It is a rite of fall come Tour Championship time – with most of the PGA Tour’s marquee names done on the domestic scene till the next year, they spend their days at East Lake Golf Club saying their goodbyes.
Like Adam Scott, whose golf for the next few months will be played in China and Singapore and Australia. There he was minutes after signing his card at the conclusion of the final round when he spotted Butch Harmon, who may no longer be Scott’s swing coach, but will forever be the mentor who guided the young Aussie through his formative years.
In other words, they remain good friends and they embraced warmly, wishing each other well in the coming months.
Then Scott turned and told Harmon “to be on your game, because I’ll be listening and watching.”
It was a reference to the commentary and analysis that Harmon will be doing with Sky TV for the 39th Ryder Cup.
“I’ll be in Switzerland,” Scott told Harmon. “But I’ll be watching.”
It wasn’t rhetoric, either. Having had a good taste of international team competition, the Aussie can appreciate what unfolds in front of him on television. “It’s probably the most fun golf tournament for me to watch,” he said. “Just knowing all the guys and the pressure and all that kind of stuff. It’s awesome.”
Scott isn’t alone. Ernie Els, a South African who was sort of a big brother to Scott when the Aussie made his Presidents Cup debut in 2003, will be watching from his Florida home.
“It’s exciting. We play Presidents Cup and stuff like that, so we kind of get a bit of a taste of it,” Els said. “I love watching my friends just beat (each other up), or try to, and then being friends afterward. I think it’s one of the great sporting events in sport.”
Given their nationalities, neither Scott nor Els will ever experience the Ryder Cup, so it’s easy for them to watch. They know they can’t be there. But for Rickie Fowler, the California Kid, it’s a bit different. He played at Wales in the 2010 Ryder Cup, so not making the team this time around was crushing. Will he watch?
“I know when I did the press conference right after the (captain’s) picks, I said, ‘Oh, I might not watch, might be doing some other stuff,’ ” Fowler said. “But I have some of my best friends on the team out here, and I’m definitely going to be watching, supporting and seeing how those guys are doing.”
Mind you, Fowler hasn’t always been of that frame of mind. He chose not to watch any of the 2010 U.S. Open from Pebble Beach, mostly because he felt so strongly that he should have been there. The world-ranking cutoff that year was before the Memorial, so even when Fowler nearly won that prestigious event and soared to No. 32 in the world, he was not exempt into the U.S. Open, nor did he get through a qualifier.
So he refused to watch.
He wishes he were at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club, just as he wishes he played at Pebble Beach, but this week he’ll watch.
“I’m going to be pulling for the guys and make sure that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Fowler said.
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SOMETIMES, IT’S EASIER TO PLAY THAN WATCH: As he talked about his plans to watch the Ryder Cup, Scott said he actually gets more nervous watching his friends than he does when he’s playing.
It brought to mind arguably the greatest competitive moment in the short history of the Presidents Cup, the 2003 playoff in South Africa. That’s right, a playoff. At the time, one of the distinguishing differences between the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup is that the PGA Tour mandated that its team event couldn’t end in a tie.
So when after four days and 34 matches, the score was 17-17, the tiebreaker was put in motion: Tiger Woods for the Americans vs. Els for the Internationals, head-to-head, in a fall darkness, no less.
And walking along were members of both teams, wives and friends. It made for a brutal pressure, and Scott remembers walking the entire playoff with his teammate, Mike Weir.
“He told me, ‘I swear, I’m more nervous than when I was in a playoff at the Masters (months earlier),’ “ Scott said. “I did get more nervous watching, too.”
When Woods and Els also ended their brief playoff in a tie, it was decided by captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player that they would finish it 17-17.
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HE STOLE THE SHOW: Understandably, Brandt Snedeker was the center of attention at Sunday’s conclusion of the Tour Championship. After all, how often does a guy win a $1.4 million tournament and $10 million bonus in the same day, then tell everyone that he’s quite content driving the same vehicle he has had since joining the PGA Tour – a GMC Yukon Denali.
“Put it this way: This is why I don’t need a new car,” Snedeker said. “I’ve had the car for 4 1/2 years and it’s got 24,000 miles on it. Why do I need a new car? It is new. I never drive it.”
Such freshness has endeared Snedeker to media members, who covet the young man for his humility and honesty. He never has run from taking ownership of poor performances, but at least one player in the Tour Championship field had a sense of what was in store for Snedeker last week at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
“I played with him Friday,” Ryan Moore said. “You could tell that he wanted it. You could see it.”
Yet when he birdied the par-5 15th one group ahead of Snedeker, Moore was tied for the lead at 9 under. It didn’t last long, because on the very next hole, Moore hit his drive into the fairway, then failed to capitalize.
“I just hit a bad golf shot,” Moore said of his approach that ballooned a bit in the wind and landed in a greenside bunker. “It’s one I’ve got to keep a little left and hit it in the middle of the green and it’s an easy par and possibly a birdie. But I didn’t do it.”
Earlier in the round, it was a different story, for Moore hit probably the best shot of the day at the sixth. A par 3 which has water all down the right and then to the left, the hole was set up at 205 yards that day, but Moore settled on a 3-hybrid.
“That’s my 230 club,” he said. “I striped it. Probably my best shot of the day.”
He made birdie at a time of day when Snedeker, Woods and Rory McIlroy all went wide right in the water and made double bogeys.
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OH, YEAH, BRING BACK THE DAYS OF THE SEPTEMBER SNOOZES: Having entered the week ranked 19th in the world, Brandt Snedeker’s victory means that a top-20 player has now won 16 of the 24 FedEx Cup playoff tournaments since they debuted in 2007.
No. 1 has won five times, while a top-10 player has been victorious on 12 occasions.
Only twice – Heath Slocum, who was 197th when he won the 2009 Barclays, and No. 132nd Charley Hoffman, who took the 2010 Deutsche Bank Championship – has a player outside the top 45 won a FEC playoff.
So the playoffs have brought out the best with their best? And that’s a problem?
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YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF GOLF BEING GOLF: Jim Furyk’s memorable second round at the Tour Championship featured seven consecutive 3s out of the gate and ended up with nine birdies.
He made just one birdie over the next 36 holes, however.
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A DEFINITE TEST: Bermudagrass isn’t for everyone, but the glory of it when it’s at its best is that you don’t need it to be very deep to cause havoc in the rough. It was fascinating to watch McIlroy, Robert Garrigus, Bubba Watson and a few others still trying to figure out four days into the tournament what sort of shot they were going to have in the rough.
Take away Furyk’s tidy performance in Round 2 and there just weren’t a lot of explosive spurts. Though East Lake may not stoke the embers and get the blood racing, it’s a formidable challenge. Not easy to get a lot of momentum going, is it, Luke Donald?
“It isn’t,” the Englishman said, and he used his Saturday round as an example.
“I wasn’t playing too bad for 12 holes. I was 1 over and hadn’t done a lot wrong. But it’s very hard to hit the ball in the right spot to give yourself birdie opportunities. A lot of times, you can hit it to 10-12 feet and the putt has 2 feet of break. (The greens) are fast and slopey. It’s a good equalizer; makes it tougher when there’s a lot of break on short-distance putts.”