MEDINAH, Ill. – The mild oblique strain that Tiger Woods cited when he withdrew after one round of FedEx Cup playoffs was feeling good enough that he flew to the Chicago area Tuesday to give it a try in the BMW Championship.
Woods arrived mid-afternoon, did some media with partner Golf TV, had treatment and then headed to the putting green.
He won the PGA Championship twice at Medinah, in 1999 and 2006. His last event here was the 2012 Ryder Cup, where he and Steve Stricker lost all three of their matches, and Woods halved with Francesco Molinari in a singles match that gave Europe an outright victory.
At stake this week is a chance to return to East Lake, where he won last year for the first piece of his comeback from four back surgeries. Having to withdraw last week did not help the cause. By earning no points – at a time when points count four times as much – Woods slipped from No. 28 to No. 38 in the FedEx Cup.
Only the top 30 advance to the Tour Championship next week at East Lake.
The PGA Tour is projecting that Woods will need to finish 11th to have a realistic chance of advancing, but that will depend on what everyone else does, particularly those behind him in the standings. A week ago, Patrick Reed went from No. 50 to No. 2 by winning at Liberty National, while Harold Varner III went from No. 102 all the way to No. 29 with a two-way tie for third.
Woods has one other involvement this week, though it’s tough to think this is a priority of his. As captain of the U.S. team for the Presidents Cup, this is the final week for players to earn one of the eight automatic spots.
Reed moved from No. 17 to No. 12 and would have to win to have any chance of getting one of the eight spots. Patrick Cantlay is holding down the eighth spot over U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, though Woodland likely would need something around fifth place to get past him, depending on what Cantlay does.
Woods is No. 13 and even winning might not be enough.
Phil Mickelson is No. 15 and in jeopardy of missing his first team event since the 1993 Ryder Cup. Woods will have four captain’s picks after the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, which ends the first weekend in November.
The Presidents Cup is Dec. 12-15 in Australia.
Rory McIlroy has fond memories of Medinah for reasons that go beyond being part of Europe’s greatest comeback in the Ryder Cup.
This is where he met his wife.
Erica Stoll was working for the PGA of America at the time, and her duties at the Ryder Cup included oversight of all transportation issues. He recalls first seeing her when the flight arrived from the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
And yes, he had serious transportation issues that week.
McIlroy forgot what time zone he was in and nearly missed his tee time for his singles match against Keegan Bradley, needing a police escort to get to Medinah, put on his golf shoes, hit a few balls and head to the tee.
No police escorts this week?
“They did offer one to me, so whether I take them up on it or not, I’m not sure,” he said. “Hopefully, I won’t need it. And we’re staying a little closer to the course.”
This isn’t a real reunion for the McIlroys, anyway. McIlroy says he took part in a junior golf event with Luke Donald a few years ago, and his wife came with him.
“So that was sort of our first time back,” he said. “But yeah, it’s still cool to look around and think about that week, and obviously everything that’s happened since then. It is pretty cool.”
Players often have something stamped into their wedges, even if it’s just their initials, though Justin Thomas had words that stood out: BROOKS MONEY.
The reference is to Brooks Koepka, and the other is obvious.
It’s a wager that began at the CJ Cup in South Korea at the start of the PGA Tour season last year. Anyone who holes out from over 50 yards gets $1,000. Anyone who makes a hole-in-one gets $5,000, and $10,000 is at stake for an albatross.
“I’m up $6,000,” Thomas said. It will be tough for Koepka to catch up with two tournaments to go unless he can make a hole-in-one or an albatross, which he did last year. Thomas seized control with the ace on the 16th hole of the final round at the Masters.
Golf gets its fourth version of men and women competing alongside each other with the ISPS Handa World Invitational Men-Women in Northern Ireland.
The Challenge Tour event in Europe will have a men’s and women’s field competing for equal prize money. It will be similar to the ISPS Handa Vic Open in Australia earlier this year with alternating tee times between men’s and women’s groups.
That means the winners of each tour will be determined moments apart.
The event will be played at Galgorm Castle and Massereene over two days, with a cut to the top 60 players for each, and then the leading 35 players from each side advancing to the final round at Galgorm Castle.
The European Tour had men and women competing together in the Golfsixes event in early June. The Challenge Tour also had the Jordan Mixed Open at the start of the year, a full field of men and women competing in the same event.
There was one other event that featured men and women on the same property this year. The European Tour played its Trophee Hassan II on the Red course at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in Morocco, while the Ladies European Tour staged its Lalla Meryem Cup on the Blue course.
The other Rory
Rory Sabbatini had what he called an atrocious week hitting the ball at The Northern Trust, which lowered his odds of getting to East Lake. Even so, the fact he’s even talking about it shows he is getting closer to where he once was in golf.
Sabbatini is No. 45 in the FedEx Cup going into the BMW Championship, the first time he has reached this event since before surgery in May 2016 to get an artificial disk in his neck.
“I’m finally back to full strength,” Sabbatini said. “It took three years to recover from the nerve damage. From the neck to the shoulder down the arm is about 3 feet, and you gain an inch of regeneration a month of nerve. That’s three years.”
How did he manage to keep playing through the recovery?
“With a lot of frustration,” he said.
Sabbatini still managed to reach the FedEx Cup postseason the last two years, not advancing beyond the opening event. Now he’s thinking Tour Championship.
Because there is no purse at the Tour Championship – only the FedEx Cup bonus fund – Brooks Koepka has clinched the PGA Tour money title for the first time. The tour used to give the Arnold Palmer Award to the leading money winner, but decided this year to give the award to the rookie of the year. Koepka has just over $9.6 million this year. … Rory McIlroy’s average adjusted score is 69.062, narrowly ahead of Patrick Cantlay (69.170) and Webb Simpson (69.175). The winner gets the Vardon Trophy awarded by the PGA of America. … The Korn Ferry Tour has added a tournament to next year’s schedule. The Lake Charles Championship will be played at The Country Club at Golden Nugget in Lakes Charles, Louisiana, on March 26-29. The partnership is a five-year deal.
Stat of the week
Phil Mickelson is the only player to reach the BMW Championship every year since the FedEx Cup began in 2007.
“It means the world to me. I’m living the dream. This is what I dreamt about when I was a little kid, and I couldn’t be luckier.” – Abraham Ancer, the runner-up at The Northern Trust, who earned a spot in the Tour Championship and will be the first Mexican to play in the Presidents Cup.
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