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'This is now': How times have changed for Tiger, Phil

By Ryan LavnerApril 3, 2018, 8:27 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – At 8:50 a.m. Tuesday, with the sun just starting to peek through the Georgia pines, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson marched all the way back to the 11th tee together. A group of about 100 fans eagerly awaited their arrival, cameras ready.

“Take a picture,” an elderly spectator whispered to his friend. “I never thought I’d see this.”

Woods and Mickelson hadn’t played a tournament practice round together in 20 years, since the 1998 Nissan Open in Los Angeles, since Mickelson reportedly won the money match and then left photos and a note in Woods’ locker, joking about the Benjamins he’d taken off of him. Woods apparently didn’t appreciate the gag.

Neither superstar could have imagined the two decades that would follow – the dozens of titles, and the scandals, and the health concerns. And yet none of that seemed to matter on a sun-drenched morning at Augusta National, as Woods and Mickelson toured the back nine in front of packed grandstands - two aging warriors as popular, relevant, friendly and competitive as ever.

That alone seemed inconceivable at this time last year.

Mickelson was nearly four years removed from his last victory, fighting his driver and trying to maintain his energy and concentration for 72 holes. Woods would have loved those problems. Arriving at Augusta without his clubs for the second consecutive year, he endured shooting pain down his leg at the Champions Dinner. A few weeks later, he underwent a last-ditch fusion surgery to try and salvage his quality of life. Saving his career was a bonus.

“There were some really dark times,” he said.

And now?

Mickelson steamrolls into Augusta with his confidence as high as it’s ever been. He posted four consecutive top-6 finishes on Tour for the first time in his career, then capped off that run with a slump-busting victory in Mexico, in a World Golf Championship event, after outdueling the hottest player in the world, Justin Thomas.

In 1986, when Jack Nicklaus turned back the clock and took the Masters at age 46, it was a historic achievement that defied the odds and suspended belief. A Mickelson victory this week wouldn’t engender the same emotions. Not even close. Few would be surprised if he slipped into a fourth green jacket – not just because players’ careers are longer these days, thanks to better fitness and equipment, but because of Mickelson’s quality of play lately.    


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“Once I finally did break through and win, I’m going to peel off quite a few more,” he said. “So I’ve just had the first one, and it’s time to start peeling off a few more.”

Woods roars into Augusta pain-free and with a startling amount of power and speed. During the Valspar Championship, one of the Trackman computers clocked his swing speed at 129 mph – the highest mark on Tour this season – which led him to later remark that he’s a “walking miracle.”

“Some things never change,” Mickelson joked. “I can’t keep up with him.”

Their notoriously frosty relationship has thawed in recent years, since Woods has been out, since he has expressed a desire to be involved with the U.S. Ryder Cup team. In the run-up to the matches at Hazeltine, Mickelson said that he and Woods talked on an everyday basis. Players on that squad mentioned how the game’s two biggest stars laughed and swapped stories, putting aside a two-decade rivalry for the good of the team. The rest of the Americans followed their lead, snapping a three-match losing streak, then dominating the Presidents Cup last fall.

That chumminess has trickled down into tournament play, too. After Woods’ runner-up finish in Tampa, Mickelson texted him encouragement. “It felt like it was a different time continuum because I found myself pulling so hard for him,” Mickelson said. “It was unusual. And I find that I want him to play well, and I’m excited to see him play so well. And he is playing well.”

There was no elaborate story behind their practice-round grouping Tuesday, a surprising partnership that dominated the early-week discussion here at the Masters. Mickelson merely bumped into Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, on Monday and asked if they were free for a game. Fred Couples and Thomas Pieters joined the group, and that was unfortunate for them, because the Woods-Mickelson pairing played a five-hole stretch on the back nine in 7 under.

Rory McIlroy saw Woods on the range afterward and said, with a smile: “Never thought I’d see the day, Tiger and Phil playing a practice round at Augusta.”

Woods laughed, but he recognizes not just their evolving relationship, but also their place in today’s game.

“We’re at the tail end of our careers – we both know that,” he said. “We have had a great 20-year battle, and hopefully we’ll have a few more. But we understand where we are in the game now versus where we were in our early 20s, battling for who is going to be No. 1. That was then, and certainly this is now.”

Now is a chance for Woods to author one of the most improbable comebacks in sports history.

Now is a chance for Mickelson to become the oldest Masters champion, and to tie Woods with four green jackets.

And now is a chance for both players to take it to the young studs who have dominated the game, to remind them that their time hasn’t expired just yet.

Tuesday might not be the last time they see each other, either.

“They may be paired together on Sunday,” Couples said.

Everyone would snap a picture of that.

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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).

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

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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.