FedEx playoffs continue with long-hitter's paradise at Crooked Stick

FedEx playoffs continue with long-hitter’s paradise at Crooked Stick

Crooked Stick will favor long hitters, like last week's winner, Rory McIlroy.
Stan Badz/Getty Images

Dicky Pride, the 70th and last player to get into the field at this week’s BMW Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., has already won the FedEx — the 1994 FedEx St. Jude Classic, his only Tour victory. The 43-year-old came into 2012 with almost no status on Tour. He should be in Boise right now, scoping out Hillcrest Country Club, home of next week’s Tour event.

Instead, Pride is in his wife Kim’s home state, still playing for mega-millions. Like his fellow fringe-dweller Charley Hoffman (69th, despite an epic collapse in the final round at the Deutsche Bank), Pride is a FedEx cockroach: You just can’t kill him. He needs a third-place finish or better to advance to the 30-man Tour Championship in two weeks, but forgive him if he feels like he’s already won.

“It's very exciting to be in the top 70 coming from where I started at the beginning of the year, no exempt status and no real goals on this tour,” Pride said. “It was more, 'What am I going to do on the'”

Pride birdied his last two holes at TPC Boston on Monday, and advanced to Crooked Stick when John Merrick’s eagle chip stopped inches short of the 18th hole. That’s a far cry from what anybody expected of Pride in 2012, but stories like his are a big part of what makes the FedEx Cup interesting.

With his past-champion status Pride got into the Mayakoba Golf Classic, a PGA Tour event in Mexico that’s played the same week as the big money, WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Pride tied for fifth, which got him into the next week’s Honda Classic in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he tied for seventh. He says he “kind of snowballed it” from there, and in May he finished second at the HP Byron Nelson Classic. A year after making just eight Tour starts and failing to get through Q school, Pride, a 1991 U.S. Amateur semifinalist, has made $1.24 million.

“I started off with a top 10 in México, and to roll that over into being in the top 70 is pretty exciting, and I'm really proud of it,” Pride said.

Jeff Overton, who played for Indiana and lives in Bloomington, also played his way into the BMW, despite his game all but disappearing since he made so much noise (“Boom, baby!”) at the 2010 Ryder Cup. Overton started the Deutsche Bank at 83rd in the FedEx Cup standings, needing to finish 37th or better in Boston to move on. Instead, he shot an opening-round 64 in Boston, and hung on with a final-round 68 to tie for seventh place and move up to 40th in FEC points.

“I never had so much energy,” Overton said of Boston, where he played the final round with Phil Mickelson (66, T4), another long hitter who could thrive at Crooked Stick. “I don't know if it's the playoffs or just because [the BMW Championship] is here, or a combination. But I was so nervous, and there was so much energy going on in my system because I knew I wanted to make it back here. The last thing I wanted to do was to be sitting down there in Bloomington at my house watching this thing on TV. I knew that would have been just dreadful.”

Other than Pride, Hoffman is perhaps the least likely playoff survivor. He was pretty sure he’d blown his chances with a back-nine 42 at TPC Boston, a swan dive that included a quadruple bogey, but somehow a spent Hoffman wiggled in his par putt on 18 to shoot 76 and tie for 26th place. That dropped him only 19 spots to 69th in FEC points, knocking out rookie Jonas Blixt.

“Nerves? There were no nerves,” Hoffman said, “because they were all fried at that point.”

Overton: Look for Daly-like player to clobber Crooked Stick
Players haven’t had long to figure out 7,516-yard, par-72 Crooked Stick (the Deutsche Bank finished on Monday), but Overton isn’t too worried.

“What makes the players so good is their ability to adapt so quickly and to walk into a new place, see it and know how to shoot low on it,” he said. “And that's pretty much what makes our Tour, why people are out here.”

As for who might do well on the relatively unknown course, where its famed architect, Pete Dye, lives and walks his dog every morning, Overton said you have to look to the ’91 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick, won by Long John Daly.

“I know they're going to move a couple of the par 5 tee boxes back from what they usually play,” Overton said, “and I really think a longer player, just like when John Daly won, I think a longer guy is going to have a big advantage out here. You have four par 5s, and essentially like Dustin [Johnson] and Bubba [Watson] I know can get to all four of them without a doubt. They might even be able to hit in the rough on a couple of them and still hit it on the green. It's going to require you to go low on those holes.”

Johnson is coming off back-to-back top-five finishes in New York and Boston, and on Tuesday he was selected as a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup. Watson missed the cut in his last start, in Boston. Others to keep an eye on: a resurgent Mickelson, a confident Tiger Woods, FedEx-leading Rory McIlroy (aiming for his fourth PGA Tour victory this season), and Louis Oosthuizen.

Mahan trying to avoid post-Ryder snub letdown
A clean-shaven Rickie Fowler didn’t sound too disappointed to have been left off the U.S. Ryder Cup team when he met the media Tuesday. He simply hadn’t played well enough, and didn’t really think he’d get a captain’s pick.

Not so for Hunter Mahan, who would have finished ninth on the Ryder Cup points list had the points race been extended through the Deutsche Bank, and who has spoken openly about wanting to avenge his painful singles loss to Graeme McDowell at Celtic Manor in 2010. Alas, U.S. captain Davis Love III didn’t call Mahan’s name with any of his four captain’s picks Tuesday morning — the biggest surprise of the week — and now Mahan has to find a way to regroup.

“I've been part of the last five teams [two Ryder Cups and three Presidents Cups], so it hurts not to be a part of it, and it feels a little empty right now,” Mahan said. “It's tough because I've still got two events to play, and they don't feel quite as important as I want them to be right now. So I have to work on that this week, and that's my goal this week is to find that kind of motivation right now.”

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