Big payoffs and playoffs

The FedEx playoffs have now begun, and while the LIV court cases still dominate the news, I have no doubt that the events leading up to the final event, the Tour Championship in August, will produce some great entertainment.   

IRC GOLF COLUMN, SUNDAYS

When the news broke last week that the three PGA Tour members who have joined LIV lost their case that would have allowed the to compete in the FedEx playoffs, this was a major win for the PGA Tour. The recent hearing in California saw the judge refuse to grant a temporary restraining order, which meant that their suspensions would stand, at least for now. The three players, Taylor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford, argued (among other things), that they had earned sufficient points to qualify, but the judge didn’t buy it.

Interestingly, a UK court had earlier granted a stay against the suspension of Ian Pouter, Justin Harding and Adrian Otaegui, which allowed them to compete in the Scottish Open. At the same time, the R & A allowed the rebels to compete in the Open Championship, because they had qualified prior to the court battle. Different courts, different rulings. Particularly in civil matters, often decisions taken by the courts make as much sense as the latest method of calculating golf’s world rankings.   

Needless to point out, the FedEx Cup is a very big deal – $75 million in the bonus pot, with $18 million going to the eventual winner. Even a player that finishes in last place in the final 30-man field takes home $500,000.

FREE IRC COLUMNIST SUBSCRIPTION

If were not for the LIV legal wranglings, a much bigger deal would have been made of Tony Finau’s recent exploits – winning twice in consecutive events (the 3M Open and the Rocket Mortgage Classic), thanks to some unbelievable scoring. Finau has been making a mockery of par, and over his last 10 rounds, his scoring average is a ridiculous 65.9. Only eight players since 1995 have posted 10 consecutive scores of 68 or better. (Tiger Woods holds the Tour record for a streak like this with 14 rounds).

It took Finau five years on the Tour to win twice, both victories after playoffs, but he has been through some hot spells without winning, including three losses in playoffs. In early 2021, he had a stretch of four consecutive tournaments where he finished in the top four. On current form, he might well be worth a bet to find another win before or in the Tour Championship.

THAT SINKING FEELING: Justin Lower tossed his Fedex chances on the last hole.

On the other end of the spectrum, there were two heart-breaking stories at the Wyndham Championships, which were career-changing for the two players involved. The first, Austin Smotherman (who played on the same college team as Bryson DeChambeau at SMU), found himself in the 125th position on the FexEx points list at the beginning of the week. In the second round, Tour rookie Smotherman was facing a reasonable chance of birdie on his penultimate hole when play was halted because of bad weather. He started early on Saturday to complete his two holes; promptly missed his 12-foot birdie, and then after missing the green on his final hole, pitched and three-putted for a double. He had thus missed qualifying for the FedEx playoffs, lost his full exemption for the Tour, and must have spent the rest of his weekend rethinking those last two holes.

The other gut-wrenching moment in the final regular Tour event came when another rookie, Justin Lower, found himself in great shape going into the final round after two rounds of 66, and on the final hole, had a birdie putt to get into the FedEx playoffs and retain his card. He three-putted, and his dreams were dashed.

On the other side of the Atlantic, in the women’s British Open, South African Ashley Buhai began the final round with a five-shot lead, which disappeared after a couple of indifferent putts and a disastrous triple-bogey on the 15th. To her credit, after finishing tied with three-time major champion Chun In-Gee, Buhai managed to win after a four-hole playoff. This was her first win on the LPGA Tour after 221 starts and was worth $1,095,000. The 33-year-old Buhai turned pro in 2007 after a stellar amateur career and might have been expected to achieve more in the paid ranks. It is only in the last three years that she has managed to break into the world’s top 100, but after her life-changing performance at Muirfield, she could well go on to add a lot more silverware to her collection. Prior to the Open, she had won 11 events on her home Sunshine Tour and three on the European Tour. She also becomes the third South African to have won a Major at Muirfield after Gary Player and Ernie Els.

Another inspiring story unfolded on the DP World Tour when Sean Crocker won his first event on Tour – the Hero Open at Fairmont St Andrews. The Zimbabwe-born Crocker, although hanging on to his playing rights since qualifying via the Challenge Tour four years ago, has been somewhat erratic, and to begin this season, he suffered eight missed cuts and a withdrawal. A lessor man might have thrown in the towel. But he soldiered on and found a way to produce his best golf in the Hero and led from the opening round, eventually beating Eddie Pepperell by a shot.

It has certainly been an interesting year with a plethora of long-shots winning, court cases and threats of professionals going strike, and now we have a feud developing between Gary Player and his son Marc over trophies and memorabilia being sold. And to think that there are those who believe that golf is boring?  -IRC.

X