McCabe: Choi sizzles in Atlanta heat

K.J. Choi chats with his caddie Andy Prodger during the third round of the 2010 Crowne Plaza Invitational.

K.J. Choi chats with his caddie Andy Prodger during the third round of the 2010 Crowne Plaza Invitational.

ATLANTA – So, how hot was it at East Lake Golf Club?

Well, K.J. Choi’s longtime caddie, Andy Prodger wore shorts.

Tim Clark heard the news and took a step back. “That’s hot,” he said, and Clark’s caddie, Steve Underwood laughed. He, too, had heard the news about Prodger, a devoted bagman, for sure, but most definitely a consummate old-school guy.

That means long pants.

Choi could recall just a round or two in the past when Prodger wore shorts, though it was the Sony Open in Hawaii. But taking stock of the sultry autumn air, Prodger figured the first round of the Tour Championship was ripe for another go with the shorts – although he was careful not to let his colleagues see him.

“He wore long pants to the range,” Choi said, laughing. “Then took them off at the first tee.”

No doubt, Prodger was quite comfortable in the shorts. Equally as certain was this: His player couldn’t have been unhappy in the heat, not with the way he played.

Qualified for the Tour Championship for the seventh time, Choi birdied the par-5 15th to shoot 2 under 68. While that’s two off a pace being set by a trio of names – Geoff Ogilvy, Luke Donald and Paul Casey – Choi was just one of nine players to post a red number as 18 of 30 players finished over par and the field average was 71.124.

Such scoring data would lead you to believe that moods were sour and tempers as hot as the 91-degree weather, but come on. This is the Tour Championship, an end-of-the-season bash that is Southern hospitality through and through, given that there’s a $7.5 million purse, a winner’s share of $1.35 million and an additional $35 million FedEx Cup bonus pool, from which the winner of the overall title draws a tidy sum of $10 million.

Forget medical school, kids; invest in titanium, graphite, a wedge game and putting stroke.

photo

Kevin Streelman

OK, so that’s a bit disingenuous, because while players are showered with great riches at this level, many of them do appreciate the landscape with which they’ve been blessed. None more so than Kevin Streelman, who just a few short weeks ago was looking at an extended late-summer, early-fall vacation.

After all, he had finished the regular season 102nd in the FedEx Cup standings and since only the Top 100 would make it past Week One and the Top 70 into the third playoff, well . . . he didn’t quite require a miracle, but a great tournament would sure help.

Say hello to a T-3 at The Barclays, a giant leap forward, and with decent, though unspectacular finishes at the Deutsche Bank (T-45) and BMW (T-43), the unheralded Streelman finds himself playing for a $7.5 million purse and a chance to improve his FedEx Cup bonus pool status.

Just don’t suggest he’s playing with house money and must feel happy just to be here.

He smiled, but didn’t exactly embrace that notion.

“I feel like I earned my spot here,” Streelman said. “I worked my butt off to get here.”

Critics of the FedEx Cup playoffs – and good gracious, there are plenty of them – will make Streelman the posterboy of their cause, saying he proves the system doesn’t work.

Nonsense. Streelman is Exhibit A that the system does work, perhaps not perfectly, but certainly good enough to add some flavor. If you’re going to have this sort of championship series of tournaments (memo to PGA Tour brass: permission to ignore the word “playoffs”), then you have to allow for movement in both directions.

Ogilvy – who started the postseason 39th in the FEC standings, fell to 52nd after Barclays, but battled his way into the Tour Championship with good efforts in Boston and Chicago – is like Streelman: proof that it’s a fairly effective system.

And mind you, Ogilvy has the proper perspective. Back in 2008, he was 15th on the PGA Tour money list but never made it to the Tour Championship, thanks to an overly volatile points system.

“They’re not going to get much better than this,” Ogilvy said.

“What do you want – the guy who plays the best for four weeks to win it all, or the guy who plays the best all year to win it all? I think they’re shooting for somewhere in the middle, and I think they are in the middle.”

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Geoff Ogilvy

Oh, there’s still the possibility that the PGA Tour could be left with a disconcerting scenario, like Ogilvy winning the tournament and Casey second. That would mean Casey would win the overall FedEx Cup and take home a $10 million prize even though he had won exactly zero PGA Tour events.

That seems a bit odd, far more so than Streelman making it into the Tour Championship. But again, “that’s the nature of these playoffs,” Ogilvy said.

Good for him, Streelman ignores the critics and continues to ride the postseason stretch that has treated him well. A slippery, downhill 35-footer for one of three birdies at the dastardly par-3 18th got him into the clubhouse at level par, tied for 10th, and served as a perfect birthday gift for his wife, Courtney.

Just last Saturday they returned to Streelman’s alma mater, Duke, to watch the Blue Devils host Alabama in football. Yes, it was a mismatch – 62-13, if you need to know – but that wasn’t so bad.

“I’m a ‘Bama girl,” Courtney said.

Streelman conceded he’s become a Tide fan, too, but that isn’t so bad. Duke, after all, has never been known for its football prowess. Streelman, in fact, concedes he went to just one game - in his freshman year, no less.

“It never was the hottest ticket in town,” he said.

Speaking of hot, back at the Tour Championship - or FedEx Cup finale, if you’d prefer - Prodger looked quite happy to have the round come to an end. Choi had gotten it up-and-down from right of the 18th green thanks to brilliant pitch, and their work was done.

“The legs,” someone asked Choi, pointing to the rare sight of Prodger in shorts. “Not pretty?”

Choi looked, smiled, and said, “very white.”

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