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PING • TITLEIST • CALLAWAY • TAYLORMADE
Thursday, Sept. 6th from 3 pm to 9 pm
RESERVE A FITTING TIME with Ryan Nightingale
There’s always a post-Wanamaker depression that sets in after the PGA Championship, the reality sinking in that the next major is some 250 days away in the spring. That is especially true this season, with Tiger Woods’ final-round surge instilling a rapture not felt in ages. But for those still coming down from that Bellerive bliss, fear not: The rest of the calendar has plenty still in store. From Tiger to the Ryder Cup to Jordan Spieth, here are seven storylines to follow during the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Tiger’s comeback continues
The comeback is real, and it is spectacular. Tiger demonstrated at Innisbrook, Bay Hill and Carnoustie that his game is in shape to compete with the game’s best; his runner-up at Bellerive, however, asserted Woods’ ceiling is higher than previously deemed. Better yet, as the season reaches the dog days of August, the 42-year-old has dispelled the idea he’s running on fumes.
Aside from Ridgewood, the venues on the postseason slate are tailored to Tiger’s game. Currently 20th on the FedEx Cup standings, Woods will have some latitude in the early rounds in pursuit of a spot in the Tour Championship at East Lake, but with hopes of solidifying his Ryder Cup candidacy (even though, come on, we all know Big Cat’s already on the roster), look for Woods to make a formidable run through the tour’s postseason.
Well, two; you’ll see Augusta National dye Rae’s Creek pink before Woods and Phil Mickelson are left off the team. That leaves Bryson DeChambeau (who finished ninth in points), Tony Finau, Kevin Kisner, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson among viable candidates. For what it’s worth, players and PGA of America officials at Bellerive maintained Kuchar is more in the running than fans believe.
There’s also the chance captain Jim Furyk rides the FedEx Cup Playoff’s hot hand, which is what facilitated Ryan Moore’s selection for the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2016. It proved to be the right call: Moore won two matches, including the clinching point, for the Americans at Hazeltine.
No matter the selections, there will be a wave of Monday quarterbacking on Furyk’s decisions, particularly if he goes with a veteran that hasn’t performed as of late. Furyk will announce three of his picks after the Dell Technologies Championship over Labor Day weekend, with the final slot filled at the BMW Championship’s conclusion, meaning DeChambeau, Kisner, Finau and the like will have opportunities to prove their merit.
GolfDigest : – Ryder Cup implications
– Player of the Year race
– Tiger Woods' next move
— Golf2Win (@Golf_2_Win) August 20, 2018
The Player of the Year race is over, right? Well …
Make no mistake, Brooks Koepka is the unequivocal favorite. That doesn’t mean he has this bad boy locked it up, even with his U.S. Open and PGA titles as well as runner-up finishes at the WGC-HSBC and Colonial.
If Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas—both with three wins and ahead of Koepka in the FEC—win two of the four postseason events, it might be enough to raise an argument. Three out of four instigates a full-blown discussion. (Bubba Watson also has three wins, but the two-time Masters champ has missed the cut in the last three majors, torpedoing any realistic hopes.) Patrick Reed and Francesco Molinari, the year’s other major victors, could join this surge with multiple playoff wins as well.
These scenarios are far-fetched, and even if they transpire, Koepka likely still earns the nod. But a victory by Thomas or Johnson at Ridgewood will raise these questions—exactly the shot of late-season vitality the tour’s postseason aspired for when constructing the FEC a decade ago.
Can Spieth save a “lost” season?
In one breath, it’s hard to call a season “lost” when A) The guy comes this close to winning the Masters and B) Plays in the final pairing at the Open. Conversely, we measure our superstars by a different touchstone, and Spieth—who’s currently on the outside looking in at the Tour Championship—has fall shorten of his historical standards.
The short game has taken the brunt of the blame, and rightfully so: Spieth ranks 144th in strokes gained/putting on the season. It’s an astonishing figure for any top-flight player, but even more so considering Spieth ranked second in the category just two seasons ago. Just as concerning, however, has been a drop in iron performance, ranking 40th in approach this summer, a far cry from his work last year (ranking first) and during his two-major summer of 2015 (11th). For the putts to start dropping, Spieth will need to give himself better chances on the greens.
The good news is Ridgewood and Aronimink (site of the BMW Championship) set up well to Spieth’s strengths, and he logged a runner-up in Boston last September. By his standards, it won’t be a season to remember for Spieth. With a strong finish, he won’t have to make it one to forget.
A Rookie of the Year chase, without one of the favorites
Unless he wins the Wyndham Championship, Joaquin Niemann, despite owning enough points to comfortably advance to the Northern Trust, cannot compete in the FedEx Cup Playoffs due to his special temporary membership status. Significant because, if he does reach the postseason, Niemann would arguably be the frontrunner for rookie-of-the-year honors. (Update: He did not win in Greensboro. Niemann, however, has locked up his card for next season.)
Instead, this award likely comes down to Austin Cook and Aaron Wise. Since winning in the fall, Cook has been relatively quiet, although did have top-10s in Memphis and the Greenbrier. Wise had stellar back-to-back showings at Quail Hollow (T-2) and the Bryon Nelson (win); the ensuing schedule, unfortunately, has been tough sledding, with six missed cuts in seven appearances. Still, both have loads of talent, with the reserve not to be intimidated by their playoff debuts. Neither is a household entity yet; an energetic finish in the FEC can go ways in fixing that.
Architecture aficionados, rejoice!
For connoisseurs of course design, the past month has not been Christmas morning. That changes during the FEC thanks to:
• Ridgewood Country Club, a 27-hole A.W. Tillinghast design with its history including a Ryder Cup, U.S. Amateur and a handful of Barclays’ events. Gil Hanse’s team has done restoration work over the past couple of years, making Ridgewood as good as ever. Ridgewood features a mix of Tillinghast-eque bunker-guarded greens with the option to run it up on many holes. The rough is expected to be thicker than the last time the FEC visited, possibly leading to U.S. Open-like scoring.
• TPC Boston, while not beloved by players, produces plenty of red figures, and it’s various lines and contoured greens offer more set-up options and mind-sets than a rank-and-file tour course.
• Aronimink, another track that—we hope you’re sitting down—was restored by Hanse and his team. Set to host the 2027 PGA Championship, Aronimink has eliminated a ton of trees from the property, but its tight fairways and challenging par 4s—and Donald Ross greens—make it one of the Northeast’s toughest tests.
If you can’t get behind that lineup, you don’t have a pulse.
What’s up with Rory?
Similar to Spieth, this warrants a provision. After all, the four-time major winner just finished T-2 at Carnoustie last month, and, unlike Spieth, he’s won on the PGA Tour this season with his triumph at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
On the other hand, McIlroy’s game was such a mess at Bellerive that he hinted he was going to skip the first leg of the postseason to figure out what’s going on.
“I need to assess where I’m at, and I think the best thing for me to do right now is take a couple of days off and reflect on what I need to do going forward,” he said at the PGA Championship. “I’ll do some practice this week and see if I feel ready to go there and play five out of six weeks leading up to the Ryder Cup.” (Update: McIlroy appears to have made good on skipping the Northern Trust as his name is not included on the PGA Tour’s field list as of Monday.)
McIlroy won the FedEx Cup just two seasons ago, and does rank 11th in strokes gained this season. Nevertheless, his wedge game, or lack thereof, has rendered his prolific distance moot, and the putter, again, hasn’t bailed him out. McIlroy’s nearing a bit of a career crossroads. Tis postseason won’t define his legacy, but it can get him back on track.
Woods, who has undergone four back surgeries since 2014, dealt with personal issues, and admitted himself he didn’t know if he’d ever compete again, has now finished in the top 6 in back-to-back major championships.
“Not for awhile, no. I was pretty ticked at the British Open” Woods said after his round when asked if he’s ever felt this good after a tournament he didn’t win. “I had the lead there. This one I never quite got to the lead. I was always trailing. It was a golf course in which I couldn’t sit still and make pars and be okay with it. I had to keep making birdies.
“The golf course was soft, it was gettable, and there were a bunch of guys, when I went to the range to start warming up, there were a bunch of guys at 3-under par through 6, 3-under par through 7. And so, yeah, that was, you could see guys shooting 5-, 6-under par today and with a bunch of guys around 8-under or better starting the day, I had to go get it and I tried.”
“These fans were so positive all week. I can’t thank them enough for what they were saying out there and what it meant to me as a player, just coming back and trying to win a major championship again," said Woods. – TGRhttps://t.co/LNUsuBdNJo
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) August 13, 2018
Woods, who entered the week ranked 51st in the world, has an incredible seven top-12 finishes this year. Back in January, he didn’t even know how many events he’d be able to play.
“I didn’t know what my schedule would be,” Woods said. “I didn’t know how many tournaments I would play this year or if I would even play. So each tournament brought about its own challenges. I didn’t know what the number was going to be this year.
“I didn’t know how I was going to play. And so at the beginning of the year, if you would say, yeah, I would have a legit chance to win the last two major championships, I, with what swing? I didn’t have a swing at the time. I had no speed. I didn’t have a golf swing. I didn’t have — my short game wasn’t quite there yet. My putting was okay. But God, I hadn’t played in two years. So it’s been a hell of a process for sure.”
Almost everyone lauded the St. Louis crowd for their positive energy this week, and Woods was pleased he was able to give them a reason to cheer.
“Oh, you could hear them. They were engaged since our practice round on Wednesday,” Woods said. “They were loud and they stayed around and it’s been, as I said, it’s been incredible with the positiveness that everyone was saying and they wanted to see some good golf and we produced some good golf I think as a whole.
“The people here were so positive, the energy was incredible, but the positiveness of it all. Everyone was willing every shot that everyone hit. There was no negative comments, no one was jeering, no one was making snide remarks, everyone was just very positive. They’re excited, yeah. They sometimes pick sides, yes. But they were respectful. And that’s, I wish we could play in front of crowds like this every single week because this is a true pleasure.”
As far as goals moving forward, Woods is still just glad to be back competing and contending.
“As I said, this has been a process on building,” Woods said. “I didn’t know when I was going to start this year and how many tournaments I was going to play, how well I was going to play. I didn’t know what swing I was going to use either.
“I’m in uncharted territory. Because no one’s ever had a fused spine hitting it like I’m hitting it. So I had to kind of figure this out on my own and it’s been really hard, it’s a lot harder than people think. And I’m just very pleased at what I’ve done so far and now to be part of the Ryder Cup conversation, going from where I’ve come from to now in the last year, it’s been pretty cool.”
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ST. LOUIS — The PGA Championship is the year’s final major. But there’s still plenty to be decided in golf. Justin Thomas, who won Sunday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and is the defending PGA champion this week at Bellerive, has three wins. So do Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson. Justin Rose and Jason Day, meanwhile, have two victories this season. The year’s first three major winners were Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari.
So, who will be the player of the year?
The Wanamaker Trophy is far more significant a prize, of course, but any of the aforementioned players hoisting it would be a defining mark on a tremendous season, and give said player a leg up on the honor.
Here’s a breakdown of the candidates so far.
Justin Thomas: Though his win Sunday was his first since February it came on a difficult Firestone course, much the way his previous victory took place on a tough PGA National course at the Honda Classic, which he won in a playoff over Luke List. Thomas’ other victory came last fall at the inaugural CJ Cup in Korea—also in a playoff, over Marc Leishman.
Dustin Johnson: His three wins came in Maui, Memphis and Canada. They also were the most impressive among the group in terms of margin of victory. Johnson won at Kapalua by eight, TPC Southwind by six and Glen Abbey by three. The top-ranked played in the world, he also has missed just one cut in 15 starts, has two runner-up finishes and two third-place finishes, and has finished in the top 10 a staggering 10 times in 15 starts. By comparison, Thomas has seven top-10s in three more starts.
Bubba Watson: Like Johnson, Watson’s victories came on a differing tracks with wins at Riviera and TPC River Highlands, bookended around his title at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club. Watson however has just two other top-10s.
Justin Rose: The WGC-HSBC Champions and Fort Worth Invitational were Rose’s two victories on the PGA Tour this season, but he also won in Turkey and Indonesia and rose to as high as No. 2 in the world before Thomas supplanted this past weekend. In 13 total starts in 2018, Rose has five top-10s.
Jason Day: If it seems like Day has barely played this year it’s because he has. The Aussie has made just a dozen starts but has won two of them, at Torrey Pines and Quail Hollow. He has just three other top-10 finishes, though.
In terms of major performance, Johnson and Rose have the better resumes. Johnson tied for 10th at the Masters and third at the U.S. Open, while Rose finished in the top 10 in both Opens, including a runner-up at Carnoustie.
But there’s still one more major to go.
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