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Monahan deserves credit for strength-of-field success

By Rex HoggardOctober 11, 2017, 4:15 pm

More times than not your scribe uses this space to address some wrong that the PGA Tour should right or simply lament a general lack of interest from the circuit on whatever hot topic is stirring the social media pot at the moment.

But this week isn’t going to be like that. This edition, in the name of fair play and demonstrated success, is an ode to finding a solution that, for decades, seemed hopelessly out of reach.

As far back as anyone can remember, the Tour has wrestled with the reality that its schedule was a collection of have and have-nots; and there was little reason for the game’s top players to alter that reality.

Players being the ultimate independent contractors resisted even the slightest suggestion to change their schedule, and the tournaments that needed the boost from an occasional cameo by a star were reluctant to allow themselves to be officially labeled “B” tier events.

The solution was introduced for the 2016-17 season and dubbed the strength-of-field regulation. Like many things produced out of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., the new requirement initially seemed overly-complicated; but after a full season to digest, the verdict is in – the new rule works.

“I don’t have an issue with the rule. I feel like it’s already paid some tournaments back, look at Travelers [Championship] this year,” Paul Casey said. “It was great. It probably won’t be Travelers next year, it will be someone else who wins.”

Actually, there were two metaphorical winners last season.

This year’s Travelers Championship, which is played the week after the U.S. Open and has historically struggled to draw a marquee field despite one of the circuit’s more popular courses and arguably the Tour’s most dedicated sponsor, featured eight of the top 30 in the world rankings - including Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. Overall, the Travelers strength of field in June was 348, it’s highest mark in over a decade.

“What I found with Rory and Jordan when I first talked to them [the new rule] was part of the conversation, I don’t think it was the only thing,” Travelers Championship tournament director Nathan Grube said. “As a tournament, any time you can get a player thinking about your event that’s all you want. That’s all you can ask for.”

Last season’s Safeway Open also received a much-needed boost from the new rule, with a collection of players who probably wouldn’t have penciled the season opener down on their schedules, including Casey.

Essentially, the new rule has allowed the Tour to venture into a touchy area without drawing the ire of players or tournament directors.

The rule requires a player to add an event to their schedules that they haven’t played in four years – a list that doesn’t include the majors, Players Championship, World Golf Championships or FedExCup Playoffs – if they didn’t play at least 25 events the previous season. Players can sidestep the new requirement if they play 25 events in the current season, but even that small print serves the larger narrative of getting players to play more.

“Whether it’s Hartford or other events early in the season that hadn’t had certain players play before it just brings really good energy,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said. “It’s challenging when you make a change like that but as a collective whole we’re pleased with where it is.”

All total, 50 players were a part of the program in 2017 and all 50 played a new event, according to Monahan. That’s a list that included nearly all of the game’s best players from Spieth and McIlroy to Dustin Johnson and Jason Day.

This year that number has climbed to 53 players who must add a new event, or commit to play 25 events. Players who don’t meet the new requirement are subject to a “major penalty,” which under the Tour’s regulations would be a fine in excess of $20,000 or possible suspension.

It’s a sign of the policy’s widespread appeal that it’s been the carrot - not the stick - that’s motivated players to expand their horizons when it comes to scheduling.

Although Casey conceded that adding a new event for this season is a bit more “complicated,” players are given a list of options by the Tour and have found the process relatively painless and straightforward.

“I’ve contemplated something early in the fall, Las Vegas, Mexico, one of those. Las Vegas is easy and I’ve never played it,” said Casey, who fell one event short of the 25-tournament minimum in 2016-17.

McIlroy is reportedly considering adding the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am or the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, neither of which he’s ever played, to his schedule this season, or maybe both; while Adam Scott allowed himself to become a little overzealous last season and added two events, the St. Jude Classic and Shell Houston Open, to his dance card in 2017 that would have met the requirement.

“I kind of shot myself out of them for next year,” Scott laughed. “Actually really enjoyed going back to both those courses. It will be interesting to see where I might add next year. I would like to go back to the [AT&T] Byron Nelson, things like that are on the radar.”

And that was the Tour’s ultimate goal. Mandating starts was always going to be a delicate proposition for the circuit and maybe there’s room for improvement under the new guidelines. But given how far back and how contentious this debate has been, Monahan and company deserve credit for finding a solution to a problem that not long ago seemed unsolvable.

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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.


Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship


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.”


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


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.


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


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.


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


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.