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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs: FedEx Cup

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Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
Players to Watch in 2019: Cameron Champ
Dec 31, 2018 7:14 AM
 
You always know that a player has had a big year when, 12-months previously, the vast majority of golf fans would have had no idea who the hell he or she is. Cameron Champ embodied this dynamic in 2018. The 23-year-old was possessed of an impressive collegiate pedigree upon acceding to the professional ranks in late 2017; indeed, he won the OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational and finished in the top 10 of six other tournaments at Texas A&M. Furthermore, he made the cut in a tie for eighth place on the occasion of his major championship debut at the 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills last year, finishing as low-amateur in a tie for 32nd place. Remarkably, the rookie was also the driving leader over the first two days of the tournament, averaging 339.2 yards off the tee: that is, two yards more than eventual winner, Dustin Johnson, a figure renowned for his length with driver in hand. A tied for 16th finish at the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament last December earned him a place on the Web.com Tour for the start of 2018; by July, he had already claimed his maiden professional title by a stroke away from Steven Ihm at the Utah Championship and secured playing privileges for the 2018–19 PGA Tour season by earning $253,731 and finishing 6th in the 2018 Web.com Tour regular season. Incredibly cool to be on the cover of Golf Magazine with my friends @joaconiemann and @Samburns66! Huge thank you to @golf_com for the opportunity - be sure to check out our young guns feature in the January issue and online at @golf_com pic.twitter.com/xw8eq5H2X7 — Cameron Champ (@Cameron__Champ) 11 grudnia 2018 Champ made his PGA Tour debut at the Safeway Open at Silverado Resort and Spa on 4 October, ranked No.222 in the world, and despite posting negative numbers in both strokes gained: putting (-.179) and around-the-green (-.268), he secured a hugely impressive T25 finish. This circumstance owed in large part to the fact that Champ dominated the field with respect to driving distance and accuracy, gaining 1.605 strokes off the tee; Luke List, who finished T-4 at the Safeway Open, was second in the category at 1.466. Inevitably Champ’s prodigious length off the tee generated huge excitement in the popular US golfing media and, making his second PGA Tour start at the Sanderson Farms Championship two weeks later, the Sacramento-native went a long way towards vindicating such heightened expectations. A blistering 7-under opening-round 65 immediately thrust Champ into contention for the title and he took a four-stroke lead into the final day. An uncharacteristically nervy, 1-over front-nine ensured this cushion had dissipated by the time he reached the turn; however, he pulled away on the back nine, birdying five of his last six holes to claim his maiden PGA Tour honour by four-strokes away from Canadian, Corey Conners. That triumph catapulted Champ No.222 in the world to No.127, and a strong T28-T10-6 run through his final three starts of the season at the Shriners Hospital for Children’s Open, the Mayakoba Classic and the RSM Classic ensured that he finishes the year ranked inside of the world’s top-100 (No.97). Possessed of exceptional length off the tee, a solid iron game, a consistent putting stroke and an ability to score low under pressure, Champ looks to have all the physical, technical and psychological raw materials required to thrive at the highest level of the PGA Tour. He’s one to watch out for in 2019. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Brooks Koepka: an understated but warranted Player of the Year winner
Oct 17, 2018 11:50 AM
Tags: News   pga tour   Tiger Woods   FedEx Cup   Brooks Koepka,  
 
It was perhaps the most revealing vignette to emerge from the FedEx Cup play-off ending Tour Championship at East Lake last month. Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau and Keegan Bradley were all on the pre-tournament interview schedule Tuesday and Wednesday in advance of the Tour Championship, most for good reason. After all, Bradley had just ended a six season trophy drought at the BMW Championship the previous week; DeChambeau had won the first two Playoffs events; Schauffele was the tournament’s defending champ; Thomas was the reigning FedEx Cup champ; Rose had just ascended to No.1 in the world; DJ had just been displaced from No.1 in the world; Finau had just been called-up to the Ryder Cup squad; and Tiger…well, Tiger is Tiger. A conspicuous absentee from that star-studded procession of media speakers, however, was the outstanding player of the 2018 PGA Tour season and the frontrunner for the coveted Player of the Year award, Brooks Koepka. @BKoepka talks with media ahead of his 2018-19 debut at THE CJ CUP in Korea.Brooks on superstitions: pic.twitter.com/RrQ984ATEg— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 17, 2018 The 28-year-old became the first golfer in more than three decades to retain the US Open title at Shinnecock in June; two-months later he shot a pair of 66s on the weekend to set a 72-hole PGA Championship scoring record on his way to holding off Woods by two strokes at Bellerive. Koepka consequently ascended to a career-high position of No.2 in the Official World Golf Rankings and arrived at East Lake with a realistic chance of taking top-spot. In this context, his absence from the pre-tournament press circuit was extremely difficult to fathom. Did he even notice? Did he care? You bet'cha. “[The media] has their guys they wanna talk to,” Koepka is reported to have said away from a press conference. “I’m not one of them and that’s fine.” “Come Sunday, I won’t forget it when everyone wants to talk to me because I just won. I don’t forget things.” Of course, this plan for retribution didn’t work-out in the end; consecutive 1-over rounds of 73 across Thursday and Friday ensured that he was effectively out of the running for the title before the weekend began. The comment, nevertheless, is revealing of the fact that an anomalously low public profile continues to function as a source of inspiration for Koepka, a circumstance that has not gone unnoticed by his coaching staff. Koepka endured a somewhat sour end to 2018; in addition to taking just 1.5 points from four starts at the Ryder Cup, reports of a late-night bust-up with teammate and supposed friend, Dustin Johnson leant weight to reports of chronic dysfunction in the US camp. Nevertheless, the past 10 months have positioned Koepka strongly to emerge as the most decorated major-level golfer of the Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas generation and he richly deserved his Player of the Year accolade. Koepka’s Tour rivals had better hope the media begin taking notice of his exceptional talents. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Tiger’s renaissance imbues Ryder Cup with new dimension
Sep 26, 2018 4:45 AM
 
Tiger Woods’ return to the elite band of professional golf over the past 12 months has been an exercise in gradualism: first came being able to play, and then putting together a game, and then giving himself chances. All of that has happened in rapid succession; indeed, less than a year has passed since the 42-year-old’s pain-free completion of 72-holes en route to a T9 finish at the Hero World Challenge was treated as a minor miracle, demonstrating that his body had recovered to a level sufficient to withstand the physical rigorous of a standard format stroke-play event. A runners-up finish to Paul Casey at the Valspar Championship in March provided the earliest evidence that he retained the technical expertise required to contend meaningfully on the PGA Tour, while a T6 finish at The Open and a T2 finish at the US PGA Championship expunged any lingering doubts regarding his ability to challenge for the sport’s biggest honours. All this remarkable comeback story lacked was a victory and, true to form, he clinched in spectacular fashion in the final FedEx Cup event of the season at the Tour Championship last weekend. Sceptics may say he only beat a field of just 29 golfers, but it included 18 of the top 20 players in the world, all four major winners and the World No 1. Woods made golf look easy again, ranking third in fairways hit, first in scrambling and first in strokes gained-putting through three rounds. Furthermore, he claimed his eightieth career PGA Tour accolade in a straight shootout against the player who was supposed to have succeeded him as the sport’s foremost practitioner six-years ago, Rory McIlroy. Today's practice groups from @RyderCupUSA:@TigerWoods/@PhilMickelson/@PReedGolf/@b_dechambeau@RickieFowler/@JustinThomas34/@JordanSpieth/@DJohnsonPGA @bubbawatson/@webbsimpson1/@BKoepka/@tonyfinaugolf pic.twitter.com/XB0Sm9DHaE— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 25, 2018 Having been written off as dead and stuck on 14 majors and 79 PGA Tour titles for more than five-years, Woods’ victory at East Lake last weekend can be regarded accurately as one of the greatest comeback stories in sporting history and has served to imbue this week’s Ryder Cup in Paris with an added air of intrigue. Europe already traded as rank outsiders to reclaim the title forfeited so meekly at Hazeltine two seasons ago; Tiger’s renaissance has rendered this task even more arduous. “The younger guys were on their way in when I was on my way out,” Woods reflected in a press conference at Le Golf National on Tuesday. “They had never really played against me when I was playing well. It’s been five years since I’ve won a tournament. “A lot of the players were just coming on to the scene, whether it’s JT [Justin Thomas], Jordan [Spieth], Bryson [DeChambeau] – Brooks [Koepka] was just getting started, coming off the European Tour. So a lot of these guys just had not played against me yet. When my game is there I feel like I’ve always been a tough person to beat. They have jokingly been saying, ‘We want to go against you.’ All right. Here you go.” ‘Be careful what you wish for’ may well emerge as the European side’s motto in Paris. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Woods’ resurgence sets McIlroy’s stagnation in relief
Sep 25, 2018 12:31 PM
 
Ever since he started chipping balls in his back garden and watching major championships on TV, Rory McIlroy dreamed of facing-off against Tiger Woods during the final-round of a high-profile PGA Tour event. Sure, the 14-time major champion attempted to chase McIlroy down with a closing-round 62 as the Northern Irishman ascended to the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings following his victory at the 2012 Honda Classic. However, the duo had never really squared off against one another in the full heat of battle as the final pairing out on a big tournament Sunday. “I dreamed as a little kid playing in the final group with Tiger Woods in a big tournament,” McIlroy said. “He was the best in the world, of all time, and you dream of beating the best.” Comment: Rory McIlroy will never be in Tiger's league of greatness https://t.co/gsum4VeCh3 pic.twitter.com/d7tL6FH605— Independent Sport (@IndoSport) September 24, 2018 On Sunday, McIlroy finally got his chance to go head-to-head against Tiger in the last pairing out at the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake. Trailing the veteran by three-strokes at the close of play on Saturday, the 30-year-old knew that he needed to produce a flawless final-round to have any chance of overhauling the most prolific frontrunner in the history of golf. As it transpired, he was unable to lay a glove on Woods who cantered to his first victory in five-years despite signing for a 1-over Sunday scorecard of 71. The 42-year-old, who was limited to just 12 starts on the PGA Tour between 2015 and 2017 owing to injury, ultimately finished two-strokes clear of Billy Horschel in second-place and six clear of McIlroy who slumped to a 4-over final-round 74 and a tie for seventh. In hindsight, the die was cast on the 469-yard par-4 opening-hole. Where Woods bisected the fairway with a 295-yard drive before playing his approach shot to within 10-feet of the flag and converting for birdie, McIlroy was two-over by the time he carded his first birdie of the day on the par-5 6th-hole and promptly squandered any hopes of a comeback with a double-bogey–bogey run through holes Nos. 7 and 8. Media response to Tour Championship has rightly focused on the scale of Woods’s accomplishment in battling back from what seemed a career-ending injury to reclaim his spot among the golfing elite. However, the casual manner of Woods’s victory was aided significantly by the tame nature of McIlroy’s capitulation; six-years on from the Northern Irishman’s ostensibly epoch-defining victory against Woods at the Honda Classic, few could have envisaged Woods returning to so emphatically out-perform a rival 12 years his junior at East Lake. Woods is justifiably trading shorter than McIlroy to win the Masters at Augusta next Spring; such sets the extent of the latter’s stagnation in stark relief. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Tiger completes resurrection at the Tour Championship
Sep 24, 2018 1:36 PM
 
There was a period not too long ago when the only time one would think about Tiger Woods was to wonder when the announcement of an official retirement might come. To say that the 42-year-old had faded from the popular sporting consciousness during the three seasons he spent injured between 2014 and 2017 would be a dramatic understatement. He not only became a sporting irrelevancy, emphatically superseded by younger talent like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth; his name was rendered a pop-cultural punchline. Traditionally associated with unparalleled sporting success, ‘Tiger Woods’ became a byword for celebrity catastrophe, a figure synonymous extra-marital affairs, pathological rudeness and leaked nude internet photos. Even on the course, Woods was a shadow of his former-self, possessed of a body so wrecked that he struggled to bend down to pick his ball up from the cup. He chunked drives, and the yips snagged his pitching wedge and his putter. “I’ve been sitting on 79 for about five years now, and to get 80 is a pretty damned good feeling,” said Woods. – TGRhttps://t.co/zeudcqeabH— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) September 24, 2018 Thus, when former world No.1 was arrested was arrested for driving under the influence of prescription painkiller medication near his Jupiter home in Florida last summer, it seemed only a matter of time until he announced his retirement from professional golf. Overweight, puffy-eyed and sullen-faced, the Stanford alumnus had not managed to swing a club in over nine-months; having just undergone a fourth major back-surgery in the space of two-years, it seemed apparent that his body (and perhaps also his mind) was beyond repair. Speaking to reporters ahead of the Tiger Foundation’s charity tournament in the Bahamas in December 2015, he sombrely reflected that "There is no timetable” for his recovery, adding: "Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don't know, so that's been hard. There is nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards." And then there he was on Sunday at East Lake in Atlanta, coming down the 18th fairway about to win the Tour Championship with thousands of the faithful stampeding in his wake, dressed in the victory red of old, coming home like some sporting saviour, back from the dead, indomitable once again. Woods began the final-round with a three-shot lead away from playing partner, McIlroy and, given that he had converted all 23 of his previous three-stroke 54-hole leads into PGA Tour victories, Sunday always felt like a psychological litmus test for the 14-time major champion’s comeback. Did he still possess the competitive ruthlessness of old? The answer was an emphatic ‘yes’; as McIlroy stumbled to a 4-over final-round 74, Woods moved clear five clear with a birdie on the par-4 13th and admitted to needing to hold back tears as he strode down the final fairway assured of victory. “I was having a hard time not crying on the last hole,” Woods said. “I said, ‘Hey, you know what, I can still blade this thing out of bounds so just had to suck it up and let’s hit some shots.’ Once I got the ball on the green, I gave [caddie] Joey LaCava a high five because it was done. I could handle that from there. “At the beginning of the year, certainly this was a tall order. But as the year progressed, I proved that I could play, and I found a swing and put pieces together, and I knew I could do it again.” Woods ultimately claimed his 80th career PGA Tour victory by two-shots away from Billy Horschel with McIlroy, Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Tommy Fleetwood – the best players in the world – unable to get near him. This is a comeback story of epic proportions and will go down as one of the greatest victories in the history of golf. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy out to disrupt Tiger’s march to history
Sep 23, 2018 4:35 AM
 
When Rory McIlroy converted from three-feet for birdie on the par-5 18th at the Tour Championship at East Lake on Saturday, drawing within three-shots of Tiger Woods’ outright, 54-hole lead, you could almost hear the Ryder Cup marketing team beginning to salivate. Just one week out from the big tee-off in Paris, the two highest-profile golfers from either side of the Atlantic will go head-to-head in the last pairing out on a big tournament Sunday for just the second-time in their careers. Woods and McIlroy will be playing for themselves, of course, yet this will have an undeniable US vs Europe flavour. Tiger’s surge to the summit of the third-round leaderboard understandably dominates the Sunday morning sports pages. Not long after the golfing world collectively doubted the viability of the 42-year-old’s comeback, he is on the cusp of sealing an historic 80th PGA Tour title, five-years after last triumphing at the 2013 World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. Saturday was an emphatic performance from Woods. Starting in a share of the lead with world No.1, Justin Rose, the 14-times major champion rattled home birdie putts in six of his first seven holes to move three shots clear of the Englishman at the turn. While he was unable to break par on the back-nine, he can draw a great deal of confidence from a record of having hit 10 of 14 fairways for the second time this week. Tiger Woods.Birdie putt.Book it.#QuickHits pic.twitter.com/Y2KQxXlkPZ— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 22, 2018 Woods ultimately signed for a 5-under 65 and will tee-off on Sunday at 12-under for the tournament; Rose, unable to go lower than 68, will need to recoup a minimum of four strokes to have any chance of contending for the title. “I’ve been through a lot to get to this point,” Woods reflected. “I would love to be able to win this event, but there are some good players behind me. Simple maths tell me I don’t have to shoot 64 and rely on the help of the others. I’ve felt very comfortable when I’ve got in the mix this year, it hasn’t felt abnormal even though it’s been years. It’ll be fun to go out with Rory.” “Rory” does, indeed, complicate the picture. The 30-year-old was little-fancied in the lead-up to this event; while he won at East Lake en route to claiming the FedEx Cup title two-years ago, he has only managed three top-10s in his last eight starts and remains winless since shooting the lights out at Bay Hill in March. Following second and third-place finishes at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in February, McIlroy has blown a plethora of chances to win high-profile events against lesser golfers over the last nine-months owing largely to a flaky putting stroke. However, the Northern Irishman has been solid on the greens at East Lake (he leads the tournament with 17 birdies and ranks 23rd in strokes gained putting) and looks well-placed to capitalise if Woods allows his level to drop even slightly on Sunday. From 1999 to 2013, Woods converted 42 of 44 54-hole leads on the PGA Tour into tournament victories; Sunday will provide a psychological litmus test of the former world No.1’s comeback. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Why Fowler needs a strong finish to the season
Sep 20, 2018 10:37 AM
 
When Rickie Fowler confirmed that he would sit out the first two FedEx Cup play-off events in order to focus on his recovery from a recurring right oblique injury, it seemed as good a time as any to stand back from the golf course and take some time to recover to full fitness. After all, Fowler’s T12 finish at the US PGA Championship at Bellerive capped-off a deeply disappointing summer in which he failed to contend at any of the season’s final three majors while squandering an excellent opportunity to win the Scottish Open at Gullane Golf Club. Indeed, the 29-year-old has not managed a single top-5 finish since tying for second at The Masters in April and remains winless since claiming his fourth PGA Tour title at the Honda Classic last February. Put simply, the last six months of Fowler’s campaign have been a massive disappointment in light of the excitement generated by his stunning weekend performance at Augusta. It is consequently becoming difficult to regard his final 36-holes at The Masters as anything other than a continuation of the well-established pattern whereby the Californian only shoots low whence the pressure is off. This dynamic is embodied in the damning statistic that Fowler has only converted one of six 54-hole PGA Tour leads into tournament victories and has recorded almost twice as many runners-up finishes (15) as he has tournament victories (8) in a decade as a professional golfer. Rickie Fowler What’s In The Bag? Ryder Cup 2018 https://t.co/pCvyi0suVg pic.twitter.com/BAACew8VTz — Golf Monthly (@GolfMonthly) September 19, 2018 Nevertheless, there are some signs of hope that the world No.9 might yet be able to finish 2018 on a high, an aspiration invested with added importance owing to the fact that there is a Ryder Cup just around the corner. Returning from injury at the BMW Championship at Aronimink two-weeks ago, he had slumped down as low as 26th in the FedEx Cup points race and consequently required at least a top-30 finish to qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake. Under normal circumstances, of course, a top-30 finish would be a minimum expectation for a golfer of Fowler’s calibre but given he had been struggling with injury and rendered unable to practice, it was by no means a given that he would outscore the vast majority of an elite field. As it happened, of course, he shot three consecutive 65s in order to begin Sunday with an outside chance of winning the title, and while he ultimately finished four shots shy of the play-off in a tie for eighth, the apparent ease with which he rediscovered his rhythm bodes extremely well for Jim Furyk’s Ryder Cup side going into the tournament in Paris at the end of the month. Fowler has finished 8-12-26 through his last three starts at East Lake and travels to Georgia full of confidence after contending at Aronimink. Victory would be an ideal way for the Californian to round-out a trying season. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
2018 Tour Championship Betting Preview
Sep 19, 2018 12:29 PM
 
The 2017/18 PGA Tour season concludes with the FedEx Cup Play-Off-ending Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia this week. Points-race leaders, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Rose, Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas all remain in with a chance of claiming the most lucrative winner’s cheque in golf. Here follows our top-three tips for the week. Winner: Justin Rose (8/1) This one feels like a bit of a no-brainer to me, not least owing to the fact that Rory McIlroy is trading level with Rose as a joint-favourite. One need only compare and contrast these players’ form to discern the value represented by backing the Englishman as an 8/1 shot. While McIlroy registered a solid T5 finish at the BMW Championship a fortnight ago, he has only managed three top-10s in his last eight starts and remains winless since shooting the lights out on Sunday at Bay Hill in March. Since finishing second and third at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship consecutively in February, the 30-year-old has blown a plethora of chances to win high-profile events against lesser golfers in 2018 (losing out to Patrick Reed and Francesco Molinari at The Masters and The Open standout above all others), and while he did win the Tour Championship en route to claiming the FedEx Cup title two-years ago, a frustrating final-round flakiness renders him an extremely expensive player to back. Congratulations, Justin Rose He's become world number one for the first time in his career. https://t.co/AQUbVKZZvc pic.twitter.com/A0hMJcOhEx— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) September 11, 2018 Rose, by contrast, arrives in Georgia off the back of consecutive runners-up finishes and sits at the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in his career. While that achievement was somewhat soured by the sloppy manner in which he squandered a 71-hole lead at the BMW Championship last time out, he looks extremely well-placed to atone for such profligacy at East Lake. In 17 PGA Tour events this season, Rose has won twice and finished in the top 10 on 10 occasions with only one missed cut; he has achieved top-10 placings in five of his past six Tour Championships and his share of the runners-up position in 2015 shows a genuine affinity for the historic Atlanta course. If Rose plays to his best level this weekend it is a struggle to envisage any rival catching him, and the 38-year-old is possessed of a deep-seated determination to vindicate his status as world No.1. Top-10: Xander Schauffele (30/1) Schauffele’s motivation levels may well suffer as a consequence of the fact that he was overlooked for US Ryder Cup captain, Jim Furyk’s fourth and final wild-card pick two-weeks ago; however, the defending champion arrives at East Lake in exceptional form. He was one stroke outside of the play-off at Aronimink two weeks ago and finished in a tie for second at The Open at Royal Birkdale at the end of July. The world No.19 looks well-placed to mount a stern title defence. Top-10: Keegan Bradley (50/1) This is a very tempting price; Bradley’s play-off victory against Rose at Aronimink ended a six-year trophy-drought on the PGA Tour; it propelled him back up as high as No.31 in the world rankings and thrust him briefly into contention for Ryder Cup wildcard selection. Bradley will thus arrive at East Lake brimming with confidence and can play with that invaluable sense of freedom arising from the fact that he has nothing to lose. Back the former US PGA Championship winner to contend. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Jason Day remains short of recapturing best level
Sep 15, 2018 10:13 AM
 
When Jason Day closed out a two-stroke victory away from Nick Watney and Aaron Wise at the Wells Fargo Championship in May, excited prophecies that he was poised to recapture the form that propelled him to the summit of the Official World Golf Rankings seemed entirely justified. After all, the Aussie suffered badly in 2017; in addition to completing his first winless season in more than four years, he tumbled from 1st down to 13th in the Official World Golf Rankings and posted just a single top-three finish through 22 starts. When he squandered a single-stroke 54-hole lead at the Australian Open in Sydney last November and finished the tournament three-shots shy of a 22-year-old winner ranked outside of the world’s top-1,000, Cameron Davis, many commentators consequently began to ponder whether his time as a top-level golfer was up. It was in this context that Day’s victory at Wells Fargo felt so significant. Coming just six starts after he ended an eighteen-month trophy drought at the Farmers Insurance Open, the triumph at Quail Hollow appeared to confirm the 30-year-old had rediscovered the technical élan and mental toughness that rendered him the foremost player in the world just over a year previously. .@BMWchamps equipment notes: Xander Schauffele’s putter tweak pays dividends, the story behind Jason Day’s new driver shaft and much more. https://t.co/qqYZrXsIF8 pic.twitter.com/gwG0l1XoEm— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) September 10, 2018 Suddenly, Dustin Johnson’s hold on the world No.1 spot began to look a great deal more precarious; further major championship triumphs surely beckoned. But since triumphing at the Wells Fargo, Day’s name has been conspicuously absent from the business end of big tournament leaderboards and he will tee-off at next week’s Tour Championship trading longer than 30/1 to take the title. While Day posted solid top-20 finishes at three of the season’s four major titles, he never meaningfully contended at any of them and missed the cut at the US Open at Shinnecock. Indeed, in 10 starts since triumphing at Quail Hollow, the Queensland-native has managed only two top-10 finishes and an indifferent T20-MC-24 run through the first three FedEx Cup events has caused him to slip back outside of the world’s top-10. 2018 will go down as year of progress for Day; he abated the precipitous decline that threatened to engulf him towards the end of last season and re-established himself as a fixture inside the PGA Tour winner’s circle. Nevertheless, he remains some way off recapturing the form that elevated him to No.1 in the world three-years ago and, with players like Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas now vying for top-spot, he may well struggle to reclaim that mantle. [Photo Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Finau worthy of Ryder Cup wildcard
Sep 14, 2018 12:33 PM
 
In the end it was a case of too little, too late for Xander Schauffele. The 24-year-old, who exploded into the popular golfing consciousness upon claiming the Tour Championship at East Lake last September, briefly fired the race to secure US Ryder Cup captain, Jim Furyk’s fourth and final wild-card selection with a frisson of excitement at the BMW Championship last week. Schauffele’s stunning 7-under opening-round 63 was inevitably overshadowed by Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods’ accomplishment in signing for 62s; however, he claimed the outright 36-hole lead following a 64 on Friday and entered into a rain-delayed final-round within a shot of Justin Rose’s slender, 17-under lead. Victory would surely have rendered Schauffele a ‘lock’ for the US Ryder Cup squad’s final wildcard slot, but while most captains would envy Furyk for having an agonising decision simplified in such decisive fashion, it was difficult not to feel as though Schauffele’s late surge in form functioned principally to complicate a well-established plan – a plan to select Tony Finau. That Tony Finau has underwhelmed since claiming his maiden PGA Tour title at the Puerto Rico Open in March 2016 is undeniable. A dream come true!! Incredibly honored to be a part of @RyderCupUSA! Excited to join the team and do whatever it takes to help us bring home a victory!! Thanks to Captain Jim Furyk for believing in me and to all the fans for their support. I’m truly humbled. #GoUSA #RyderCup pic.twitter.com/E9qR4S7KnP— Tony Finau Golf (@tonyfinaugolf) September 10, 2018 Blessed with exceptional length off the tee, a solid iron game and consistency on the greens, he looked to possess all the physical and technical raw materials to emerge as a consistent winner at the highest level of the professional sport. Over two-years on, Finau remains stuck on one top-level triumph; however, a run of seven top-10s, including a T5 at the US Open and two runners-up finishes at The Genesis Open and the Northern Trust Open, through 20 starts in 2018 marks a major improvement on last season and suggests it is only a matter of time until he wins again. Indeed, Finau travelled to Philadelphia for the BMW Championship last week fresh off the back of a 2-T4 run in his first two Play-Off events and a T8 finish at Aronimink ultimately propelled him up to a new career-high ranking of No.15 in the world. On form, therefore, the 29-year-old possessed every claim to be handed a Ryder Cup debut; only a Schauffele victory could scupper Furyk’s plans. In the end, Furyk was spared the invidious task of needing to separate the in-form Finau from a victorious Schauffele; as occurred at The Open in July, Schauffele’s scoring dried-up under pressure on a back-nine on Sunday and he ultimately finished a shot outside the play-off contested between Rose and champion, Keegan Bradley. Furyk duly confirmed Finau as the last of his wildcard picks alongside Bryson DeChambeau, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Ultimately, it is difficult to begrudge Finau his selection; however, Schauffele’s near-miss at Aronimink does illustrate vividly the razor-thin margins that separate elation from acute disappointment in professional golf. Win or no, play-off place or no, Schauffele performed exceptionally at the BMW Championship and would have been well worth a place in Furyk’s team. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Spieth’s 2018 illustrates the zero-sum nature of professional golf
Sep 13, 2018 7:34 AM
 
Suspend disbelief for a minute. Not a great way to begin an analytical golf blog, admittedly, but bear with me: there is an alternate universe out there somewhere in which Jordan Spieth has just completed his banner year. In addition to having claimed a second green jacket courtesy of staging the greatest comeback in Masters history, he became the first golfer in a decade to retain the Claret Jug and consequently heads to East Lake at the summit of both the World Golf and FedEx Cup rankings, fully confident of claiming a second Play-Off title in four seasons. His peers are not Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka, but Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Of course, the extent to which your willing to indulge this little fantasy is heavily contingent upon your belief in a multiverse, which I’m going to go ahead and guess is not very strong. Jordan Spieth is outside the top 30 in the #FedExCup.This helps. #QuickHits pic.twitter.com/kQpuPHFnzW— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 8, 2018 There may well be an alternate reality in which Spieth’s 2018 campaign will go down as one of the greatest seasons in PGA Tour history; in our own one, however, the whole thing has been a bit of a slog. In addition to having failed to win a single PGA Tour title for the first time since 2014, he finished the season with his lowest earnings in six full seasons as a pro and managed to register just one more top-10 finish (5) than he missed-cuts (4) across 22 starts on all Tours worldwide. To put this figure into context, he top-10ed 13 times in 2017, 11-times in 2016 and 18-times in 2015. Inevitably this contraction in form has exerted a profound, deleterious impact on the Texan’s competitive standing; in addition to having slipped outside of the world’s top-10 for the first time since cracking that elite-band four-years ago, he has failed to qualify for the Tour Championship for the first time in his career, creating the ignominious situation of likely facing fine or suspension for not making the minimum required starts on tour. For a player of Spieth’s calibre, qualifying for East Lake is not an achievement – it is an expectation; his absence from the Tour Championship must, therefore, be understood as a damning indictment on a deeply disappointing campaign. It is not difficult to pin-point the root cause of the Texan’s struggles. Two years ago, Spieth ranked second in strokes gained/putting, and ninth the season before that. After falling to 42nd in the category in 2017, Spieth departed last week’s BMW Championship in Philadelphia at 136th in sg/putting. To put this figure into context, even the notoriously inconsistent Rory McIlroy ranks top-60 for sg/putting. In simple terms, then, Spieth’s putter has gone cold, depriving him of the safety net that sustained him when his more fallible tee-to-green game faltered. Until he regains his best level on the greens, it is difficult to envisage him replicating the kind of scoring that propelled him to five wins, including two major titles, in 2015. And yet, it all could have worked-out so much better for Spieth, a circumstance that speaks to the essential capriciousness of this golfing universe. It is striking, for instance, to reflect that he held the first-round lead at The Masters and, after moving sideways on Friday and Saturday, he mounted one of the greatest comebacks ever seen at Augusta National. Starting Sunday nine shots back of Patrick Reed, Spieth birdied nine of his first 16 holes, and saw an 18-footer for No. 10 slip just by on the 17th. He bogeyed the 18th, ultimately finishing two strokes behind Reed. But in that moment, before his putt on the 17th decided not to drop, Spieth was on the precipice of history. Three months later, at Royal Birkdale, he held a share of the 36-hole Open lead and began the final-round with the 8-under total that ultimately proved sufficient for Francesco Molinari to claim a maiden major championship title. Golf is a notoriously cruel and ruthlessly punishing sport. Spieth was handled sympathetically by the sporting gods in 2015, ’16 and ’17; this year, he has borne their wroth. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy’s putting woes return to undermine him at Aronimink
Sep 12, 2018 12:56 PM
 
Damningly, Rory McIlroy is probably getting used to the feeling of departing big golf tournaments with an acute sense of regret. The 28-year-old bookended an indifferent, 1-under second-round 69 with two outstanding scores of 62 and 63 at the BMW Championship at Aronimink Golf Club last week and consequently started Sunday within a shot of Justin Rose’s 17-under lead. With that elusive putter hot and the driver typically booming, the stage seemed ideally set for McIlroy to banish the ghosts of a frustrating summer and recapture the form that propelled him to a fourteenth PGA Tour title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March. From the perspective of European Ryder Cup captain, Thomas Bjorn, such a confidence-restoring triumph could scarcely have come at a more opportune moment. When push came to shove, however, McIlroy’s scoring dried-up; a 2-under 68 left him two shots outside of the play-off contested by Rose and winner, Keegan Bradley and he ultimately departed Philadelphia ruing a considerable missed opportunity. Indeed, one need only glance at the Northern Irishman’s Sunday statistics to glean just how much he left out on the course. Calling the captain. Here is what happens when @RyderCupEurope players share a BMW... #BMWCHAMPS #DRIVENBYPASSION pic.twitter.com/2cRnln6rxU — Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) September 9, 2018 He hit 17 greens in regulation and had a birdie putt on every hole, including one from the fringe. He made just two of them. Eight of his 13 birdie putts were inside 15 feet, and the one had made as an 11-inch tap-in. In a round where he was brilliant from tee-to-green, McIlroy took 32 putts and ceded 2.7 strokes to the average of the field on the greens. To put that figure into context, he gained more than three-strokes to the average of the field when shooting 63 on Saturday. He has a week off to work on his putting before resuming tournament play at next week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta but, simply put, such a fluctuation in putting figures from one round to the next is deeply unbecoming of a top-10 player in the world and cannot but severely corrode a golfer’s confidence. McIlroy ranks ninth on the PGA Tour for strokes-gained off the tee in 2018; he 16th for strokes gained around the green; 10th for strokes-gained approaching the green and sixth in strokes-gained total. And yet, when it comes to strokes-gained with a putter in hand, he languishes outside of the top-60. With eight top-10s on top of a tournament victory in 2018 (including a T5 at The Masters and a T2 at The Open), McIlroy has, by any normal standards, enjoyed a stellar year; and yet, regardless of what happens in Paris at the end of the month, it will conclude with a lingering sense of regret. The fact remains that if McIlroy was putting at a level even vaguely commensurate with his approach play, top-10s such as last week’s, would be categorised as victories. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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