With the final-round tee times down to just eight players, the crowd on the range had thinned. Outside the ropes looking onto the range, however, the fans lining up had increased dramatically – and for good reason.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Vijay Singh, Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson . . . not a bad group to draw from if you’re putting out your leading eight players on a beautiful afternoon, as was the case last Sunday at the BMW Championship in Carmel, Ind.
Oh, wait. And the other guy.
“Poor, old, little Robert Garrigus. We’re the odd man out,” said caddie Brent Henley, shaking his head.
He’s been around this PGA Tour traveling circus long enough to know how it works, how a handful of electric personalities attract the fans, but Henley thought that by now perhaps a few more folks would have embraced Garrigus – for his talent and for the story he has to tell.
“But we were just sitting there,” Henley said, meaning no one was paying much attention or giving Garrigus much of a chance.
By day’s end, Garrigus’ closing 69 had enabled him to finish joint fourth with Woods, three behind the newest rage, McIlroy, and one back of those in a tie for second, Mickelson and Westwood. Garrigus acknowledged the crowd of popular marquee names with whom he had kept company, agreed with his caddie that he had been definitely overlooked, but simply shrugged.
“I enjoy my life, I enjoy my family, I have a great team,” Garrigus said, not taking lightly what he had just accomplished. Having moved into 20th position in the FedEx Cup points list, Garrigus was qualified for his first Tour Championship, which in turns brings exemptions into his first Masters, his fifth U.S. Open, and just his second Open Championship.
He embraced his wife, Ami, and son Robert, who just five days earlier had turned 2. What matters is that they are with him, Garrigus said, because he can talk painfully of a time in his life when he didn’t have such loving support, a time when he frankly was in an empty world.
The Garrigus story revolves around a battle to overcome substance abuse and he has been very open about it. “I thought everybody knew my story,” he said with a shrug, as if to say it’s OK if they don’t. He’s put it out there and he’ll continue to do so, because if he can be an inspiration, Garrigus is all for that.
“They’re going to get to know him,” Henley said. “He’s just now coming into his own. He’s such a pleasure. To every fan, to every volunteer, he says the right thing and he means it. They think he’s full of . . . but he ain’t.”
Garrigus can’t control the public’s unending thirst for the Tigers, the Rorys, the Phils, but he can take ownership of his game and that’s where he excels. You don’t need more than a few fingers to count the players who can match him for power – or confidence.
“I have trust in my game, more than anybody does,” said Garrigus, who has piled up three seconds, two fourths, and more than $2.5 million in prize money in this his seventh year on Tour. His only win came in 2010, and while he may not rate the same sort of buzz that McIlroy, Woods, Mickelson, or even Scott and Westwood do, Garrigus has come from deeper depths and is stronger for it.
“I didn’t feel intimidated on the first tee,” he said of Sunday’s pressure-cooker amid all the studs. “I didn’t feel intimidated on the driving range. That’s not who I am.”
And just who is he?
Only one of the PGA Tour’s better human interest stories, especially given his ability to play with the very best.
“I can pump it hard and I can pump it straight. When I’m swinging good, there’s nobody who hits their driver better than I do,” he said.
Then again, big deal, he says.
“The only thing that matters is family – my family and my team.”
• • •
HE’S NOT ELIGIBLE FOR COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR, BUT . . . It’s hard to think of a player who has scripted a more surprising story this season than Dicky Pride.
Consider the bookends to his competitive season: In February at something called the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship Presented by Samsung, Pride finished T-20 and earned $6,291. Seven months later he was T-59 in the BMW Championship and received $17,600.
Reason No. 5,372 why it’s better to be in the big leagues.
At 43, Pride indeed was settled back in the PGA Tour landscape and you couldn’t find a player who was more appreciative of that good fortune. With three top 10s and six top 25s, he has earned $1,259,712 in his 17 tournaments and to understand the storyline, consider that his past five PGA Tour seasons had consisted of 62 starts and $905,595.
Crazy thing, though. Despite having made it to three FedEx Cup playoff tournaments and sitting 63rd on the money list, Pride can’t get into the Fall Series events unless he gets a sponsor’s exemption. He’s still playing out of the Past Champion category, which doesn’t carry much weight, especially this time of year.
Pride isn’t complaining, however. He’s written for sponsor exemptions, but if nothing comes of it, he’ll start preparing for 2013.
“I’ll get in the gym,” he said. “I’ll probably play more events next year in less time, so I’ll need to be in better shape.”
• • •
SEND MORE RED NUMBERS: How proficient have the lads been the last two weeks, at TPC Boston and Crooked Stick? Well, there have been a combined 63 eagles and 2,443 birdies. And if you like your scores in the 60s, well, there have been 236 of them the last two weeks, with Rory McIlroy recording eight in a row.
The overall field average at the Deutsche Bank Championship, where par was 71, was 70.647; at the BMW Championship, it was 70.536 at the par-72 Crooked Stick.
• • •
IT STILL RESONATES: To some, it’s a reward for having played well all season. To others, it means they’re automatically qualified for next year’s Masters, U.S. Open, and Open Championship. Still, some see it as the chance to grab hold of a $10 million bonus.
Certainly, next week’s Tour Championship carries several layers of importance, but Adam Scott hasn’t strayed too far from the basics.
“I think it’s a pretty prestigious title,” said the 32-year-old Aussie, who won it in 2006, the year before it became the official end to the playoffs. “I think it gets overshadowed a little bit by the FedEx Cup now, but the Tour Championship is a very important tournament. To be in the top anything is always a real good thing.”
But it’s also something you can’t take for granted, maybe not in the way marquee names used to pencil it into their schedule at the beginning of the season. Said Scott: “You can’t expect it anymore, because it is about these three (playoff) weeks now and less relevant about the 20-something tournaments leading up to it.”
To Scott’s point, seven players performed well enough during the regular season to start the playoffs inside the top 30, yet they did not stay there: Mark Wilson (30th to 59th), Ben Curtis (29-41), Marc Leishman (28-46), Graeme McDowell (27-42), Kyle Stanley (22-31), Bill Haas (21-32) and Johnson Wagner (20-36).
And the seven who replaced them? Scott (32-21), Sergio Garcia (33-12), Louis Oosthuizen (34-6), John Senden (37-29), Nick Watney (49-3), Lee Westwood (51-8) and Ryan Moore (64-28).
• • •
TRACKING THE PLAYOFF PERFORMERS: Of the 30 who have qualified for the Tour Championship, 21 have played in all 12 playoff rounds. That being said, just for chuckles, here are their overall cumulative scores:
- Rory McIlroy, 41 under
- Dustin Johnson, 36 under
- Tiger Woods, 34 under
- Louis Oosthuizen, 34 under
- Phil Mickelson, 31 under
- Lee Westwood, 31 under
- Brandt Snedeker, 25 under
- Ryan Moore, 24 under
- Adam Scott, 24 under
- Nick Watney, 19 under
- Bo Van Pelt, 19 under
- Luke Donald, 15 under
- Steve Stricker, 13 under
- Zach Johnson, 12 under
- Robert Garrigus, 11 under
- John Senden, 11 under
- John Huh, 10 under
- Ernie Els, 9 under
- Matt Kuchar, 4 under
- Rickie Fowler, 2 over
- Carl Pettersson, 8 over
Note: Jason Dufner (14 under) and Sergio Garcia (13 under) have each skipped a tournament and thus have only played in eight rounds.
Another note: Having each missed a cut, here are the cumulative scores compiled in their 10 rounds: Jim Furyk (20 under), Bubba Watson (10 under), Webb Simpson (7 under), Keegan Bradley (5 under), Justin Rose (5 under), Scott Piercy (3 over) and Hunter Mahan (14 over).
• • •
TUNING IT OUT? He has spent this time of the season preparing to represent America in an international team golf match each of the last five years, so Hunter Mahan is understandably feeling hollow as the 39th Ryder Cup approaches.
He won’t be in uniform.
What’s more, he said he probably won’t be in front of the TV, either.
“I don’t think so,” he said, when asked if he’d watch. “Being there, having gone through it . . . I don’t feel good about saying (I won’t watch), but I think it would be hard to sit and watch it.”
Of course, he was saying this just a few days after getting the official word that he was not a captain’s pick. A good friend of Mahan’s brushed the comment aside and said he predicted that the player will be tuned in.
• • •
MAYBE IT WILL WORK THIS WAY: A year ago, Webb Simpson rode into the Tour Championship ranked No. 1 and a victory would have sealed the FedEx Cup title. But he faltered, finished 22nd and was partly responsible for opening a huge door for Bill Haas.
Because Nos. 2 and 3 in the FEC standings – Dustin Johnson (T-23) and Justin Rose (T-20), respectively – also finished poorly at East Lake GC, Haas was able to come from the 25th position and not only win the Tour Championship, but also the overall $10 million prize.
Well, guess who’s starting in the No. 25 position this week? That’s right, Simpson, like Haas a Wake Forest product. Could we have a bit of deja vu all over again? It wouldn’t be a shock, because something similar had happened in 2010 when Jim Furyk, 11th in the standings to start the week, also rallied to win the tournament and the overall prize.
Like Haas, Furyk was helped immensely by leaders who stumbled badly. Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson went in ranked 1-2 and finished outside the top 20.
If he believes in omens, Bubba Watson could take comfort in that bit of history, because he’s No. 11 going into this year’s Tour Championship.
• • •
TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP TIDBITS: It wasn’t that long ago when Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood were shunning a PGA Tour membership and the hectic FedEx Cup schedule was part of their reasoning. Well, don’t look now but they sit first and eighth in the standings heading into East Lake GC. The guess is they’ve become smitten with the FEC playoffs . . . . . Seven players will be making their Tour Championship debuts – McIroy, Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Robert Garrigus, John Huh, Rickie Fowler and Scott Piercy . . . . . They made the Tour Championship without virtue of a PGA Tour win: Oosthuizen, Westwood, Garrigus, Jim Furyk, Bo Van Pelt, Adam Scott, Ryan Moore, and John Senden . . . . . They won on the PGA Tour and didn’t make the Tour Championship: Johnson Wagner, Mark Wilson, Kyle Stanley, Bill Haas, George McNeill, Ben Curtis, Marc Leishman, Ted Potter Jr., J.J. Henry and Scott Stallings.
• • •
FINAL TAP-IN: For good reason, much was made of Luke Donald winning money titles on both sides of the pond a year ago. Well, that accomplishment could be diminished slightly because Rory McIlroy is in line to duplicate it – with bigger numbers, though.
Presently, McIlroy tops the money list in the U.S., but his $7,842,192 already surpasses what Donald made a year ago by $1.15 million – and he still has a tournament to play.
In Europe he is on top of the Race to Dubai list (2,813,962 Euros), a little more than 400,000 ahead of Justin Rose. Though he has a way to go to match what Donald compiled a year ago (5,323,400), McIlroy could be teeing it up as many as five more times in European PGA Tour events before the season closes.