Barely had his signature been affixed to his final-round scorecard at the BMW Championship on Sunday when Kevin Streelman started getting congratulations.
No, not for his share of 43rd place in a field of 70. Rather, for sneaking into the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings and thus earning his first Tour Championship berth.
Wise man that he is and very cognizant of the fickleness of the standings on this final day of qualifying for the Tour Championship, Streelman deferred congratulations – at least until the tournament was official. Quickly, you understood why, because as he stood and chatted with a small group of people at the scoring trailer, Streelman went from 28th to 31st, then to 30th, outside the cutoff one more time, then to 29th.
In fact, Streelman was en route to his home in Arizona when Dustin Johnson’s short putt closed out the tournament to make the FedEx Cup standings and 30-man Tour Championship field official.
That it will include Streelman (29th place) is rather stunning, given that he started the playoffs in 102nd in a field of 125. But by virtue of a T-3 at The Barclays, a T-45 at the Deutsche Bank, and T-43 at the BMW, Streelman managed to squeeze into the top 30. Though you’re right to think that it’s a rich reward to get into the festivities at East Lake (Sept. 23-26), the biggest prize lies ahead.
Streelman will receive invites into the 2011 season’s first three majors, two of which (Masters and British Open) he has never played. No disrespect to the world’s oldest championship, but it’s the Masters that makes the heart beat a bit faster for Streelman and most American players. That is why when congratulations were extended to Streelman, they were accompanied by the obligatory question, “Have you ever played there before?”
He said he hadn’t, though he had attended a Masters practice round years earlier, while a student at Duke. Then Streelman smiled and pointed to his caddie and said, “He’ll guide me around there.”
Standing quietly, Mike Christensen flashed a wide smile and confirmed that he might be the only caddie in next year’s Masters who has more experience playing Augusta National than his boss.
“Three rounds,” Christensen said. “We packed a lot of golf into that weekend.”
Christensen, who played golf with Streelman at Duke, went to Augusta National as a guest of Chris Harris, a former Blue Devils teammate. Chris Harris’ father, John – the one-time national amateur champion and Champions Tour member – is a longtime Augusta National member and one of the sport’s true gentlemen.
“Very special place,” said Christensen, whose friendship with Harris goes back to their Minnesota roots. “I can’t wait to go back.”
Accompanied, of course, by Streelman.
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For a fourth straight year, the point-missers are out in full force when it comes to the FedEx Cup playoffs. They roundly criticize the format and consistently get hung up on the word “playoffs” and moan because 125 make it in, and 100, then 70, then 30 move on.
It only makes you wish Tour officials back at the start had stuck to an original concept, to call this thing the FedEx Cup Championship Series, or something similarly.
Bottom line is, the FedEx Cup playoffs have done what PGA Tour officials intended – to gather elite fields four times in five weeks at a time of year when tournaments were annually devoid of the big names. We have had 15 of these “playoff” tournaments since 2007 and the winners have been: Tiger Woods (three), Phil Mickelson (two), Vijay Singh (two), Camilo Villegas (two), Steve Stricker (two), Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Charley Hoffman and Heath Slocum.
Overall? Woods has won the FEC championship twice, Singh once.
Hard to see where that’s a problem, and Geoff Ogilvy agrees.
“I think it works pretty good,” said the Aussie. “It’s not a perfect world, but what do you want? Do you want the guy who plays the best four weeks to win it all? Or do you want the guy who plays the best all year to win it all? Or somewhere in the middle?
“I think they’re shooting for somewhere in the middle, and I think they are somewhere in the middle. There’s a hard-luck story every year, and there’s a happy story every year.”
Sort of what playoffs offer in the other sports, no?
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Johnson is winning widespread praise for being so resilient, bouncing back the way he did from major-championship heartache this summer.
“He’s a lot like Mickelson in that way,” said Butch Harmon, who started working with Johnson earlier this spring. “And that’s an impressive thing to have at his age (25).”
Harmon has a theory as to what makes Johnson so mentally tough.
“He didn’t grow up in an environment where everything was handed to him,” Harmon said. “He’s sort of a hustler, or he’s go that hustler mentality. He just goes out and plays and isn’t afraid to put his game up against your game.”
When the fiasco at the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship entered the conversation, both Johnson and Harmon put the “bunker, not a bunker issue” aside.
“Instead, we only talked about the drive at 18 (that went way right),” Harmon said. “We talked about what went wrong with that swing, not the (bunker) debacle.”
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Johnson’s caddie, Bobby Brown, concedes he is aware of some media folks who said he deserved plenty of blame for the way that bunker incident unfolded at the PGA Championship.
“I’ve walked by bunkers every day for so many years, and so has he,” Johnson said, then he waved his hand as if to say he’s done talking about the PGA Championship.
Let them criticize, Johnson said, because “the only opinion that matters is that big dude right there (Johnson), and he was fine with it.”
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His world ranking has plummeted to 58th, and it appears that Sergio Garcia is more in form as soccer team owner than golfer. But if you’re thinking that he’s in danger of missing the magnolias and azaleas come April, fear not.
Garcia already is invited to the 2011 Masters on the strength of a three-year ride for winning the 2008 Players Championship.
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Neither one made the cut into the Tour Championship, but do not categorize Rory McIlroy and Anthony Kim as young stars with nowhere to go.
Both, it seems, are gearing up for busy stretch runs.
For McIlroy, there’ll be two weeks to rest up at home in Northern Ireland before he plays six times over a 10-week stretch. He’ll play in the Ryder Cup and Dunhill Links back-to-back, take a week off, then help the European Tour launch a Challenge Tour tournament in Egypt. Another week off will be followed by the HSBC Champions in China, week off, then a tournament in Hong Kong, week off, then Woods’ Chevron Challenge.
Specifically, McIlroy has circled the UBS Hong Kong Open.
“I love Hong Kong. It’s my favorite city in the world,” McIlroy said. He went so far as to say that after the major championships, the tournament he’d love to win is the Hong Kong Open.
“It’s just a brilliant place.”
As for Kim, this six straight weeks of scratchy play after coming back from a long layoff has not soured him.
“I’m ready to work,” he said. “There are a couple of things to shore up, obviously, but I want to keep playing.”
He mentioned the Korea Open and HSBC tournament in China, “but I’m not sure what’s after that.”
Kim, as winner of the Shell Houston Open, looks toward the SBS Championship on Maui as the start to his 2011 season, but McIlroy, winner of the Quail Hollow Championship, will skip that one.
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After recording three seconds, two thirds, six top 10s and 10 top 25s in his first 21 starts, Jeff Overton has cooled off. He’s gone 71st, MC, T-56, and T-57 in his last four tournaments, but said he’s not overly concerned.
“I haven’t really taken much time off. I’m not playing that bad; I’m just mentally worn out,” said Overton, who has the Tour Championship and Ryder Cup still on his plate.
That’s why he’s enjoying a week of rest.
“The week off will be needed,” he said.
• • •
Eight players started the playoffs inside the top 30, only to fall out and thus not qualify for the Tour Championship.
They were: Kim, McIlroy, J.B. Holmes, Rickie Fowler, Carl Pettersson, Brendon de Jonge, Bill Haas and Stuart Appleby.
The eight who moved from outside to inside the top 30: Adam Scott, K.J. Choi, Ryan Moore, Kevin Na, Martin Laird, Ogilvy, Hoffman and Streelman.