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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs: Tour Championship

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Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
Tour Championship absence illustrates the depth of Spieth’s struggles
Aug 28, 2019 2:00 AM
 
To miss out on the FedEx Cup playoff-ending Tour Championship once is misfortune; to miss it twice is carelessness. Say what you like about the FedEx Cup’s lack of history and prestige, the crass sums of money offered in compensation for the fact, and the undue competitive weight afforded to playoff events; however, it does offer a fairly accurate gauge of the best performing PGA Tour professionals across the course of a season. In this context, Jordan Spieth’s failure to finish inside the top-30 of the FedEx Cup points-racein order to qualify for the Tour Championship for the second season in a row is a source of real concern. Just two years have passed since the Texan outscored Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas in order to win his third major championship title and 11th PGA Tour accolade by the age of 24 at The Open at Royal Birkdale. Last week, he needed to watch from his couch as those same players vied for the biggest prize pot in golf. How does one even begin to account for the precipitous nature of Spieth’s decline during the past 24-months? Take the journey with @JordanSpieth on the path to becoming Champion Golfer of the Year Watch in full the new series for free — The Open (@TheOpen) August 20, 2019 Raw statistics give some indication. In 2018 the principal cause of Spieth’s struggles was putting, the aspect of his game that, more than any other, propelled him to the summit of the sport between 2015-17. The same cannot be said of the 2019 campaign; indeed, the 25-year-old has enjoyed his strongest-ever season with the flatstick. AsGolf Digestpoints out, Spieth has gained .862 strokes on the field per round this season, meaning he averaged making up more than three shots per tournament just with his flatstick. Spieth will finish second to Denny McCarthy's eye-popping .926, which is the second-best figure in the past 10 seasons—trailing only Jason Day's record-best 1.130 in 2015-2016. Spieth’s putting numbers would have led the Tour in three of the past four seasons and constitute a significant improvement over the last two seasons when he finished 48th (.278) and 123rd (-.034) respectively in strokes gained/putting. No, the key underlying cause of Spieth’s indifferent form in 2019 has been his ball-striking, which has long been regarded as the weakest aspect of his game. Indeed, the Texan has managed career worstsin strokes gained/off-the-tee (180th at -.452) and strokes gained/approach (147th at -.198) over the past eight-months. Perhaps most worryingly, his scoring has fallen off most severely during weekend rounds when the pressure is on, a circumstance that hints at a newfound psychological brittleness. Indeed, Spieth would be the fourth best performing player on Tour in 2019 if tournaments ended after 36-holes, ranking ninth and first respectively for first and second-round scoring average. When the pressure ramps-up over rounds three and four, however, he capitulates, ranking 170th on Tour for third-round scoring average and 187th for Sunday scoring. This trend was illustrated vividly at the Wyndham Championshipat the end of July when Spieth followed-up a 64-67 on Thursday and Friday with a 77 on Saturday to miss the third-round cut. There were others. Spieth shot 77 on Sunday at Portrush and 76 on Sunday at Pebble Beach. There was the 74-75 weekend at Hilton Head. Ditto at the AT&T Pebble Pro-Am. And of course the Sunday 81 at the Genesis Open, which took him from T4 to T51. He declined to speak to reporters after that one. Until the Texan rediscovers an average level of competency from tee-to-green it is a struggle to envisage him recapturing the competitive ruthlessness and coolness under the pressure that rendered him a serial winner through the first five-years of his professional career. Here’s hoping Spieth can resurrect his game during the off-season, for the longer these kinds of slumps endure, the more difficult they become to reverse. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Why McIlroy, not Koepka, was a fitting FedEx Cup winner
Aug 27, 2019 4:14 AM
 
There are a great many reasons to be critical of the FedEx Cup. From its obscene $15m prize-pot, to the bizarre new handicap system introduced in the playoff-ending Tour Championship, the event simply lacks the sense of pedigree and prestige required to capture the popular golfing imagination in the manner of a major championship. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the FedEx Cup system, however, is the undue competitive weight afforded to playoff events in the points-race. Thus, players like Patrick Reed and Justin Thomas, having achieved almost nothing through the course of the first seven months of the season, can contend for the overall prize-pot simply by virtue of having won the Northern Trust Open and BMW Championship respectively. The FedEx markets itself as an order-of-merit style event that tests players across the length of a season to reward the most consistent performers; by conferring an undue competitive advantage on those who find form an opportune point in the season, the current points structure undermines any claim to season-long relevancy. It is a testament, therefore, to Rory McIlroy’s strength of character that despite needing to start the Tour Championship six-strokes behind the FedEx Cup points leader, Thomas, the most consistent performer in the 2018/19 PGA Tour season still departed Atlanta with the coveted, $15m prize cheque. This fan *probably* didn't think he'd end up with Rory McIlroy's ball in his pocket.pic.twitter.com/y83igWpjP7— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) August 22, 2019 In 19 starts through the course of the 2018/19 campaign, McIlroy has recorded 14 top-10 finishes, missing just two cuts, for a 75% top-10 finish record. To put that statistic into context, only two other PGA Tour professionals matched his hit-rate in more than half their starts. Furthermore, Rory won three times – at The Players Championship in March, at the RBC Canadian Open in June, and at East Lake last weekend – and top-10ed at both the US PGA Championship at Bethpage Black and at the US Open at Pebble Beach. Indeed, in terms of pure technical performance, this has been McIlroy’s best ever season on the PGA Tour. The 30-year-old has gained 2.55 strokes to the average of the field in 2019: that’s the number of shots he beat the field by per round this season. Officially, it’s known as Strokes Gained: Total. To calculate it, just subtract McIlroy’s score from the field’s scoring average each day. McIlroy’s mark this season is the highest of this decade, beating his own performance in 2012 (+2.41). It’s also the highest single-season mark by anyone not named Tiger Woods since the PGA Tour began systematically tracking and measuring the statistic in 2003. Traditionalists may roll their eyes at this point; indeed, there can be no doubt that Brooks Koepka’s record of three wins (including a major and a WGC event) and four top-fours at major level outweighs McIlroy’s campaign in the Player of the Season contest. However, McIlroy has been more consistent than Koepka in 2019 and is consequently a fitting FedEx Cup champion. “I think it is my best overall season’, McIlroy said. We talk about consistency; that attitude and consistency, day in, day out, I think that’s what you’ve seen over the course of this year, and hopefully will continue to see going forward. “Sometimes emotion has worked against me, and that’s the real reason that I maybe don’t show as much out there as I used to. “ don’t want to get too high and I don’t want to get too low. “If I needed to get emotional and get really riled up, this isn’t the sport to do that. I’m not a football player. It’s golf, and you sort of need to try to be pretty even-keeled the whole way through.” Such even-headedness could make a crucial difference as McIlroy bids to return to the major winner’s circle in 2020. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy ends 2018-19 season on a fitting high with Tour Championship victory
Aug 26, 2019 2:01 AM
 
"It's amazing how different things can be in a year," Rory McIlroy reflected upon claiming an unprecedented $15m prize-cheque following his victory at the Tour Championship on Sunday afternoon. 12-months earlier, the Northern Irishman was an overlooked bystander as Tiger Woods celebrated the missing piece of his comebackby winning at East Lake; this time all the fan and media adulation was reserved for him. Of greater significance than the $15m winner’s cheque was the fact that McIlroy appeared to have rediscovered his bounce and swagger in Atlanta. The only cause for regret as he birdied the 18th to close-out an emphatic four-stroke triumphaway from Xander Schauffele was the fact that the Masters is a full seven months away. "I must say, I didn't enjoy that walk last year like everyone else did," McIlroy said when asked how his performance this year compared to last when he failed to make an impact as part of the final group alongside Woods. "I never took the fight to Tiger." Thank you to all the fans from around the world for your incredible support throughout the season especially those in Atlanta this week. It truly means so much to me. Now it’s time to celebrate! https://t.co/TChzWyr6uX— Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) August 26, 2019 More important than avenging his no-show against Woods, however, was the fact that McIlroy overcame a single-shot 54-hole deficit to defeat final-round playing partner, Brooks Koepka on Sunday. McIlroy was subject to some vituperative media commentary when he surrounded a one-shot 54-hole lead of his own to lose to Koepka as part of the final pairingat the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis last month. Many analysts judged the tame nature of the 30-year-old’s defeat to crystallize the psychological flakiness perceived widely to underlie his five-season major championship trophy drought. “Going up against the No 1 player in the world today, he got one over on me in Memphis and I wanted to try to sort of get some revenge”, McIlroy said. “The final round in Memphis hurt a little bit. I didn’t take it to Brooks at all. “To play like that alongside Brooks and get the win, win the FedExCup, yeah, it’s awesome. It’s amazing how different things can be in a year.” McIlroy and Koepka were neck-and-neck up until the seventh-hole where a three-shot swing shifted the competitive momentum of the event irrevocably in the Northern Irishman’s favour. McIlroy made a 25-foot birdie, while Koepka lost his tee shot in the trees and made double-bogey. There were consecutive two-shot swings on the back nine, and then it was a matter of holding off Schauffele. McIlroy was four shots ahead until back-to-back bogeys on holes 15 and 16threatened to derail his title push; indeed, he was on the verge of watching his lead shrink to one when he holed an 8-foot par putt on the 16th. Schauffele had to settle for pars, and McIlroy finished with back-to-back birdies to close-out an emphatic and richly deserved triumph. He was the only player to break par all four days and his 13-under total 267 was better than anyone else in the 30-man field. Back up to No.2 in the world; sometimes the cream really does rise to the top. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Six hospitalised after lightning strikes Tour Championship
Aug 25, 2019 4:38 AM
 
Lightning struck during the third-round of the FedEx Cup playoff-ending Tour Championship at East Lake on Saturday, and not in a good way. With world Nos. 1, 3 and 5, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, jockeying for position at the summit of an elite leaderboard, casual observers could be forgiven for assuming that any journalistic reference to electricity striking the course in Atlanta related strictly to golfing performance. On Saturday, however, age-old warnings regarding the perils of sheltering on exposed fairways during electrical storms were powerfully substantiated as six spectators were hospitalizedafter lightning struck a tree. NBC just showed a lightning strike out at the #TOURChampionship at East Lake that injured possibly 4. This is a slow motion shot of their coverage. Wow! pic.twitter.com/0Z1ARb6a8q — Craig Lucie (@CraigLucie) August 24, 2019 Speaking on the American broadcaster NBC, PGA Tour rules official, Mark Russell statedthat “their injuries do not appear to be life threatening”; however, a marquee golf event had already been overshadowed by a scene involving sirens and brief panic. Appropriately, the tournament was suspended for the rest of the afternoon and evening, with play to resume at 8am on Sunday. Stark damage to the bark of a tree hinted at the severity of the strike. Russell said officials were aware of possible thunderstorms but elected not to change the tee-times. “When one did form right over the top of us we suspended play immediately,” he said. Indeed, the players had been removed from the course at 4.17pm with lightning in the vicinity. As is typical, spectators generally remained on the grounds. A Tour statementexplained what transpired next. It read: “At 4.45pm there were two lightning strikes at East Lake Golf Club; a tree near the range/15 green/16 tee was hit and debris from that strike injured four people. “EMT [Emergency Medical Technicians] tended to those fans and two others immediately and transported them from the property via ambulance for further medical attention. Our latest report is that their injuries do not appear to be life threatening.” Professional golf tournaments became far more vigilant about stopping play amid the threat of lightning after two spectators were killed at separate major championships in the United States in 1991: at the US Open at Hazeltine in Minnesota and at the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick in Indiana. But as the Tour’s rules official, Mark Russell stated when pressedon whether Saturday’s play should have been postponed in light of reports that there were thunder storms in the vicinity: “I think if we did that [amended starting times] every time we had a possibility of thunderstorms in the south-east, we’d do that basically every time we played golf.” Play will resume at 8am with Thomas a single stroke aheadof Koepka and McIlroy at 12-under through 5-holes. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Koepka, McIlroy and Thomas poised for weekend shootout at the Tour Championship
Aug 24, 2019 5:45 AM
 
Say what you like about the revised format of the FedEx Cup-ending Tour Championship at East Lake; however, one cannot dispute the fact that the new handicap scheme has ensured a stellar leaderboard going into final weekend of the 2018-19 PGA Tour season. At 13-under-par, world No.1, Brooks Koepka leads world No.3, Rory McIlroy and world No.5, Justin Thomas by a single stroke at the halfway point, with world Nos. 11 and 21, Xander Schauffele and Paul Casey still in contention for the title at 11-under and 9-under respectively. Sure, one can argue the competitive integrity of the event is compromised as a consequence of the fact that McIlroy (66-67)will tee-off for the third-round in a tie for second, despite having completed the opening 36-holes in a shot less than Koepka (67-67) and in five strokes fewer than Thomas (70-68). Nevertheless, we are set for a scintillating weekend’s golf. Indeed, it was principally only a storm delaythat stymied the momentum of Koepka and Thomas on Friday, right as they appeared set to pull clear in the chase for the $15 million FedEx Cup prize cheque. Koepka, for instance, carded three birdies in a row between holes six and eight before the weather intervened to halt play as he turned on to the back-nine. Remerging after a 90-minute delay, the four-time major winner struggled to regain his touch and ultimately didn’t make a birdie on the inward stretch until the par-5 18th. There, he hit a 5-iron from 239 yards to 8 feet behind the hole. He had to settle for a two-putt birdie, a 3-under 67 and a one-shot lead. Because he started the tournament at 7 under par as the No. 3 seed, he was at 13-under going into the weekend. How many strokes would Brooks Koepka give an average golfer to play against him at East Lake? ...A lot. pic.twitter.com/xqXf6eIR7f — Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) August 21, 2019 Thomas, meantime, was 3-under when the blower sounded to halt play; upon re-emerging, he played his final 10 holes in 1 over for a 68. "The lead is always nice, so I'll take that," Koepka said. "The rain delay kind of killed any momentum I had. I didn't feel like I had any good golf shots after the rain delay, but that's part of golf. Everybody's got to deal with the same thing." Indeed, McIlroy was the only notable, top-level player to buck that particular trend; the Northern Irishman was three off the lead upon resuming his round with three holes to play and finished birdie-birdie to sign for a 3-under second-round of 67. McIlroy expressed scepticismregarding the handicap format leading into the Tour Championship, stating a press-conference on Wednesday that reporters could "come back to me Monday and I'll tell you whether it's worked or not.'' Speaking to the media after his round on Friday, however, he struck a far more conciliatory tone. “It feels totally normal,” said McIlroy. “It feels like a normal Tour Championship. If you play well, you’re in those last groups every day.” If the 30-year-old can maintain his present rate of scoring through the weekend, a second FedEx Cup title in the space of three seasons may well beckon. [Image Source: Flickr under CC
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Sean Donnelly
Schauffele poised to disrupt Thomas’ procession at Tour Championship
Aug 23, 2019 1:47 AM
 
Justin Thomas could have been forgiven for experiencing a sense of déjà vu come the end of the opening-round of the Tour Championship at East Lake on Thursday. Under controversial new rules, the FedEx Cup leader started the tournament with a two-stroke lead away from his closest challenger, Patrick Cantlay at 10-under par, with his advantage increasing over the over the rest of the 30-player field to a maximum of 10 shots over the last five qualifiers. The handicap system was introduced by the PGA Tour in an effort to ensure that the winner of the Tour Championship at East Lake also claims the FedEx Cup title, simplifying a formerly complex competitive narrative for sponsors and media interests. In 2017, for instance, Thomas was the standout player on the PGA Tour, winning five-times, including at major championship and FedEx Cup playoff-level. Yet his march to a glorious, season-ending title triumph at East Lake was disrupted by a little-known debutant, Xander Schauffele, who beat him by a single stroke. Thomas still claimed the play-off title, of course; however, Schauffele ‘s intervention denied the PGA Tour the glamorous end to the season it coveted. He may be set to achieve a similar feat this weekend. Xander Schauffele started the Tour Championship six shots off the lead. He's now the solo leader after an opening-round 64.pic.twitter.com/sTzZqwhKWk — Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) August 22, 2019 Teeing-off for the opening-round at 4-under-par, six shots shy of Thomas’ handicap lead, the 25-year-old avoided registering a single-bogey en route to a 6-under opening-round 64, the lowest score of the day by two strokes. Given Thomas failed to break par on Thursday, Schauffele succeeded in obliterating the FedEx Cup leader’s handicap advantage in a single day and will consequently tee-off for the second round in a share of the 10-under, outright leadalongside Thomas and Brooks Koepka, with the latter signing for a 3-under 67. Rory McIlroy, meantime, made up four shots in the first round (66) and is only a stroke further back at 9-under. "You know, I have no idea how this whole thing works," Schauffele joked. "You know, we have a number. We have a seeding. I mean, that's how I'm taking it. I think everyone needed help from J.T. If J.T. went out and shot a pair of 65s, I don't think the Tour would be very happy, and I don't think the rest of the field would be happy." Thomas, to be sure, will be unhappy with his opening-round. Just a week on from dismantling Medinah en route to a three-shot victory at the BMW Championship, the world No.5 could only hit six of 14 fairways and mixed two bogeys and one double-bogey with four birdies. Schauffele, ranked 11th in the world, is poised once again to disrupt Thomas’ procession at East Lake, only this time he will win the FedEx Cup as well. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Cantlay aiming to finish banner year on a high at the Tour Championship
Aug 22, 2019 2:05 AM
 
When Patrick Cantlay made four consecutive birdies between holes 7 and 10 during the final-round of the BMW Championship at Medinah last week, whittling Justin Thomas’ six-stroke lead down to just two, he appeared poised to ram home his advantage on the back-nine and claim a second victory of the season. As it turned-out, of course, Thomas rallied in impressive fashiondown the home straight, birdying four of his final eight holes to secure a three-stroke victory. Propelled to the summit of the FedEx Cup standings, he will consequently tee-off for the reformatted Tour Championship at East Lake this week at 10-under par, two-strokes clear of Cantlay in second. The next three in the standingsare World No. 1 Brooks Koepka, who starts at seven under, Patrick Reed at six under and Rory McIlroy at five under. Many commentators have dismissed the new handicap structure as an anti-competitive gimmick, serving only to ensure that the winner of the Tour Championship also triumphs in the overall FedEx Cup standings, regardless of their 72-hole total in East Lake. Betfair, for instance, calculatedthat Thomas’ average score around East Lake is 67.22 with par set at 70; multiply that over four rounds and he'd finish at -11.12. Add in his -10 start and it takes Thomas to -21.12. It is difficult to see any of the other 29 players in this week’s field overhauling such a deficit, a circumstance reflected in Thomas’ pre-tournament odds as a 2/1 favourite to win the FedEx Cup. Justin Thomas is a fucking machine. Example #1: pic.twitter.com/CfIjmd5eOF— From The Back Tees (@fromthebacktees) August 17, 2019 But given the intensity of the pressure Cantlay exerted on Thomasduring the final-round at Medinah last week, it would be hasty to write the Tour Championship off entirely. 2019 has been a banner season for Cantlay, who has belatedly begun to fulfil the expectations generated by his accomplishment in winning the Haskins Award and acceding to the summit of the Amateur World Rankings while at UCLA. Indeed, it was principally injury that prevented the Californian for rising immediately to the elite-level of the professional game in the manner of a Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth. The 27-year-old suffered a stress fracture in his lower back in 2013 and the effects lingered through 2014. It prevented him from playing at all in 2015 and 2016. With his health restored and a revamped swing designed to lessen the stress on his back, Cantlay re-joined the PGA Tour in 2017, winning the Shriners Hospital for Children Open, and has been a model of consistency over the past two seasons. Indeed, Cantlay has one victory in 2019 -- a big one at the Memorial Tournament-- and nine top-10 finishes in 20 starts. He had two top-10s in the majors – T-9 at the Masters and T-3 at the PGA Championship -- and ranks second on the PGA Tour with respect to Strokes Gained: Total. “It was a solid year to get here,” Cantlay reflected in a press conferenceon Wednesday. “Happy to be in the spot I’m in.” “The new format kind of leads people to talk about it … running somebody down just because of how it starts and how abnormal it is,” he added. “I’m just thinking about doing my best on this golf course this week. Then come Sunday, I’ll look at the leaderboard and see where I’m at and maybe change the idea in my head of what it’s like. All that matters is how you finish given the new scoring.” 2019 has been Cantlay’s best season as a professional, and if any player can overhaul Thomas at the summit of the Tour Championship leaderboard to claim the FedEx Cup this week, it’s him. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
2019 Tour Championship betting tips: Back Rahm to disrupt the handicap
Aug 21, 2019 1:55 AM
 
The FedEx Cup playoffs conclude with the Tour Championship at East Lake this week, with each of the top-30 performers from the 2018/19 season set to vie for the title. However, things are a little different this term; the Tour Championship has become a handicapped event. FedEx Cup leader, Justin Thomas, who won the BMW Championship at Medinah last week, begins the tournament at 10-under, while Cantlay, who moved into second in the overall standings, will start at 8-under. Thomas’ lead over others in the 30-player field increases the farther down the list with a maximum of 10 shots over the last five qualifiers. After Cantlay, the next three in the standingsare World No. 1 Brooks Koepka, who starts at seven under, Patrick Reed at six under and Rory McIlroy at five under. As far as we at the 19th-hole are concerned, these changes make a travesty of an already charmless event predicated on awarding an obscenely rich golfer a $15m prize cheque. Put simply, we are almost certain to see the player who cards the lowest 72-hole score around East Lake fail to win the Tour Championship title – that circumstance makes an ass of the whole event. "I've never experienced that amount of noise." Tiger and fans reflect on the moment he won the 2018 Tour Championship.pic.twitter.com/XmW2cXiIka — Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) August 20, 2019 Betfair, for instance, calculatedthat Thomas’ average score around East Lake is 67.22 with par set at 70; multiply that over four rounds and he'd finish at -11.12. Add in his -10 start and it takes Thomas to -21.12. No one is getting close to him and we are not in the business of tipping 2/1 shots. For the sake of simplicity, therefore, one might consider playing the bookmakers’ ‘low 72-hole score’ market which treats the tournament as a regular stroke-play event, ignoring handicaps. Three bets attract. John Rahm (14/1) The Spaniard ended a 14-month trophy drought by winning the Irish Openat the beginning of July and arrives in Atlanta in the midst of an exceptional run of form reading T3-T2-W-T11-7-T3-T5through his last seven starts. He has the form, distance off the tee and deftness around the greens required to excel at East Lake and is overdue a fourth PGA Tour title. He starts six-strokes back. Tony Finau (22/1) As is well known, Tony Finau has not won since capturing his maiden PGA Tour accolade at the 2016 Puerto Rican Open; however, the fact he tees-off for the Tour Championship as the highest-ranked player not to have won in 2018/19is a testament to the frequency with which he contends for titles and, therefore, his value in the each-way market. The American was fourth at last week's BMW, third in the Open Championship, second at the Charles Schwab Challenge and fifth at the US Masters so tends to excel in elite fields. Finau has further posted seventh and 15th in his previous two East Lake starts, boasting one of the best scoring averages. Paul Casey (100/1) An East Lake specialist with four career top-5s on the Atlanta course; he starts way back at 2-under but he is a serious each-way contender at this price. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Thomas poised for FedEx Cup double following BMW Championship victory
Aug 20, 2019 1:08 AM
 
When Justin Thomas bogeyed the par-5 10th hole during the final-round of the BMW Championship on Sunday, seeing the six shot lead with which he began the day whittled down to just two by a resurgent Patrick Cantlay, he appeared poised once more to fold under pressure. The 28-year-old arrived in Medinah Golf and Country Club off the back of a deeply indifferent run of formcomprising just a single top-10 finish (a T9 at the Scottish Open) in 12 starts since the end of February, and he was a non-factor in the rush of month-by-month majors during the early summer. While a wrist injury that prevented him from contesting three key events during the late spring (including the US PGA Championship) undoubtedly had a role in this declining run of results, it is striking that he travelled to Illinois ranked No. 170out of 200 PGA Tour professionals for Strokes Gained: Putting. His Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and Approaching the Green stats, by contrast, placed him second and third on Tour respectively. Put simply, Thomas’ struggles appeared more psychological than technical. When he ceded four shots to his playing partner, Cantlay within the opening 10-holes of the final-round at Medinah, therefore, the competitive momentum of the tournament appeared to be ebbing only in one direction. Indeed, Cantlay made four birdies in a row between holes seven and 10 and there was little reason to suspect his rate of scoring would dissipate on the back-nine. Let's do this Captain @TigerWoods! So excited to make the #USTeam again & compete in the @PresidentsCup. pic.twitter.com/x7sOX5mU74— Justin Thomas (@JustinThomas34) August 19, 2019 As it turned-out, however, Cantlay was unable to gain further on Thomas on the homeward stretch and the leader rallied in emphatic fashion, birdying four of his final eight holes to close out a comfortable, three-shot victory. In addition to surging to the summit of the FedEx Cup standings courtesy of a $1.665 million prize-cheque, the world No.5will begin next week’s Tour Championship at East Lake with a two-stroke lead away from Brooks Koepka and consequently has a big chance to seal a second FedEx Cup victory in the space of just three seasons. “I can certainly say a thousand percent I’ve never slept on a Wednesday lead,” Thomas reflectedof his impending first-round lead at East Lake. “I truly have no idea what to expect,” he added with a shrug. “There's nobody in the history of this sport that has experienced it so nobody knows. I don't know if it's going to be weird or … it's going to be different, I know that but I don't know. There's so many variables and questions I have and this and that. If I birdie the first hole what am I at? I don't know. Do I shoot a score, do I not? Whatever. “Again, I know that I'm in a lot better position than I was at the start of the week. I just have to be grateful and thankful for that." If the emphatic nature with which he finished his final eight holes on Sunday is anything to go by, Koepka and Co., face an uphill struggle in attempting to unseat Thomas at the summit of the leaderboard next week. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Woods keeps Tour Championship hopes alive in Medinah
Aug 18, 2019 10:11 AM
 
Tiger Woods has built his career upon confounding doubters. From becoming the youngest golfer ever to win a major championship title at The Masters at Augusta in 1997 to ending an 11-year major championship trophy droughtat the same venue this past spring, the 43-year-old has throughout his professional career, demonstrated a consistent ability to defy popular expectations. This defiant mentality is ultimately what underpinned Woods’ greatest achievement: that of taking-over a sport marked by a dark history of class, race and gender-based oppression. The 15-time major winner is once again out to upset the odds at the BMW Championship at Medinah Golf and Country club this week. Woods arrived in Illinois off the back of a deeply indifferent run of formcomprising just a single top-10 finish and two missed-cuts in an injury-ravaged stretch of five starts since winning the Masters in April. In addition to slipping outside of the top-5 of the Official World Golf Rankings, the veteran has also slumped down as far as No.38 in the FedEx Cup points race, leaving him in real danger of missing out on entry into the 30-man field that will comprise the playoff ending Tour Championship at East Lake next week. Five birdies today.@TigerWoods is trying to book a return trip to the @playofffinale. #QuickHits pic.twitter.com/e8N913oysN— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 17, 2019 Put simply, he required a big performance at Medinah to have any chance of defending his Tour Championship titlein Atlanta. Fortunately, the Illinois course was the site of two of his major victories: the 1999 and 2006 US PGA Championships. Woods started slowly, signing for back-to-back 1-under rounds of 71to languish 10-shots behind the halfway leader, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama. Many fans consequently determined his chances of reaching East Lake to be over. On Saturday, however, he rallied, shooting a bogey-free 5-under 67to reignite his hopes of advancing into the season-ending playoff event. Playing alongside world No.2, Dustin Johnson (72), he tallied just 27 putts, his fewest of the week, and was six-for-six in scrambling. He is 14-strokes shy of Justin Thomas’ emphatic 21-under lead in a tie for 31st; however, he sits within three-shots of a four-man group presently tied for ninth and requires a T11 finish or better to climb back inside of the FedEx Cup’s top-30. A low score on Sunday could well push Woods into the East Lake draw. “I shoot 60, it should be right,” Woods said to laughterwhen asked what would be required of him on Sunday to reach Atlanta. “I figured I'm going to have to do something in mid-60s for two straight days there. Left myself pretty far behind after the first two rounds. What's more amazing is how many guys are under par on this golf course. There isn't one person over-par. “Who would have guessed that going into this week?” he continued. “We all thought this was one of the more tough and bigger ballparks and the whole field is playing well. There's normally a few guys that are struggling. The entire field playing well is something that we're all pretty surprised at.” Here’s hoping Woods can surprise us once more on Sunday. [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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