Steady Stenson a worthy FedEx Cup, Tour champion

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2013, 12:01 am

ATLANTA – In retrospect, it was a quintessential playoff push by any measure.

For all the hand-wringing over the volatility of the current FedEx Cup playoff system, few could argue with a format that delivered the title late Sunday to Henrik Stenson, ostensibly the most consistent player in the game.

It would be easy to dub the Swede this year’s Mr. September, with his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship a fortnight ago followed by his walk-off 68 at East Lake, but that would be a disservice to his entire body of work.

On his way to the Tour Championship title and the FedEx Cup, Stenson has finished outside the top three in just two of his last eight global starts and has rocketed to No. 4 in the world ranking.

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If the only thing harder than FedEx Cup math is Atlanta traffic, Stenson delivered a dollop of clarity that defied projections and algorithms. He started the week inside the top five in points – assuring a victory in the tournament proper would also net the cup – took the lead with an opening-round 64 and never let up.

Through a wrist injury, a broken 4-wood and Saturday’s showers, the Iceman was perfectly relentless in his quest to complete his journey from a competitive abyss that saw him swoon to 230th in the world less than 24 months ago.

“I kind of knew, well, even if I don't win today, I could still win the FedEx Cup,” said Stenson, who is also first on the European Tour’s Race for Dubai list and could become the first player to complete the transatlantic double. “That was the hard bit to put everything aside, as always, and focus on the right things. I didn't play my best round today, but I was hanging in there, took the right decisions.”

From the outset, it was super Sunday FedEx Cup style, with the 30-man mad dash to $11.4 million in cash and deferred prizes quickly turning into an intimate three-ball as the supporting cast fell away.

Rookie sensation Jordan Spieth added to his legacy, birdieing four consecutive holes starting at the 13th on Sunday to briefly cut a lead that had climbed to as many as nine strokes on Saturday to a single digit.

But Stenson never seemed fazed, per his modus operandi.

When asked his man’s state of mind coming down the stretch, Stenson’s caddie Gareth Bryn Lord mimicked a flat line with his hands.

“Fantastic,” Lord smiled.

Not bad for a player who less than a week ago dismantled his driver in anger at the BMW Championship and worked over one of Conway Farms’ lockers before departing for the finale.

“He’s not one to bottle things up,” Lord said. “He had to get it out of his system and he felt like he’s playing so well and you finish 30th (T-33, actually) and he’s like, ‘agh.’”

So when Stenson airmailed the green at No. 14 and made bogey, the first vestiges of intrigue crept into the proceedings and were just as quickly washed away when the champion made a bounce-back birdie at the par-5 15th and arrived at the 17th tee a field goal clear of the pack.

When Stenson pushed his drive into a fairway bunker at the penultimate hole, Spieth – watching the action after signing for his 64 – sat up and took notice. The 8-iron approach shot, however, never left the flag and rolled out to 18 feet for a stress-free par.

“Wow, what a golf shot,” Spieth smiled. “That just won him $11.4 million.”

Officially, Stenson still had a few more shots to play, tee ball into the right bunker at the 18th, a blast to 4 feet, a putt that never left the cup, but give the 20-year-old credit for recognizing the significance of a clutch performance.

Stenson’s 13-under total left him three clear of Spieth and the game’s most prolific part-time player since Bobby Jones – Steve Stricker, who was the last man standing who could have challenged Stenson for both trophies but could only manage pars over his final three holes.

Stricker, who traded a week chasing elk in Colorado with his buddies for four days chasing a Swede for a bundle, settled for a closing 65 and his seventh top-10 finish in an abbreviated season despite missing half as many putts from 4 to 5 feet (four) in four days as he had all season (eight).

Seems both Stricker and his putting protégé Tiger Woods will need to tighten things up on the greens before next week’s Presidents Cup. The world No. 1 shot himself out of the FedEx Cup equation with opening rounds of 73-71 and seemed to wrap up his state of mind on Friday.

“I’m tired. It’s been a long, long grind,” he said then, a day removed from just his seventh round on Tour without a birdie.

Woods tied for 22nd following a closing 67, but likely wrapped up the consolation prize of winning his 11th Player of the Year award when primary challengers Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott failed to give voters something to think about at the finale.

Scott, derailed by illness on Saturday that may go down as the most expensive 24-hour bug in the history of golf, tied for 14th after playing his final 36 holes in 6 under; while Mickelson showed flashes of solid play but started the weekend too far back and tied for 12th. When asked about the Player of the Year vote, Lefty had no easy answer.

“That's a tough one. If I could have done well this week, I thought I had a really good chance. But as it stands now, I'm not sure,” said Mickelson, the only player to finish in the top 15 in the final FedEx Cup standings every year.

It was small consolation, however, considering Stenson’s command performance. On perhaps the best course in the Tour lineup to play defense, Stenson did his best Nick Faldo impersonation. It was a hearts-and-minds deal – give them nothing to think about and their hearts wouldn’t be in it.

“He wanted to win the tournament, not just the FedEx Cup,” Lord said. “The last 15, 20 minutes he was brilliant.”

The last two months haven’t been too shabby, either.

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Snedeker joins 59 club at Wyndham

By Will GrayAugust 16, 2018, 4:19 pm

Brandt Snedeker opened the Wyndham Championship with an 11-under 59, becoming just the ninth player in PGA Tour history to card a sub-60 score in a tournament round.

Snedeker offered an excited fist pump after rolling in a 20-footer for birdie on the ninth hole at Sedgefield Country Club, his 18th hole of the day. It was Snedeker's 10th birdie on the round to go along with a hole-out eagle from 176 yards on No. 6 and gave him the first 59 on Tour since Adam Hadwin at last year's CareerBuilder Challenge.

Snedeker's round eclipsed the tournament and course record of 60 at Sedgefield, most recently shot by Si Woo Kim en route to victory two years ago. Amazingly, the round could have been even better: he opened with a bogey on No. 10 and missed a 6-footer for birdie on his 17th hole of the day.

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Snedeker was still 1 over on the round before reeling off four straight birdies on Nos. 13-16, but he truly caught fire on the front nine where he shot an 8-under 27 that included five birdie putts from inside 6 feet.

Jim Furyk, who also shot 59, holds the 18-hole scoring record on Tour with a 58 in the final round of the 2016 Travelers Championship.

Snedeker told reporters this week that he was suffering from "kind of paralysis by analysis" at last week's PGA Championship, but he began to simplify things over the weekend when he shot 69-69 at Bellerive to tie for 42nd. Those changes paid off even moreso Thursday in Greensboro, where Snedeker earned his first career Tour win back in 2007 at nearby Forest Oaks.

"Felt like I kind of found something there for a few days and was able to put the ball where I wanted to and make some putts," Snedeker said. "And all of a sudden everything starts feeling a little bit better. So excited about that this week because the greens are so good."

Snedeker was hampered by injury at the end of 2017 and got off to a slow start this season. But his form has started to pick up over the summer, as he has recorded three top-10 finishes over his last seven starts highlighted by a T-3 finish last month at The Greenbrier. He entered the week 80th in the season-long points race and is in search of his first win since the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open.

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Woods' caddie paid heckler $25 to go away

By Will GrayAugust 16, 2018, 4:05 pm

Tiger Woods is known for his ability to tune out hecklers while in the midst of a competitive round, but every now and then a fan is able to get under his skin - or, at least, his caddie's.

Joe LaCava has been on the bag for Woods since 2011, and on a recent appearance on ESPN's "Golic and Wingo" he shared a story of personally dispatching of an especially persistent heckler after dipping into his wallet earlier this month at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

According to LaCava, the fan was vocal throughout Woods' final round at Firestone Country Club, where he eventually tied for 31st. On the 14th hole, LaCava asked him to go watch another group, and the man agreed - under the condition that LaCava pony up with some cash.

"So he calls me a couple of names, and I go back and forth with the guy. And I said, 'Why don't you just leave?'" LaCava said. "And he goes, 'Well, if you give me $25 for the ticket that I bought today, I'll leave.' And I said, 'Here you go, here's $25.'"

But the apparent resolution was brief, as the heckler pocketed the cash but remained near the rope line. At that point, the exchange between LaCava and the fan became a bit more heated.

"I said, 'Look, pal, $25 is $25. You've got to head the other way,'" LaCava said. "So he starts to head the other way, goes 20 yards down the line, and he calls me a certain other swear word. So I run 20 yards back the other way. We’re going face-to-face with this guy and all of a sudden Tiger is looking for a yardage and I’m in it with this guy 20 yards down the line.”

Eventually an on-course police officer intervened, and the cash-grabbing fan was ultimately ejected. According to LaCava, Woods remained unaffected by the situation that played out a few yards away from him.

"He didn't have a problem," LaCava said. "And actually, I got a standing ovation for kicking the guy out of there."

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Highlights: Snedeker's closing blitz to 59

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

Brandt Snedeker's first round at the Wyndham Championship began with a bogey and ended with a birdie for an 11-under 59.

Snedeker made four consecutive birdies on his opening nine holes and then raced home in 27 strokes to become the ninth different player in PGA Tour history to break the 60 barrier.

A very good round turned historic beginning when he holed a 7-iron from 176 yards, on the fly, for an eagle-2 at the par-4 sixth. Playing his 15th hole of the day, Snedeker vaulted to 9 under par for the tournament.

With Sedgefield being a par 70, Snedeker needed two birdies over his final three holes to shoot 59 and he got one of them at the par-3 seventh, where he hit his tee shot on the 224-yard hole to 2 feet.

Snedeker actually had 58 in his crosshairs, but missed an 6-foot slider for birdie at the par-4 eighth.

Still, 59 was on the table and he needed this 20-foot putt to shoot it.

At 11 under par, Snedeker led the tournament by five strokes.

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Rosaforte Report: A tale of two comebacks

By Tim RosaforteAugust 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Comeback (noun): A return by a well-known person, especially an entertainer or sports player, to the activity in which they have formerly been successful.

Even by definition, the word comeback is subjective.

There is no question that Brooks Koepka has completed his comeback. With two major championship victories that encompassed wins over Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods, Player of the Year honors have all but been locked up for the 2017-18 season.

But knowing Koepka, he wants more. A No. 1 ranking, topping his boy D.J., is a possibility and a goal. A Ryder Cup is awaiting. By all rights, Koepka could be Comeback Player of the Year and Player of the Year all in one, except the PGA Tour discontinued its Comeback honor in 2012. Even without an official award, the conversation comes down to the two athletes that hugged it out after finishing 1-2 at Bellerive.

What Woods has recovered from is remarkable, but not complete. He hasn’t won yet. With triumphs in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, Koepka has completed his comeback from a pair of wrist injuries that could have been equally as career-ending as the physical issues that Woods had to overcome just to contend in the last two majors.

“There was a question on whether or not I’d ever be the same,” Koepka said Sunday night in the media center at Bellerive, following his third major championship victory in six tries. “Whether I could do it pain-free, we had no idea.”

The wrist traumas occured five months apart, with the initial issue, which occured at the Hero World Challenge in December (in which he finished last in the limited field), putting him in a soft cast with a partially torn tendon. That cost the reigning U.S. Open champion 15 weeks on the shelf (and couch), including a start in the Masters.

His treatment included injecting bone marrow and platelet-rich plasma. When he returned at the Zurich Classic in April, Koepka revealed the ligaments that hold the tendon in place were gone – thus a dislocation – and that every time he went to his doctor, “it seemed like it got worse and worse.”

Koepka’s second wrist injury of the season occurred on the practice grounds at The Players, when a cart pulled in front of Koepka just as he was accelerating into the ball with his 120-plus mph club-head speed. Abruptly stopping his swing, Koepka’s left wrist popped out. His physio, Marc Wahl, relayed a story to PGA Tour radio in which he advised Koepka before he reset the wrist: “Sit on your hand and bite this towel, otherwise you’re going to punch me.”

Koepka admitted that he never dreamed such a scenario would threaten his career. He called it, “probably the most painful thing I’ve ever gone through, setting that bone back.” But, testament to Koepka's fortitude, four days later he made an albatross and tied a TPC Sawgrass course record, shooting 63.

Woods’ physical – and mental – recovery from back surgery and prescription drug abuse was painful and career threatening in its own way. As he said in his return to Augusta, “Those are some really, really dark times. I’m a walking miracle.”

As miraculous as it has been, Woods, by definition, still hasn’t fully completed his comeback. While he’s threatened four times in 2018, he hasn’t won a tournament.

Yes, it’s a miracle that he’s gotten this far, swinging the club that fast, without any relapse in his back. As electric and high-energy as his second-place finish to Koepka was at the PGA, Woods has made this winning moment something to anticipate. As story lines go, it may be better this way.

Coming off a flat weekend at the WGC-Bridgestone, Woods was starting to sound like an old 42-year-old. But instead of ice baths and recovery time, the conversation was charged by what he did on Saturday and Sunday in the 100th PGA.

A day later, there was more good news. With Woods committing to three straight weeks of FedExCup Playoff golf, potentially followed by a week off and then the Tour Championship, that moment of victory may not be far away.

Scheduling – and certainly anticipating – four tournaments in five weeks, potentially followed by a playing role at the Ryder Cup, would indicate that Woods has returned to the activity in which he was formally successful.

There were times post-scandal and post-back issues, that Woods stuck by the lines made famous by LL Cool J:

Don’t call it a comeback
I’ve been here for years
I’m rocking my peers

Not this time. As he said Sunday before his walk-off 64 in St, Louis, “Oh, God. I didn’t even know if I was going to play again.”