It's the end of the line, the PGA Tour heads to East Lake for the Tour Championship. Only 30 players remain and will duke it out with hopes of winning the FedEx Cup and its $10 million dollar bonus. All 30 players have a chance to win the season-long crown but only the top 5 in the standings control their own destiny.
It was an exhilarating finale with Rory McIlroy coming from 3 shots back with 3 to play to force a playoff with Kevin Chappell and Ryan Moore. Chappell bowed out of the playoff early while Rory and Moore kept the show going for 4 holes with Rory eventually ending it with a birdie. The win earned Rory the FedEx Cup over Dustin Johnson who looked like a sure winner with 3 holes remaining. The runner-up Ryan Moore's performance earned him Bubba Watson's spot on the Ryder Cup team.
The longtime host, East Lake C.C., is one of golf's most historic courses. Besides it's illustrious championship history, Bobby Jones played his first and last round of golf at East Lake and the clubhouse is home to a large collection of Bobby Jones memorabilia. The history alone makes for a special golfing experience.
The course has undergone many renovations over it’s history. It was first laid out by Tom Bendelow but in 1912 it was redone by Donald Ross. The Ross design drew acclaim and put East Lake on the map as one of America's great golf courses.
The next renovation came in 1962 by George Cobb, in preparation for the 1963 Ryder Cup. This change dramatically altered the course from the Ross design. Shortly after the Ryder Cup, East Lake deteriorated as a club and the surrounding area "Little Vietnam" became one of the worst neighborhoods in Atlanta.
This was the case until 1993 when wealthy real estate mogul Tom Cousins purchased the golf course and used it to revitalize the community. Cousins first move was to "restore" the golf course to its Ross roots. He hired none other than Rees Jones, the son of Robert Trent Jones and noted architect.
Unfortunately, rather than restore golden age classics Rees has history of Rees-storing them. At East Lake, Rees ignored Ross' timeless principles and design, imparting his own. While marketed as a Donald Ross design, East Lake is a Rees Jones design.
Rees built a challenging course with narrow fairways, deep bunkers and thick bermuda rough. It lacks strategic interest, a type of course that requires little thought from the world's best and gives the regular golfer fits. Regardless of a pin position each hole's ideal line is the center of the fairway. A far cry from it's Georgia neighbor Augusta National where a change in pin position alters the shot demanded off the tee.
The only hope for the golf course is for the club is to follow in the footsteps of other high profile clubs and undergo a true restoration.
The top 5
The only players who control their own destiny are those in the top 5 of the FedEx Cup. A win at East Lake will earn the top 5 a hefty $11.575 million payday from both the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup wins. The top 5 heading into this week are Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Marc Leishman and Jon Rahm. Amazingly, 4 of the FedEx Cup top 5 are also in the top 5 of the world golf rankings. The only one missing from the OWGR top 5 is Hideki Matsuyama who heads to East Lake in 7th.
Will the trend continue?
The last time the winner of the Tour Championship didn't win the FedEx Cup was when Phil Mickelson won in 2009 but Tiger Woods snagged the FedEx Cup title.
Nobody leaves unhappy
By making it to East Lake, every player has guaranteed themselves a spot in all majors and WGC events for 2017-2018. They also have earned themselves a nice payday in Atlanta. If a player finishes dead last at East Lake and in the FedEx Cup he will still walk away $315,000 richer. I am speculating that this is a good week for the NetJets sales team.
It's a small field with plenty of course history to sort through, here's who Paulie likes at East Lake.
The PGA Tour made a big announcement this week with its plans to roll out an integrity program in the 2017-2018 season. Per the PGA Tour’s press releast the program is being put in place “To maintain integrity and prevent and mitigate betting-related corruption in PGA TOUR competitions – ensuring competitions always reflect, and appear to reflect, the best efforts of the players, while protecting the welfare of the players and others involved with the PGA TOUR – through clear policies and regulations, ongoing education and training, and effective and consistent monitoring and enforcement functions.”
Certainly the rise of Draftkings and other online betting websites has led to this rule. What it means is no gambling for Tour players or Tour employees....there goes the PGA Tour HQ fantasy league.
Some Strong, Herb
The Web.com Tour Finals rolls on to Cleveland and Canterbury Country Club. The Herbert Strong design will host the third of four Finals events with players vying for spots on the PGA Tour. Through two events, six of the 25 spots are locked up and a handful of players will lock up their place with a made cut this week. Canterbury will test players with their challenging green complexes and recently redone bunkering. The bunkering along with a significant tree management program has enhanced the golden age design.
Portugal. The Masters
The European Tour heads to Portugal for the Portugal Masters. Headlining the field is Thomas Pieters and defending champion Padraig Harrington. The finale of the FedEx Cup marks the start of the final stretch of the European Tour. Players will look to jockey their way up the Race to Dubai Standings in order to make a lengthy postseason run or to keep their card.
Golf Course Architecture 101 - Drainage & Construction
Wrapping up the Golf Course Architecture 101 series is the most important aspect of design, drainage and construction. It covers the different types of drainage, construction methods and how soil types impact a course. Read the article here or check out the entire 5 part series here.
Rory McIlroy Podcast - Part II
In Part II of our conversation with Rory McIlroy, we touch on his caddie situation, handling fame, fashion regrets, how much he plays for in his recreational rounds, who he would trade places with if he could, what he's watching on Netflix, and a lot more. This was one of the most fun hours in NLU podcast history, and it was really cool to see Rory open up and let it loose. Listen on the NLU Website, iTunes or Stitcher.