won't have to settle for finally reaching the the top via some kind of mathematical reset while he's sitting at home on the couch (or more likely working out in the gym).

No, Brooks Koepka on Sunday in South Korea will have a chance to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking the way every player would most want to - with a victory.

On the strength of a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 Saturday, Koepka will enter the final round of the CJ Cup four clear of Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, with six more players five behind.

The tournament is Koepka's to lose, and so too is the No. 1 ranking. So long as Justin Thomas doesn't somehow defend his title from 12 shots back, Koepka can supplant Dustin Johnson atop the rankings with a win or a solo second-place finish.

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"It was something I wanted to do. I always wanted to become World No. 1 in a week that I was playing," Koepka said Saturday. "I thought like I could really earn it and not have a week off where it just so happens that you bump up. No, it would be very special, and to do it here would be nice and hopefully get to world No. 1 and cap it off with a win, I don't think there would be much better."

It would be a fitting end to this breakthrough year for Koepka, who successfully defended his U.S. Open title and then added his third major victory at the PGA Championship en route to claiming the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award. Oddly enough, considering his status a three-time major winner and an impending No. 1, this would be Koepka's fifth Tour victory but only his second in a non-major; his only regular Tour win to date was his first, at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

"My confidence has always been pretty high," Koepka said. "Anytime you can win three majors you're going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. To do what I've done over the last two years has been special, but I'm looking to build on that."

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Koepka ahead by four, with No. 1 ranking in his grasp

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 5:48 am

Following a closing birdie and a third-round 67 at Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy into final round of the CJ Cup. Here's how Koepka separated himself from the field in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-13), Piercy (-9), Poulter (-9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-8), Cameron Smith (-8), Jaime Lovemark (-8), Pat Perez (-8), Gary Woodland (-8), Chez Reavie (-8)

What it means: Koepka is in search of his fifth PGA Tour victory and – believe it or not – only his second non-major. The three-time major champion’s only other win came all the way back in February 2015, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One off the lead to start the day, Koepka opened with eight straight pars and birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take the outright lead at 10 under par. He added three more circles at 14, 17 and 18 to close out a bogey-free round of 5 under and go ahead by ahead by four. He'll be chased on Sunday by Piercy, a four-time PGA Tour winner who won the Zurich Classic earlier this year alongside Billy Horschel, and by Poulter, who ended a five-year worldwide winless drought back in April and is coming off a 2-2 performance at the Ryder Cup, with a Sunday singles victory over current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Speaking of which, unless Justin Thomas finds a way to win this tournament from 12 back, Koepka will for the first time ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Round of the day: After contending last week at the CIMB, Shubankhar Sharma rebounded from opening rounds of 74 and 75 with a nine-birdie, 8-under 64 to move up 45 spots into a tie for 26th through 54 holes.

Best of the rest: Four players – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ted Potter Jr., Jason Day and Brendan Steele – shot 7-under 65 Saturday. Day played his first four holes in 2 over and his final 14 in 9 under.

Biggest disappointment: The only previous winner of this event, world No. 4 Justin Thomas entered the week with a chance to take back the No. 1 ranking with a successful title defense. But rounds of 73-70-72 have him 1 under for the week. Thomas played his back nine in 1 over Saturday with six pars, a birdie, a quadruple bogey and a closing eagle.

Shot of the day: Koepka flying his tee shot 330 yards to the front edge of the green at the par-4 14th and going on to two-putt for birdie.