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Month Ahead - September

By: Tony Dear


Remember the early days of the FedEx Cup when you'd have a job finding a single endorsement of the new competition, be it in the press, among the players, from the fans, or even from sycophantic TV channels desperate not to upset the PGA Tour or dissuade viewers from watching the next week's tournament? When you'd probably have to walk past dozens of doors and down several corridors at Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., before finally arriving at the office of the Commissioner, Tim Finchem, to find somebody who could actually give you a reason why the new system was going to work?

Well, half a dozen changes to that system and half a dozen years of what should perhaps be credited to Finchem and the PGA Tour as grim determination have bought us to this point in 2013, where the prevailing arrangement is sadly still too complicated for the non-hardcore fan who doesn't spend every Sunday afternoon glued to the TV screen and calculating who needs what to progress to the next playoff event or how many points behind the leader they'll be on Sunday evening (or Monday evening in the case of the Deutsche Bank Championship with its Labor Day finish).

Problem is, the core fan is still a little bemused too. When the Golf Channel's Steve Sands explains it on the white board for the benefit of all humans watching the broadcast, MIT math professors might feel quietly confident they have a good grasp of what's going on. But John T. Golffan still has to spend a few minutes working out what his favorite player needs for points to continue on in the Playoffs. When scores are flashed up on the screen - rather than having an instant indication of where everyone stands, it still takes normal folk a while to calculate what it all means. And that detracts slightly from the entertainment value.

However, these days when players or commentators mention the FedEx Cup and the Playoffs, there is at least a "but" at the end of any negative remarks. Frequently, you'll hear "Say what you like about the FedEx Cup, but . . ." There's an acknowledgement it still isn't right, but there is at least something to be said for the season-ending series.

Undoubtedly, that something is the fourth-round drama that happens every week during the Playoffs. Say what you like about the FedEx Cup, but the old FedEx Cup-less PGA Tour never used to finish its season with four pulsating tournaments in which the best players squared off for a chance at the ultimate prize.

Last week at a much-improved Liberty National, which had softened the excessive contours some (most?) players found so disturbing when The Barclays was first played there in 2009, the action was fairly constant all the way to the 72nd hole, where no one was able to hole the putt to match Adam Scott's 11-under 273. The win took the Masters champion from 11th to second in the FedEx rankings, sandwiching him between Tiger Woods, who finished tied for second in New Jersey with two late birdies after making three dismal back-nine bogeys, and Open champion Phil Mickelson, who closed with a typically exhilarating 65 that saw him finish tied for sixth.

The entertainment from Boston and the Deutsche Bank Championship last weekend was no less gripping, with Henrik Stenson finally capturing the big win his superb summer form suggested was coming.

Thirty more names have now been struck from the list of players still remaining in the race for the FedEx Cup, leaving just 70 who move to Conway Farms in Lake Forest, Ill., about 30 miles north of downtown Chicago, for the BMW Championship beginning September 12. Opened in 1991 and designed by Tom Fazio, Conway Farms replaces Crooked Stick as the venue for the BMW which, next year, moves to Denver and Cherry Hills CC.

Luke Donald's home course, Conway Farms' only experience of top-level (well, high-level) championship golf was the 2009 Western Amateur, won by former Kent State player John Hahn. Apart from the Champions Course at PGA National, which he designed in 1981 but which was redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in 1990, the Tour hasn't visited a Fazio original in 2013. Quail Hollow, home of the Wells Fargo Championship, is a Fazio remake of a George Cobb design that gets universal acclaim. It will be interesting to see if the players regard Conway Farms quite as highly.

Rory McIlroy will be defending the BMW title he won last year at 20-under 268 and by two shots over Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson, three over Tiger Woods and Robert Garrigus, and by four over Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott. What were we saying about these playoffs producing exciting golf involving the world's best players?

At the same time as the men are making their birdies a couple of miles from the western shore of Lake Michigan, the women of the LPGA Tour will be playing their fifth and final major of the year a mile from the southern shore of Lake Geneva in Evian-Les-Bains, France. To give weight to the LPGA and Danone's July 2011 announcement that the Evian Championship, formerly the Evian Masters, was to be a major, Steve Smyers and a team from European Golf Design led by Jeremy Slessor and Dave Sampson were hired to completely overhaul the once-ordinary course that relied heavily on views of the lake for its appeal.

Now close to 6,600 yards long, and vastly more challenging than before, it should provide a stern test for the top 120 female golfers in the world. And, however dubious designating a tournament as a major on the strength of its sponsor's financial support might be, it will certainly be interesting to see if Inbee Park can claim her fourth major of the year, or if Women's British Open champion Stacy Lewis can make it two in a row.

Another must-see event this month will be the 44th Walker Cup match, being held September 7-8 at the venerable National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y., where the first Walker Cup was played in 1922. The GB & Ireland team will be looking to improve on its rather unfortunate 8-34-1 record, but will be the defending champion having beaten a formidable U.S. team that included Patrick Cantlay, Harris English, Russell Henley, Peter Uihlein, Chris Williams, and Jordan Spieth, 14-12 at Royal Aberdeen two years ago.

The visitors' team this year includes 2013 U.S. Amateur champion Matt Fitzpatrick from England, Wales's Rhys Pugh - who won all three of his matches in 2011, and British Amateur champion Garrick Porteous from England, while the U.S. team boasts Max Homa, Cory Whitsett, Michael Weaver, Michael Kim and Bobby Wyatt. It should be another tight tussle.

The European Tour spends much of September on the Continent moving from Switzerland (Omega Masters) to Holland (KLM Open), and to Italy (70 Open D'Italia Lindt) before finishing the month in Scotland for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which returns to Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and the Old Course at St. Andrews.

By then we will know the identity of the FedEx Cup champion as the PGA Tour's season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta will be in the books. There, the top 30 in the rankings will be trying to emulate defending champion Brandt Snedeker, who last year won both the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup's $10-million annuity.

Points will be reset for this last event (the 2014 season begins in October 2013 and continues to the end of the year with what were once called Fall Series - unofficial, special, and opposite field - events), so if, say, Graham DeLaet were to win the BMW Championship having finished tied second in New York and third in Boston, and therefore amass 4,450 points from the first three Playoffs alone, he would start Thursday morning at East Lake in first place in the standings with 2,500 points, but just 250 ahead of the man in second.

If he were then to have a bad week and finish the tournament in 30th and last place, he would finish the season with 2,705 points - good for third place overall in 2012.

I think. Maybe. Something like that. Like I said, it's all still a bit confusing.

Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it extremely difficult for him to focus on Politics, his chosen major. After leaving Liverpool, he worked as a golf instructor at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a 'player.' He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. He is a multi-award winning journalist, and edits his own website at www.bellinghamgolfer.com.

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