Stenson has FedEx Cup heading toward anticlimactic finish

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2013, 7:49 pm

ATLANTA – It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Not since Vijay Singh rolled into Atlanta in 2008 needing only to remain upright for 72 holes to claim the FedEx Cup loot has the Tour Championship been this anticlimactic. The 2013 season is not over, thanks to Henrik Stenson’s watery missteps on the closing nine as a storm settled in over East Lake, but the producers are starting to cue the closing credits.

It’s a tough pull for this year’s finale, which, for the first time in the playoff era, was going to be a true and proper finale. No fall events to muddy the waters, no money list asterisks to work through like in 2011 when Luke Donald had to go to overtime at Disney to claim the title. This one was supposed to have a bow on it.


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Fini.

Instead, we have Stenson, who will enter the year’s final turn four clear, and he's closing in on the $11.4 million FedEx Cup payday.

Instead, we have Tiger Woods, who broke par for the first time all week with his third-round 69, who is likely one tee time away from his 11th Player of the Year Award and the Vardon Trophy (for low scoring average).

Instead, we have what is shaping up to be a sleepy Sunday.

This is not an indictment of the FedEx Cup format, Stenson, Woods or any of the other top players assembled this week – just the capricious nature of sports.It could have been worse. Stenson could have not blinked on the back nine on Saturday. Through 45 holes the Swede was 14 under and nine strokes ahead of Dustin Johnson, but he bogeyed the 10th, 14th, 16th and 18th holes to at least make it a ball game.

“The rain came, and I started hitting a couple of loose ones on the back nine. It was just hard. It was just a grind to get finished,” said Stenson, who had just two bogeys through his first 45 holes.

Johnson made things interesting with birdies at two of his last four holes, but after starting the week 30th in FedEx Cup points he needs a win, a collection of monumental collapses by some of the game’s top players and a presidential pardon to clip Stenson for the cup.

In fact, it may turn out to be another Johnson that makes things interesting on Sunday. Zach Johnson, No. 4 in points, is the only player among the top 5 in points within nine strokes of Stenson. At 4 under, however, even he would need plenty of help combined with near-perfect play to unseat the front-runner in the season-long race.

Still, to pinch a line from the cult classic “Dumb & Dumber,” so you’re telling me there’s a chance.

That wasn’t the case for much of the day as the field raced the approaching storm and watched Stenson turn the Tour Championship into a two-flight competition.

“Henrik, obviously, is playing great,” said Streve Stricker, whose 68 left him alone in third place at 5 under par. “If he wasn’t here we’d have a great tournament lined up.”

Not bad for a guy who shattered his driver and a defenseless locker on Monday at the BMW Championship, hadn’t played the back nine until Thursday’s opening round and signed for a 66 on Friday with just 13 clubs in the bag after he broke his 4-wood warming up.

“Very impressive. Maybe we all should have broken our driver last week,” said Zach Johnson, who is tied for fourth place after a 69 on Saturday.

It’s not over. They tend to play all 72 at these events, but on a golf course that eschews low numbers against arguably the hottest player in the game it will be, by definition, an uphill climb.

“This is a great golf course to protect on because there's really not that much danger,” Woods said. “You can make a bunch of pars. It's one of those golf courses where (Jason Dufner) and I were talking about it yesterday. It's so easy to shoot 68 to 72.”

Tied for 26th at 3 over, the world No. 1 played his way out of the FedEx Cup race with opening rounds of 73-71, but he can take some solace in the notion that Adam Scott (T-10) and Phil Mickelson (T-10) likely played their way out of the Player of the Year Award.

Many Tour types figured Mickelson and Scott needed to win the FedEx Cup to clip Woods, a five-time winner in 2013, in POY voting. That doesn’t seem likely.Which leaves Dustin and Zach vying for low Johnson honors and chasing Stenson in Sunday’s title bout.

FedEx Cup math being what it is there is still time for the finale to deliver on that promise of a big finish. Stenson could falter, another could charge and the algorithms could still surprise.

Stenson knows it, he just doesn’t know how he would react if he were to lose the Tour Championship and still win the FedEx Cup, a scenario that has happened just twice in the playoff era.

“Of course I want to win two (trophies). If I can't win two, I'll be very pleased to win one,” he figured. “If I'm winning nothing, it will probably be not so sweet from this position. But I didn't have anything when I came here, so we'll see what we'll leave with.”

At an event suddenly void of excitement, we’ll take it.

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Notes: Koepka has Tiger's vote for Player of the Year

By Doug FergusonAugust 22, 2018, 12:51 am

PARAMUS, N.J. - Brooks Koepka already can count on one award this year. He has clinched the points-based award from the PGA of America as Player of the Year. Majors are worth 30 points, and there is a 50-point bonus for winning two of them. That gives Koepka 110 points for his U.S. Open and PGA Championship victories.

Even if Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas or Bubba Watson wins all four FedEx Cup playoff events for seven titles this year, they would not catch Koepka.

The PGA Tour award is a vote of the players.

That's still up for grabs, though Tiger Woods thinks the race is over.

''You win two majors, you've got it,'' Woods said. ''It's not real complicated.''

Woods thought back to 1998, when David Duval won four times on the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour vote went to Mark O'Meara for his Masters and British Open titles.

''I think two majors trumps it,'' he said.


A QUICK TURN FOR THE BETTER

Stewart Cink enters the FedEx Cup playoffs at No. 58 in the standings, his best starting position since 2010. Thanks to a tie for fourth at the PGA Championship, he will return to the Masters for the first time in five years.

He would not have seen this coming three months ago.

''The main thing that happened was ... what you think are bad circumstances turn out to be good circumstances,'' Cink said.

Cink enjoys the late spring because he typically plays well on some of those courses, such as Colonial, Muirfield Village and Quail Hollow. Bad final rounds turned potential top 10s into middle-of-the-pack, if not lower. The final straw was Memorial, where he ended a streak of making the cut in 19 consecutive appearances.

''I felt like crap playing bad golf,'' Cink said. ''I had to have a little bit of something to wake me up. I didn't do anything new, I just recommitted to what I was working on the last year.''

That can be a tall order for a 45-year-old whose last victory was the 2009 British Open at Turnberry. Cink put in time with swing coach Mike Lipnick, and he started hitting the ball the way he envisioned the flight. Over the next two months, he had three top 5s - a runner-up at the Travelers Championship when he closed with a 62, and a tie for fourth at the St. Jude Classic and the PGA Championship.

The real test was at Bellerive, where he played in the raucous arena with Tiger Woods in the third round and matched his 66. In the mix at a major for longer than he can remember, Cink finished with two birdies for a 67 to tie for fourth.

''Being paired with Tiger helped me,'' Cink said. ''I was nervous playing with the Tiger. The crowd was a factor. It felt like a Ryder Cup. It was a great challenge, and I really wanted to embrace it and test myself and see how well I can hang in there. I didn't have the option to fall back into a comfort zone. There wouldn't have been one in that group. I'm proud of myself the way I played.''

Cink's five-year exemption to the Masters from his British Open victory ran out in 2014, when he shot 68 on Sunday and missed by one shot finishing in the top 12 to earn a trip back to Augusta National. He looks forward to going back.

But that's in April. Ahead of him is a chance to return home to East Lake for the Tour Championship for the first time since 2009.

''I'm super excited,'' he said. ''I have a better chance to go back to East Lake, and that's a goal from here on out to see if I can make it.''

More than recommitting to his golf, Cink said his heart is in the right place. The last two years have provided the ultimate test after his wife, Lisa, was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. He said her health has been steady - no setbacks - the last several months.

''It goes without saying that my life has taken on a different perspective,'' Cink said. ''I'm enjoying playing golf. I don't have anything to lose. I'm having fun competing, testing myself. There's no downside. ... I wish I could tell my 18-year-old self that.''


WRAPPING UP THE MAJORS

An obscure record was set at the PGA Championship. Seven players had all four rounds in the 60s, led by champion Brooks Koepka. The others were Stewart Cink, Jon Rahm, Francesco Molinari, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose and Webb Simpson.

The previous record was five players with all four rounds in the 60s at Baltusrol in 2016, Valhalla in 2014 and Riviera in 1995.

Koepka and Charl Schwartzel each shot 63 in the second round. That extended the streak to four consecutive years when at least one player shot 63 or better in the majors. Tommy Fleetwood also had a 63 at the U.S. Open, so that makes 2018 the fourth time there were at least three rounds of 63 in the same year. The other years were 1980 (Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf at the U.S. Open, Isao Aoki at the British); 1993 (Nick Faldo and Payne Stewart at the British, Vijay Singh at the PGA); and 2016 (Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson at the British, Robert Streb at the PGA).

Tiger Woods also got in on the act. His 64 in the final round at Bellerive tied for low score of the round. The last time no one had a lower score than Woods in one round at a major was in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where he and Dustin Johnson each shot 66 on Saturday.


DIVOTS

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho has won the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the leading player in the 2018 world amateur golf ranking. The award gives Kupcho an exemption into the U.S. Women's Open and the Women's British Open provided she stays an amateur. ... Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose each have a mathematical chance to reach No. 1 in the world this week at The Northern Trust. ... The University of St. Andrews is honoring teaching pro Renee Powell and British journalist Katharine Whitehorn by naming a residence hall after each of them. Powell in 2008 became the first female golfer in the five centuries of St. Andrews to receive an honorary doctorate degree. ... Darren Clarke makes his PGA Tour Champions debut this week at the Boeing Classic outside Seattle.


STAT OF THE WEEK

Only two players outside the top 25 in the world have won majors in the last five years. Martin Kaymer was No. 28 when he won the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, and Jimmy Walker was No. 48 when he won the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol.


FINAL WORD

''You don't want to be put on the bench in the playoffs.'' - Harris English, whose tie for 11th at the Wyndham Championship was narrowly enough for him to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for The Northern Trust

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 21, 2018, 10:20 pm

It's the first tournament of the FedExCup Playoffs and the top 125 on the season-long points list are battling it out to see who will move on to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for The Northern Trust. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; Click here for live stream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; Click here for live stream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; Click here for live stream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, Noon-1:45PM ET; Click here for live stream; CBS, 2-6 p.m.


Purse: $9 million ($1.62 million to winner)

Course: Course: Ridgewood Country Club (par 71, 7,319 yards)

Defending champion: Dustin Johnson (Defeated Jordan Spieth with a birdie on the first playoff hole at Glen Oaks Club)

Notable tee times (all times ET)

• 7:54 a.m. Thursday, 12:55 p.m. Friday: Tiger Woods, Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood

• 8:05 a.m. Thursday, 1:06 p.m. Friday: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka

• 8:16 a.m. Thursday, 1:17 p.m. Friday: Webb Simpson, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau

• 12:44 p.m. Thursday, 7:43 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Beau Hossler, Byeong-Hun An

• 12:55 p.m. Thursday, 7:54 a.m. Friday: Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau

Key stats:

The top 100 players in FedExCup points after The Northern Trust advance to the Dell Technologies Championship.

• The field includes 120 of the top 125 in this season’s FedExCup – all except No. 17 Rickie Fowler, No. 21 Rory McIlroy, No. 50 Henrik Stenson, No. 93 Patrick Rodgers and No. 122 Bud Cauley.

• 2007 and 2009 FedExCup champion Tiger Woods is making his first appearance in the FedExCup Playoffs since 2013. Although he has won each of the other three playoff events, he has never won The Northern Trust.

• In the 11 years that this event has been part of the FedExCup Playoffs, the winner has gone on to capture the FedExCup just once - Vijay Singh in 2008.

• The defending champion is Dustin Johnson. Ernie Els (1996-1997) is the only player to successfully defend his title.

• Jordan Spieth finished runner-up last year. Three runners-up have gone on to win the next year - Seve Ballesteros (1987-1988), Dennis Paulson (1999-2000), and Padraig Harrington

(2004-2005).

• The course record in this event at Ridgewood Country Club is 62 by Hunter Mahan in the first round in 2008. The tournament record for 18 holes is 61 by Brandt Snedeker in the final round in 2011 at Plainfield Country Club.

(Stats and information provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit)

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Na holding out hope for Ryder Cup captain's pick

By Rex HoggardAugust 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

PARAMUS, N.J. – There are no shortage of goals for players as the PGA Tour reaches the final month of the season, and how players prioritize those accomplishments depends on individual motivations.

For example, coming into the season Kevin Na’s primary goal was to win a Tour event, which he accomplished last month at the Greenbrier. After that, things get interesting.

“I think win, No. 1. Ryder Cup, No. 2. Tour Championship, No. 3,” he said on Tuesday at The Northern Trust.

Na is currently 19th on the FedExCup point list, which gives him a good chance to qualify for the season finale, which comes with an invitation to three of next year’s four majors. The more pressing concern would be this year’s Ryder Cup.


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Na finish 18th on the U.S. Ryder Cup point list and he would likely need to do something extraordinary the next two weeks for captain Jim Furyk to make him one of his picks. Still, making the team that will travel to Paris next month is always on his short list.

“If I can somehow get my name on one of those lists of players that play the Ryder Cup; maybe at the end of my career, instead of saying, you know, you probably say, I had X amount of wins; and I played X amount of Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, I think is pretty cool,” said Na, who has never played on a Ryder or Presidents Cup team.

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Woods tinkering with driver shaft, loft at The Northern Trust

By Rex HoggardAugust 21, 2018, 9:11 pm

PARAMUS, N.J. – Tiger Woods said on Tuesday at The Northern Trust that he spent last week attending his children’s soccer games and tinkering with his driver.

Although he finished runner-up at the PGA Championship, Woods hit just 5 of 14 fairways on Sunday at Bellerive and ranked 74th for the week in fairways hit. It was no surprise that his focus heading into the FedExCup Playoffs was finding more fairways.

“We've been working on it, experimenting with different shafts and different lofts on my driver and 3-wood, as well,” Woods said. “Just trying different things. I've still got two more days and I'll still be monkeying around with a couple things and come game time we'll see what I go with.”


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Woods played an abbreviated practice round on Tuesday at Ridgewood Country Club, which included Nos. 1-8 and Nos. 15-18, with a new driver that features a different shaft from the one he used at the PGA Championship and more loft (9.5 degrees).

He also had a TaylorMade equipment representative walking with him on Tuesday and went to the practice range after his round for more work.