A couple of stories on Tiger’s three-stroke lead heading into the Tour Championship final round left me uneasy. After all, should he wake up not feeling it, shoot 72 to someone else’s great round, there will be declarations that he’s never going to be the same golfer we knew.
To be clear, he’s never going to be the same golfer we knew but he’s certainly been close enough of late to give us hope for a legitimate chase of the all-time majors record over the next five years.
But as Dan Kilbridgenotes in this review of the comeback, it’s incredible how far Woods has come and also how much his putter—not the often scrutinized ballstriking—has made the difference this year. Or prevented victory.
There will, however, be pressure today given his status as the greatest frontrunner the sport has ever seen, as Bob Harignotes for ESPN.com:
Woods has been money with third-round leads, especially of 3 shots or more. He has never failed to deliver, 32 times going on to victory when holding this wide of a margin.
Woods' overall record of 53-4 on the PGA Tour with at least a tie for the lead is mind-blowing itself. Imagine getting to this position 57 times.
But Tiger has also seemingly peaked in the third rounds in 2018, opening up the possibility that he’s not as sharp today and gets passed. That would be a shame given how perfect of a final bow a win at East Lake would put on his steady 2018 comeback. But there also needs to be some perspective that he’s still coming back and has also far exceeded expectations given where his game was a few years ago.
The 2018 Ryder Cup is hardly a matchup of drama-prone captains, a compliment to Thomas Bjorn and Jim Furyk’s general steadiness.
Though if one lead cart driver is capable of saying something incendiary, it will be Bjorn. If you want to know more about Europe’s leader this week and his career, check out Andrew Cotter’sEuropean Tour podcast with Bjorn.
More recently, The Guardian’s Ewan Murray sat down with Bjorn to discuss all things Ryder Cup and Bjorn did his best to try and rally his continent.
“I think sometimes what is forgotten, in the political discussion, is how great this continent is,” Bjørn says. “From all the way down in Greece, to Iceland, there are so many great countries and so much natural common ground. It is such a small continent compared to the others but together we have so much history and so many great things going for us. I think that is forgotten a little bit in the political picture.
“It means a lot more to us as golfers because we grow up with the European Tour. The backbone of that tour is still our European events. It is part of the life we live. It has a meaning.”
He also goes on to discuss several things of note, including his falling out with former Captain Ian Woosnam.
But his decision to lean toward veterans with his picks will get the most scrutiny and he’s already pushing back:
“I think you’d have found if it was old pals there would be one or two others playing,” Bjørn says. “Some of the guys left out are very close to me and I was never scared of making tough decisions. Now, if people think I made these decisions on the back of them being pals then they don’t know me very well and that’s OK. That mostly comes from people who have no idea who I am, what I think and what I believe in.”
But the job of enforcing the rules is fundamentally on the players. If the rules officials see a drop going awry, it is their job to step in and make sure it’s done correctly, and that is what they generally do. If one player says the ball crossed at point A and the other point B, the rules officials have to adjudicate, and they generally do. They are not the police. They’re not trying to catch players. Their first job is to help players turn in the most accurate scorecard they can. It is each individual player who serves as a police officer. He should be doing an ongoing and continuing and intense investigation of his own play and the play of the others in his group.
“This was by far better than the 62 at Aronimink,” Woods said, referring to his opening round at the BMW Championship two weeks ago. “Conditions were soft there. It’s hard to get the ball close here. There’s so much chase in it. If you drive the ball in the rough, you know you can’t get the ball close.”
If this were 2019 and Tiger came into the Tour Championship/FedExCup finale 20th in the standings, things would have been different after round one given the new “strokes-based” handicap system announced this week. As Joel Beallnotes for GolfDigest.com, “thank the golf gods the system doesn't come to fruition until next fall.”
Beall posts the full top 8 and Tiger would be five back of Justin Rose after one round.
Of more note for those wanting to consider how the system will work for the Cup leaders, there is Bryson DeChambeau—winner of two playoff events and the FedExCup leader—already three back following an opening 71.
"What I'm looking forward to most is the team atmosphere. I remember that at the Walker Cup, and that was like nothing else, and I know it'll live up to the same standard. Maybe even better, too. So a lot of ping-pong going on over there, I know that for me. I just actually bought a ping-pong paddle last night, another new one. I needed a new rubber, so..."
The only question: has he tested his new rubber on his launch monitors? With mist simulation?
Six years ago Golf Digest’s Max Adlerprofiled and co-wrote a piece by Valentino Dixon, convicted of killing Torriano Jackson and an avid painter of golf scenes even though he’d never played the game in his life. (He was also profiled in this excellent Ryan Griffiths-produced piece for In Play withJimmy Roberts.)
Fast forward to this week where Dixon, serving 39-to-life, had his murder conviction vacated after Golf Digest’s story and several others worked to get Dixon freed for a crime he insisted he did not commit.
Although Dixon has never hit a ball or even stepped foot on a course, the game hooked him when a golfing warden brought in a photograph of Augusta National’s 12th hole for the inmate to render as a favor. In the din and darkness of his stone cell, the placid composition of grass, sky, water and trees spoke to Dixon. And the endless permutations of bunkers and contours gave him a subject he could play with.
“The guys can’t understand,” Dixon has said. “They always say I don’t need to be drawing this golf stuff. I know it makes no sense, but for some reason my spirit is attuned to this game.”
Dixon leaving the courthouse and understandably grateful to Adler for helping his cause:
I’m not sure I’ve read a more horrific, dismaying or heartbreaking story than the murder of recent Iowa State golfing great Celia Barquin Arozamena of Spain. Thanks to all who sent the initial news reports.
Two pieces worth your time in trying to appreciate her life taken by a sick vagrant as she simply practiced at Coldwater Golf Links.
The PGA Tour faced one major dilemma in trying to improve the FedExCup: how to make sure FedEx gets full value for their sponsorship.
Players make a lot off the cup race, as do executives when bonus season comes around. In theory, it makes sense as a way to bind the season together.
Had the FedExCup continued next year as expected—three events down from four, with points awarded based on finishes—no one would have called that weird.
Throw in a bonus fifth round at East Lake, a day after the “third” playoff stop produced a Tour Championship winner before advancing a top four or six players to a final day shootout for the big (FedExCup) prize, and no one would have called that weird.
Maybe unfair to the season points leader, but playoffs aren’t fair.
So to have recent FedExCup champion Justin Thomas calling the new 2019 system “weird” right out of the chute, with the social media reaction suggesting he gave the perfect summary of how most feel, comes off as pretty weird given all of the brainpower put into the latest FedExCup overhaul.
"It's something that is very, very weird and going to be hard to get used to,'' Thomas said. "We talked about it, and it's ... never going to be perfect.''
Thomas, the reigning FedEx Cup champ, is part of the tour's players advisory committee. It means he has a voice in how business is conducted. And yet he doesn't seem sold.
Weird, however, is not fatal, and as I noted in our Golf Central chat today, the new format is a huge improvement. Granted, the bar set by the current format was low. As in, the worst playoff format in all of sports and has been over eleven years despite all of the efforts to defend it.
Still, as weird as the new format may seen, there are many positives…
The USGA/R&A distance survey is a bit like a Robert Trent Jones design: needlessly long, seemingly takes longer to get through than you think, isn’t the most rewarding experience and you’d never do it again.
But unlike some tired old RTJ effort, this one really won’t cost you a dime and will entertain at times if you are intrigued by reading between the lines or general survey construction.
If you have a few minutes, please share your thoughts no matter your place in the game. In fact, the governing bodies have made a special point to let every day golfers know their input is most valued.
It took me about 12 minutes to complete, sparing them of any Max Behr copy and pasting or Statement of Principles jabs. I figured those would not be productive roads to take.
Here’s my translation but feel free to read the press release below:
—The FedExCup leaders at -10 and -8 should have Atlanta-area food tasters in place.
—If those leaders get off to a nice Thursday start, they could create one very unsatisfying finale. That’s fan engagement too. We all need naps.
—Wyndham has to bribe players with a bonus pool to show up at the final “regular season” event now that the top seeds at the FedExCup get a lovely reward for their season-long efforts.
—You get an official win on your resume with a handicap system in place (no word yet on world ranking points yet, but let’s hope not). Silly.
—This will be easier to follow than the current system where algorithms proved consistently boring to follow. This has to be better. Low bar, yes, but it only took 11 playings to confirm what we all knew: the FedExCup as we knew it, did not work.
PGA TOUR announces changes that will further fan engagement, understanding and drama of FedExCup
Revamped TOUR Championship format will simplify FedExCup, highlight competition; Wyndham Rewards Top 10 will continue to elevate “every shot matters” thematic leading into the FedExCup Playoffs
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA – With the upcoming 2018-19 PGA TOUR schedule reflecting previously announced, significant structural changes, PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan today unveiled further innovations that elevate the entire FedExCup season – from the Regular Season through the FedExCup Playoffs and ultimately, at the Playoffs Finale, the TOUR Championship. These changes include a simplified scoring system at the TOUR Championship that will determine the FedExCup Champion and a new $10 million program for the FedExCup Regular Season sponsored by Wyndham Rewards: the “Wyndham Rewards Top 10.”
The FedExCup Playoffs – which have been reduced from four to three events beginning next season and will conclude before Labor Day, allowing the TOUR to compete to own the August sports calendar – will feature fields of 125 for THE NORTHERN TRUST, 70 for the BMW Championship and 30 for the TOUR Championship, where the FedExCup Champion will be determined. While the points structure for the first two events will remain the same (awarding quadruple points compared to FedExCup Regular Season events), there will be a significant change to the format for the TOUR Championship.
Instead of a points reset at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, beginning with the 2018-19 event the TOUR is instituting a strokes-based bonus system related to the FedExCup standings through the BMW Championship. The FedExCup points leader after the first two Playoffs events will begin the TOUR Championship at 10-under par. The next four players will start at 8-under through 5-under, respectively. The next five will begin at 4-under, regressing by one stroke per five players until those ranked Nos. 26-30 start at even par.
With the implementation of this change, the player with the lowest total score will be the FedExCup Champion and be credited with an official victory in the TOUR Championship competition.
“This is a significant and exciting change for the PGA TOUR, our players, our partners and – most importantly – our fans,” said Monahan. “As soon as the TOUR Championship begins, any fan – no matter if they’ve followed the PGA TOUR all season or are just tuning in for the final event – can immediately understand what’s going on and what’s at stake for every single player in the field. And, of course, players will know exactly where they stand at all times while in play, which will ratchet up the drama, consequence and volatility of the competition down the stretch.
“Compared to the current system, the beauty here is in the simplicity. Fans are very familiar with golf leaderboards in relation to par, so they will have a clear understanding of the impact every shot makes during the final run for the FedExCup – ultimately leading to a singular champion without conflicting storylines.”
“It has been gratifying to witness the growth, popularity and importance of the FedExCup since its launch in 2007,” said Davis Love III, a current Player Director on the PGA TOUR Policy Board who also served on the Board during the development and launch of the FedExCup. “Several important refinements have been made along the way to help accelerate the FedExCup’s universal acceptance as a tremendous achievement in professional golf. However, I believe this new strokes-based bonus system for the TOUR Championship might well be the most important of them all, as it will lend absolute clarity to where everyone in the field stands and what exactly they must do to win the FedExCup. It will make for a very exciting and dramatic four days.”
Meanwhile, the new $10 million Wyndham Rewards Top 10 not only will add drama to the Wyndham Championship as the final event before the FedExCup Playoffs but will also put an even greater premium on excelling over the course of the FedExCup Regular Season. The top-10 Regular Season finishers in FedExCup points through the Wyndham Championship – also sponsored by Wyndham Rewards – will reap the benefits of the Wyndham Rewards Top 10. The leader will earn $2 million, followed by $1.5 million for the runner-up with the 10th-place finisher earning $500,000. Additionally, each player in the top 10 will be invited into Wyndham Rewards at its most exclusive Diamond level, unlocking all the travel perks and unique Wyndham benefits that go along with it.
And while the Wyndham Rewards Top 10 will be recognized at the conclusion of the Wyndham Championship, the impact of the program will be felt throughout the season; a player’s performance every week becomes more critical than ever before, elevating the significance of each tournament on the schedule and producing drama for PGA TOUR fans at every turn.
“We are excited to unveil the Wyndham Rewards Top 10 next year, which will place an even greater premium on excelling over the course of the Regular Season,” said Andy Pazder, Chief Tournament and Competitions Officer for the PGA TOUR. “Season-long success is tantamount to qualifying for and advancing through the FedExCup Playoffs, and this is an exciting way to reward the best of the best and provide an added layer of drama for our fans in each market and around the world.”
In addition to the $10 million Wyndham Rewards Top 10, the existing FedExCup bonus pool will increase by $25 million, to $60 million. The FedExCup Champion will receive $15 million, versus the $10 million prize from previous years.
“Our players and fans have invested in the FedExCup over the past 12 seasons, and with these enhancements, we are reinvesting in the FedExCup in order to raise the stakes, so to speak, for their benefit,” said Monahan. “We are able to grow and diversify our fan base because we have the best athletes on the planet competing on the PGA TOUR. Now is the time to make these changes, and thanks to significant input in the process by our players, partners and fans, I believe we’re making exactly the right moves.
“To that end, these changes wouldn’t have been possible without the full support of the TOUR Championship’s outstanding Proud Partners – Coca-Cola and Southern Company – as well as longtime partner FedEx and an enhanced partnership with Wyndham Rewards,” he added. “They shared our vision for how we can challenge ourselves to raise level of excitement and fan engagement throughout the season up until the moment our FedExCup Champion is determined.”
Pencil in a trip to D.C. eighteen years from now for a Ryder Cup, another east coast PGA Championship in 2031, and yet another construction project at Congressional, this time by Keith Foster. At least the last bit of news offers some encouragement.
But once again going where the USGA no longer wants to take future championships, joining the been-there-done-that collective of Baltusrol, Olympic, Hazeltine, Bethpage, Southern Hills and Oak Hill, the PGA of America’s release:
PGA of America partners with Congressional Country Club to host Championships
BETHESDA, MARYLAND (September 18, 2018) – The PGA of America announced today that Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, will host eight of its championships and events over the next two decades.
The landmark agreement will route the Ryder Cup (2036), PGA Championship (2031), KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (2022, ’27), KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship (2025, ’33), PGA Professional Championship (2029) and the Junior PGA Championship (Girls and Boys, 2024) to the Nation’s Capital and Congressional’s Blue Course during a 15-year stretch from 2022 to 2036. Congressional will also host an annual PGA HOPE national event, introducing golf to veterans, for the duration of the contract.
Conceived in 1921 so that Members of Congress could meet socially with business leaders, Congressional boasts a vaunted golf history that includes the 1976 PGA Championship won by Dave Stockton and a trio of U.S. Opens (2011/Rory McIlroy, 1997/Ernie Els, 1964/Ken Venturi). Congressional has also staged the 1995 U.S. Senior Open, the 1959 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the 1949 U.S. Junior Championship and three PGA Tour events a total of 15 times.
“This partnership with Congressional Country Club and its membership is monumental in scope and stature, and we are excited to showcase the range of championships and events that the PGA of America has to offer,” said PGA of America Interim CEO John Easterbrook. “We’re also looking forward to building a lasting relationship with the legions of knowledgeable golf fans from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia and believe they will enjoy their time with us and marvel at the talents we will bring to Congressional in the coming years.”
“Congressional Country Club is proud to be partnering with the PGA of America and looks forward to creating future championship history,” said Bev Lane, President of Congressional Country Club. “The PGA of America and its nearly 29,000 professionals represent the very best that golf has to offer. We are excited to bring major championship golf back to Congressional and to represent our country and the Nation’s Capital as the host of the 2036 Ryder Cup.”
I was curious about one of this three suggestions beyond the usual bifurcation options.
I’ll credit Tom Watson with Option One, and he concedes that he heard it from golf analyst and entertainer David Feherty: make the golf ball bigger. It’s already been done once. Golf in the U.S. used a ball 1.68 inches in diameter versus the ball used by the rest of the world, 1.62 inches. The British Open switched to the bigger ball in 1974, and the United Kingdom’s small ball finally went away in 1990 for recreational golfers.
Watson said that .06 inches may have made a 20-yard driving decrease. What would another .06-inch increase mean, and would that be enough? I’d love to see some research on that.
Indeed research is needed. Because we need another study in this game!
While it seems so logically simple, this option has the potential to be costly for manufacturers and more difficult to implement due to patents. Our old pal Max Behr swore by the old floater ball and still played it when others had moved on to more advanced pellets. As anyone who has hit shots with a ball different than the weight of the modern ball, is typically not enthralled in the way many of Max’s contemporaries loathed the floater. Whether this was a matter of resisting change, struggling to adapt or legitimate complaints about the feasibility of such a ball, we’ll never know.
Either way, when writing your governing body, do not hesitate to ask for a golf ball size study. We’ve waited this long, what’s another…year.
If you need some inspiration, here was Behr’s 1937 petition to the USGA to require the "floater” the official ball for golf.
From an unbylined New York Times story, Behr’s resolution:
“Whereas, it is out opinion that golf as pursued today no longer reflects its ancient and honorable traditions which it is out wish to protect; and, in that the ball manufacturers, not the player, dictate the sort of golf that is played which, instead of reflecting its honorable past, in a sense has become dishonorable in that mere brawn off the tee receives an unfair reward at the expense of ancient ways of skillfully maneuvering the ball—no longer required to win—we protest against the perilous state that golf has fallen into.
“Therefore, we respectfully petition the U.S.G.A. that it decree its amateur and open championships henceforth will be played with a ball that floats in water. We firmly believe that in this way only may its ancient and honorable traditions be re-established and preserved for future generations to enjoy.”
David Dusekof Golfweek explores a topic with questions similar to those asked by may intrigued by the idea of a Tour Championship rota. With Coca Cola no longer a full sponsor—Proud Partners along with Southern Company—the PGA Tour would seem free to perhaps move the event around.
Furthermore, according to reports, the 2019 edition will only be about ending the FedExCup. That means only one winner will be crowned and that winner will be the final points chase winner. Having an allegiance to Atlanta or the Tour Championship or East Lake would seem less important.
But as we’ve seen in recent years, rotas are hit-and-miss propositions on the attendance, weather, intrigue and corporate support fronts. The Tour Championship’s rota years even remind us of this, despite the marquee value of certain sites.
Most golf fans probably forget that the first Tour Championship, which was won by Tom Watson, was contested in 1987 about 1,000 miles to the Southwest of Atlanta, at Oak Hills Country Club in San Antonio. The following year at Pebble Beach Golf Links, Curtis Strange won the Tour Championship in a playoff over Tom Kite, but Kite would win the next year at Harbour Town Golf Links in a playoff over Payne Stewart.
The Tour Championship then made two-year runs at Pinehurst No. 2, The Olympic Club and Southern Hills Golf Club before alternating between Champions Golf Club in Houston and East Lake starting in 1997. Since 2004, all Tour Championships have been played at East Lake, the course Bobby Jones grew up playing.
But this diplomatic answer on the USGA is worth noting.
What’s your take on what’s going on with the USGA?
Well, they’ve made it so easy to pick on them. The greens at Chambers Bay [in 2015]. How they handled Dustin Johnson’s situation at Oakmont [in 2016]. Then, with that gal [Anna Nordqvist] that same summer, in the Women’s Open. That was a travesty. Some of the pin placements at Shinnecock, on Saturday, on 13, 15 and 18. Plus, they changed the course so much from the last time we were there. The anchored putting ban. Now the green maps. But it was the USGA that let putting get there, let the maps get there. Then they want to turn it back. So it’s tough. But what I think people don’t realize is that they’re trying. They’re trying to do what’s right for the game. I know [USGA CEO] Mike Davis. I like Mike. But I don’t have a good relationship or a bad relationship with the USGA. I just don’t have much of a relationship. I’m not trying to be critical of the USGA. They have the best interests of the game at heart. They really do.
A glance at the list yielded one quibble for me—Furyk’s backward cap year is only 6th!?—and mostly sympathy for Porter’s plight in trying to find the beauty in what has to be one of the drearier sets of championship-concluding memories.
The stars are aligned for a grand finish this year regardless of format, so keep those fingers crossed!
Perhaps starting in 2019 we’ll get a new format that yields something more satisfying. I’m confident it won’t take much of a change to get there, but still unsure about the floated concept. From Morning Drive:
How about our good buddy and Scottish golf travel podcaster Ru Macdonald, “budding social media content creator” for the European Tour getting thrown into the Thunderdome for the European Tour’s “Beat The Pro” and makes very nice contact!
Maybe they heard the early week discussion about what an awful year Americans were having on the LPGA Tour, because six Americans finished inside the top nine of the Evian Championship, led by the feel-good story of long time major contender Angela Stanford.
A pair of weekend 68s and a rough finish from Amy Olson allowed Stanford to become the second oldest player to win an LPGA major.