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Monday Scramble: Surges and resurgence at The Players

By Ryan LavnerMay 14, 2018, 3:30 pm

Webb Simpson conquers The Players, Justin Thomas becomes world No. 1, Tiger Woods goes from cut line to contender, Phil Mickelson lacks energy and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

One of the many gifts the late Sam Simpson hoped to instill in his son was perseverance, and sure enough Webb’s grit is what won him The Players.

His play was only part of the equation. Back from golf purgatory, Simpson searched long and hard for a putting method that allowed him to capitalize on his unique skill set post-anchor ban. It doesn’t look pretty, and neither does his swing, but it’s hard to argue with the results.

The other aspect was more personal. Sam lost his long, agonizing battle with Lewy Body Dementia last November, and it’s taken years for Webb to come to peace with the prospect of losing his father too soon.   

Both Webb and his caddie, Paul Tesori, said afterward that they were exhausted. Sure, winning golf’s fifth major on a course as demanding as TPC Sawgrass is taxing, but more because it was hard work to even get to this point.   


1. On the 18th green, a teary Webb Simpson said that he wanted to win The Players for his mom. Hearing that seven hours away, in Raleigh, N.C., his mother, Debbie, wept.

For more on their relationship, and their trying past six months, click here for my Sunday night game story from TPC Sawgrass.

2. Simpson was the only player in the top 40 who didn’t shoot par or better in the final round.

That’s one of the benefits of a seven-shot cushion – he didn’t need to.

Simpson’s putting was so sublime that he sucked the life out of the tournament midway through the third round. He opened 66-63 and then, even while “putting like a normal person,” built the largest 54-hole lead ever at The Players.



3. Simpson’s putting resurrection offers hope for former anchorers like Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley.

After devoting countless hours to honing what was a perfectly legal method for putting, Simpson’s career was turned upside down by the USGA’s decision to ban anchored putting.

Consistently one of the Tour’s above-average putters, he dropped outside the top 175 for two consecutive seasons in 2015-16. When he came to The Players last year, he was ranked 192nd, and caddie Paul Tesori said that he didn’t think Simpson would ever putt well again.

That week he ran into Tim Clark, and he tried the claw grip, and after a year he’s worked himself back into a top-5 putter. Last week was an absurd display: He gained more than nine shots on the field on the greens and sank more than 455 feet worth of putts.

“I hope he doesn’t putt too well with that thing up the arm,” Scott said, “or they’ll ban that, too.”

4. With his win at The Players, Simpson jumped from 23rd to ninth in the Ryder Cup standings. If he continues this form, he won’t have to text his way onto the team – he’ll be in Paris.

That’d be welcome news for Bubba Watson, with whom he paired during the 2012 and ’14 Ryder Cups.

The rest of the squad could feature a few other fresh faces.

Left-hander Brian Harman is 11th. Bryson DeChambeau, who has three top-4s recently, is now 12th in the standings. Reigning Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele is in the 14th spot. Big-hitting Tony Finau and Gary Woodland are 15th and 17th, respectively.



5. Justin Thomas showed why he’s the new No. 1-ranked player in the world, shooting 10 under on the weekend to salvage a tie for 11th during a week in which he made the cut on the number.

The world rankings finally caught up with the eye test over the past year and a half. He has six wins including a major over the past 17 months, putting an end to Dustin Johnson’s 64-week reign at the top.

At 25, Thomas becomes the fourth-youngest world No. 1 history, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.

“It’s not something I just want to do once,” he said. “I want to do it for a really, really long time. I want to have it for a really long, because that means I’m playing better than everybody else for an extended period of time. If I have it and then fall off the map, that doesn’t really mean a whole lot to me. I would much rather continue to play well for another five to 10 years and see how long I can have it.”  

6. Of course, DJ wasn’t an easy man to unseat.

He opened up a huge lead in the rankings after ripping off three wins in a row in early 2017. Since that torrid stretch, he has two other wins and nine top-10s. In stroke-play events this calendar year, he hasn’t finished worse than 17th.

This could be a back-and-forth battle for the next few months, if not longer.



7. Tiger Woods needed a little help to stick around for the weekend. By late Sunday afternoon, he was only four shots back and looking to scare Simpson into a late mistake.

Instead, it was Woods who took a few steps back down the stretch. He misfired with a sand wedge on 14, leading to a bogey, then didn’t birdie the easy 16th and rinsed his tee shot on 17 when the wind turned back into his face.

He came away with a tie for 11th, which is impressive considering his uneven start, but it also could have been so much more.

“I’m not that far off from winning golf tournaments,” he said.

8. What’s next for Tiger?

A start at Memorial, certainly, and there are bigger goals on the horizon.

After his final round, he stated for the first time that he wanted to get back to Firestone. It’s the final year that it’ll host the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational before it moves to TPC Southwind, and Woods is an eight-time winner in Akron.

To qualify, Woods will need to be inside the top 50 in the world by late July. He’s now ranked 80th, but likely with only three more starts to close the gap.

He can also start making plans for September. He already has 548 FedExCup points this season (current rank: 48). Even if he doesn’t earn another point this season, he’d nearly have enough to qualify for the third playoff event, in Philadelphia.



9. Phil Mickelson had a curious week at The Players.

After lobbing some good-natured barbs at Woods during his pre-tournament news conference, Mickelson fell completely flat during the opening round, shooting a 79 en route to his worst showing at TPC Sawgrass in 18 years.

He also expressed concern about his “energy levels,” but did not elaborate further. It’s not the first time he’s mentioned that.

10. Of course, Mickelson might have had more energy if he wasn’t sweltering under a long-sleeve dress shirt and undershirt in humid, 90-degree Florida weather.

A new Mizzen+Main endorser and part owner, Mickelson wore the stretchy, athletic dress shirt for the second time this year. (The first was during that much-publicized practice round with Woods at the Masters.) We’re not the fashion police here, but judging by the reaction on social media it was not a good look – and it looked even worse with the way Mickelson played.

If he starts Mizzen more cuts, he'll need to change his attire. (I'll see myself out.) 



11. This was the final Players in May. Beginning next year, golf’s fifth major returns to March, where it was positioned prior to 2007.

The schedule change produces a big event for seven consecutive months: The Players, Masters, PGA, U.S. Open, Open Championship, the playoffs and then the Ryder Cup/Presidents Cup (though the 2019 Prez Cup will be held in December).

So, what will change with the March date? For starters the course will be more telegenic, with overseeded ryegrass instead of bermuda. It’ll play softer. And there’ll be a different wind, out of the north and northeast, which will make the 17th and 18th even more difficult.

Quizzing players last week was a challenge, because the March date will be new for many. Nearly 90 percent of this year’s field had never played the tournament when it was held in March.


Chris DiMarco’s son won’t have a tee time at U.S. Open sectionals, and he only has himself to blame.

We wrote the story here, but Cristian DiMarco, a standout left-hander at the University of South Florida, bailed after his round last week because he didn’t think he’d earn one of the five available spots in the local qualifier. Trouble was, he found himself in a playoff, and when the other competitor didn’t show, either, the tournament officials followed protocol and went to a coin flip – a coin flip! – to determine the winner … and DiMarco lost.

“I’m very disappointed in myself for leaving, but in the grand scheme of things, is it really going to make a huge difference in my career?” he said. “I hope not. I hope I’ll play in many U.S. Opens.”

This week's award winners ... 


That Was Costly: Jason Dufner. Facing a 17-footer for birdie on 18, he knocked it 3 feet past and then missed the comebacker, too. From potentially solo second into a tie for fifth? That cost him $770,000.

Who Says Accuracy Isn’t Important?: Webb Simpson. He finished the week first in driving accuracy (82%) and last in driving distance (280.6 yards).

Photo of the Week: NBC Sports cameraman John Boeddeker. Sent this out on Twitter over the weekend, but it's worth showing again. So cool.


Ready to Rock?: Jordan Spieth. He’s playing three weeks in a row, including at this week’s new Nelson venue, Trinity Forest, where he should have a significant advantage. Even after a closing 74 at TPC Sawgrass, Spieth said that he feels as good about his game as he has in “two-plus years.” Hmmm.

Minor-League Victory: Stephan Jaeger. Not eligible for The Players, Jaeger, who has his PGA Tour card, dropped back to the Web.com Tour for a week and won. Hey, beat up on your guys with your own status!

Don’t Mess With Texas: NCAA women’s regionals. A mysterious virus swept the regional in Austin, Texas, sending coaches and players scrambling for the garbage cans and bathrooms. What horrible timing, especially for a team like Michigan State, since there are no exemptions into the NCAA Championship – every team has to earn its way through regionals, even if many of the players are ill.  

Didn’t Expect to See This: DJ using AimPoint. So, just to be clear, DJ – regarded as one of the most naturally talented players on Tour, a physical freak who doesn’t overthink anything on the course or in his life – now uses both TrackMan AND AimPoint Express to maximize his results. He apparently picked up the latter in a day. We have so many questions …

And They Say You Can’t Curve the Ball With Today’s Equipment: Tiger Woods. This is NSFW-level stuff.


Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Rickie Fowler. His bizarre record at TPC Sawgrass continues, with another missed cut to go along with his six other finishes outside the top 60. He was in good shape to play the weekend until his ball got stuck in a tree late in his round, leading to back-to-back double bogeys that sent him packing. Sigh.

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How the new Tour Championship format would look this year and last

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 18, 2018, 2:39 pm

The PGA Tour announced on Tuesday plans to change the FedExCup format for the 2018-19 season. Part of that plan is to assign pre-tournament strokes to players in the Tour Championship based on their playoff standings in the first two events. 

Per GolfChannel.com senior writer Rex Hoggard:

The No. 1 player on the post-season points list will begin the finale at 10 under par. The next four players will start at 8 under through 5 under, respectively, while Nos. 6-10 will begin the tournament at 4 under par with the total regressing by one stroke every five players with those ranked 26th through 30thstarting at even par. The winner at East Lake will also claim the FedExCup.

Here's a look at where players would start this year's Tour Championship under the new format (through the three events already contested):

1 Bryson DeChambeau 10 under
2 Justin Rose 8 under
3 Tony Finau 7 under
4 Dustin Johnson 6 under
5 Justin Thomas 5 under
T-6 Keegan Bradley 4 under
T-6 Brooks Koepka 4 under
T-6 Bubba Watson 4 under
T-6 Billy Horschel 4 under
T-6 Cameron Smith 4 under
T-11 Webb Simpson 3 under
T-11 Jason Day 3 under
T-11 Francesco Molinari 3 under
T-11 Phil Mickelson 3 under
T-11 Patrick Reed 3 under
T-16 Patrick Cantlay 2 under
T-16 Rory McIlroy 2 under
T-16 Xander Schauffele 2 under
T-16 Tommy Fleetwood 2 under
T-16 Tiger Woods 2 under
T-21 Aaron Wise 1 under
T-21 Kevin Na 1 under
T-21 Rickie Fowler 1 under
T-21 Jon Rahm 1 under
T-21 Kyle Stanley 1 under
T-26 Paul Casey Even par
T-26 Hideki Matsuyama Even par
T-26 Gary Woodland Even par
T-26 Marc Leishman Even par
T-26 Patton Kizzire Even par

Here's a look at how last year's Tour Championship played out, with Xander Schauffele winning the event and Justin Thomas claiming the overall FedExCup title, and how it would have looked, all things equal, under the new system (in which Jordan Spieth began the finale as the No. 1 seed and would have started the event at 10 under par). In the new system, Thomas would have been the FedExCup champion.

2017 Tour Championship Player Final score   2017 in new system Player Final score
1 Xander Schauffele -12   1 Justin Thomas  -19
2 Justin Thomas  -11    2 Jordan Spieth  -17 
T-3 Russell Henley  -10    3 Paul Casey  -13 
T-3 Kevin Kisner  -10    T-4 Jon Rahm  -12 
5 Paul Casey  -9    T-4 Brooks Koepka  -12 
6 Brooks Koepka  -8    T-4 Kevin Kisner  -12 
T-7 Tony Finau  -7    T-4 Xander Schauffele   -12
T-7 Jon Rahm  -7    T-8 Justin Rose  -10 
T-7 Jordan Spieth  -7    T-8 Russell Henley  -10 
T-10 Sergio Garcia  -6    T-10 Dustin Johnson  -9 
T-10 Matt Kuchar  -6    T-10 Matt Kuchar  -9 
T-10 Justin Rose  -6    12 Tony Finau  -8 
T-13 Patrick Reed  -5    T-13 Daniel Berger  -7 
T-13 Webb Simpson  -5    T-13 Webb Simpson  -7 
15 Daniel Berger  -4    T-13 Sergio Garcia  -7 
16 Pat Perez  -3    T-16 Pat Perez  -6 
T-17 Jason Day  -2    T-16 Patrick Reed -6 
T-17 Dustin Johnson  -2    18 Marc Leishman  -3
19 Gary Woodland  -1     T-19 Kyle Stanley  -1 
T-20 Patrick Cantlay    T-19 Gary Woodland  -1 
T-20 Jason Dufner    T-21 Jason Day 
T-20 Kyle Stanley  E   T-21 Adam Hadwin 
23 Adam Hadwin  +1   T-21 Patrick Cantlay 
T-24 Brian Harman  +3    T-21 Jason Dufner 
T-24 Marc Leishman  +3    25 Brian Harman  +1 
T-26 Rickie Fowler +6    T-26 Rickie Fowler  +2 
T-26 Hideki Matsuyama  +6    T-26 Hideki Matsuyama  +2 
T-28 Kevin Chappell  +9    28 Charley Hoffman  +6 
T-28 Charley Hoffman  +9    29 Kevin Chappell  +7 
30 Jnonattan Vegas  +10    30 Jhonattan Vegas  +8 
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Stock Watch: Up or down for FedExCup changes?

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 18, 2018, 2:20 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Angela Stanford (+9%): In this era of youthful dominance, Justin Rose and now Stanford offer reminders that sometimes the long, winding journey is even more rewarding. It took Rose 20 years to reach world No. 1; for Stanford, she needed 76 major starts (and 15 years after a major playoff loss) before she finally became a Grand Slam winner, at age 40.

Sang-Moon Bae (+6%): The next time you complain about losing your game after a few weeks away, remember that the two-time Tour winner shelved his clubs for TWO YEARS to fulfill his South Korean military obligations and then regained his card. That’s a heckuva achievement.

FedExCup changes (+5%): Though the Tour Championship shouldn’t count as an official victory – come on, the playoffs leader has a TEN-SHOT head start over No. 26! – the strokes-based system is no doubt easier to follow than the various points fluctuations. RIP, Steve Sands’ whiteboard.

Tyler McCumber (+3%): Maybe he’s on his way to challenging his famous father, who won 10 times on the PGA Tour. A three-time winner this season in Canada, McCumber clinched Mackenzie Tour Player of the Year honors and will be one to watch next year on the Web.

Matthew Wolff (+2%): The reigning NCAA Freshman of the Year is now 2-for-2 this season, winning at both Pebble Beach and Olympia Fields with a 67.2 scoring average. He’s a primetime player.  


FALLING

Amy Olson (-1%): To win a major most need to have their heart broken at least once … but that ugly 72nd-hole double bogey could linger for longer than she probably hoped.  

Lexi (-2%): As heartwarming as it was to watch Stanford snap her major-less drought, keep in mind that the best U.S. player – the 23-year-old Thompson – next April will be five years removed from her lone LPGA major title.

Web final (-3%): Twenty-five Tour cards will be on the line this week at the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship, but here’s guessing you won’t even notice – for some reason, it conflicts with the big tour’s season finale. Why couldn’t this have been played last week, when the Tour was dark and the Web could get some much-needed exposure?

Player of the Year debate (-5%): As much as the Tour might promote otherwise during its big-money conclusion, Justin Thomas said it best on Twitter: Majors trump all. It’s Brooks Koepka’s trophy this year.  

Repairing damage (-6%): Golf’s governing bodies are confident that the new rules (out Jan. 1!) will speed up pace of play, but it’s hard to see how that’s possible when they now will allow players to tap down spike marks on the green. With $1 million and major titles on the line, you don’t think guys will spend an extra minute or two gardening?

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FedExCup gets massive overhaul for next season

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 2:05 pm

ATLANTA – The PGA Tour unveiled more dramatic changes to the FedExCup and its playoffs on Tuesday, outlining a new model to determine the season-long champion and giving a boost to the circuit’s regular season.

Starting next year when the Tour transitions from four post-season events to three, the FedExCup champion will be determined solely on the outcome at the Tour Championship, with players beginning the week at East Lake with a predetermined total based on their position on the points list.

The No. 1 player on the post-season points list will begin the finale at 10 under par. The next four players will start at 8 under through 5 under, respectively, while Nos. 6-10 will begin the tournament at 4 under par with the total regressing by one stroke every five players with those ranked 26th through 30th starting at even par. The winner at East Lake will also claim the FedExCup.


Current FedExCup standings

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


The new system removes the confusing calculations that have highlighted the finale since the season-long race began in 2007 and avoids awkward moments like last year when Xander Schauffele won the Tour Championship but Justin Thomas claimed the FedExCup.

“As soon as the Tour Championship begins, any fan – no matter if they’ve followed the PGA Tour all season or are just tuning in for the final event – can immediately understand what’s going on and what’s at stake for every single player in the field,” commissioner Jay Monahan said in a statement.

A player’s rank on the points list will be based on their play in the first two playoff events, The Northern Trust (125 players) and BMW Championship (70 players), and a victory at East Lake will count as an official triumph, although it remains to be seen if players will receive world ranking points at what is essentially a handicapped event.

The Tour also announced the addition of a regular-season bonus pool called the Wyndham Rewards Top 10. The $10 million bonus pool will be based on regular-season performance, with the No. 1 player on the points list after the Wyndham Championship, the final regular-season event, earning $2 million.

In addition to the format changes at the Tour Championship and regular-season race, Monahan announced that the FedExCup bonus pool will increase to $60 million, up from $35 million, with the champion receiving $15 million.

“Now is the time to make these changes,” Monahan said, “and thanks to significant input in the process by our players, partners and fans, I believe we’re making exactly the right moves.”

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Congressional to host 2031 PGA, 2036 Ryder Cup

By Will GraySeptember 18, 2018, 12:51 pm

The PGA of America announced that Congressional Country Club will host a number of its biggest events over the next two decades, including the 2031 PGA Championship and 2036 Ryder Cup.

Located near Washington, D.C., Congressional hosted the 1976 PGA Championship when Dave Stockton won. But it's perhaps more well known in recent years as a USGA venue, having hosted three U.S. Opens including 1964 (Ken Venturi), 1997 (Ernie Els) and 2011 (Rory McIlroy). The course also hosted the Quicken Loans National seven times between 2007-2016.

But the famed Blue Course will now become a PGA of America venue, and down the line will host the organization's two biggest events. Before that, Congressional will be home to the KPMG Women's PGA Championship in both 2022 and 2027, KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in 2025 and 2033, the Junior PGA Championship in 2024 and the PGA Professional Championship in 2029.

The announcement is a win for golf fans in the nation's capital, as the area lost its regular PGA Tour stop when the former Quicken Loans National ended this summer. Quicken Loans will sponsor the new Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit beginning in 2019.

The Wanamaker Trophy will again be up for grabs at Congressional in 2031, adding to the long list of already confirmed future PGA Championship venues. The event now has only three open dates (2025, 2026, 2030) before 2032, but has already promised one of those available spots to Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa.

The biggest prize may require the longest wait, as Congressional will host the Ryder Cup for the first time in 2036. It's the third time in less than a year that the PGA has locked in a future Ryder Cup site, having added Hazeltine (2028) earlier this year and Olympic (2032) in November. The 2020 matches will be held at Whistling Straits, while the 2024 matches will go to Bethpage Black.