September 10, 2014 - 9:17am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Rickie Fowler
USA Today Sports Images
The only thing Rickie Fowler hasn't done this year is win. Does that change this week at East Lake?

The PGA Tour season finale -- the Tour Championship -- tees off Thursday at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

The top 29 players on the FedExCup points list (it would be 30, but Dustin Johnson is not playing) will be battling not only for the tournament, but for the $10 million prize that comes along with winning the FedExCup.

Who will be hoisting the hardware come Sunday evening? Here are five players we suggest you keep a close eye on.

RELATED: Tour Championship tee times | FedExCup volatility | September reader photos

5. Chris Kirk
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Won the McGladrey Classic and the Deutsche Bank Championship
Reason to watch: Kirk is in the driver's seat this week, entering the Tour Championship in the No. 1 spot on the FedExCup points list. In case you hadn't heard, folks in Atlanta are crazy about their Georgia Bulldogs... and Kirk is a Georgia Bulldog. The crowd will be pulling for him and he might just have a big enough chip on his shoulder about missing out on a Ryder Cup Captain's Pick to pull through this week.

4. Billy Horschel
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Won the BMW Championship Championship
Reason to watch: Talk about resilience. Less than a week removed from a shot that cost him a chance to win the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston, Horschel bounced back to win the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills on Sunday. Until recently, it had been a rather forgettable season for the Florida Gator. Now, it's looking unforgettable. It's incredible what a difference a couple of good weeks at the right time can make on the PGA Tour.

3. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Won the Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship
Reason to watch: There's no denying the fact that McIlory has been the hottest player on the planet these last couple of months. A win at the Tour Championship would be the cherry on top for a spectacular season. Surely that's the way McIlroy would like to cap it off. He tied for eighth last week despite having a four-putt twice in two days on the same hole. Look for him to bounce back at East Lake. Like everyone else, McIlroy has got to be drained from all the competitive rounds lately, but this is it -- and then he has a little break before the Ryder Cup.

2. Jim Furyk
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Second at the Wells Fargo Championship, Players Championship and RBC Canadian Open
Reason to watch: The only way Furyk's season could possibly be any better is with a victory. That's the only thing missing. In 20 starts, he hasn't missed a cut. Ten of those have yielded top-10 finishes and 17 have resulted in top-25 finishes. That's stout. Furyk, who won the Tour Championship and the FedExCup in 2010, enters this week after a tie for fourth at Cherry Hills.

1. Rickie Fowler
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
T2 at the U.S. Open and Open Championship
Reason to watch: Six times in his last seven starts, Fowler has finished among the top 10, including a tie for fourth last week at the BMW Championship. Like Furyk, something's got to give for Fowler. He continually puts himself in a position to win. Eventually it's got to happen, right? 

2014 Tour Championship | Five players to watch
September 10, 2014 - 8:17am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Arnold Palmer
PGA Media Archive
Today, Arnold Palmer turns 85 years old. If you've ever been lucky enough to meet the King, chances are you have a memorable story -- like our T.J. Auclair.

Today marks the 85th birthday of one of the most treasured professional athletes the world has ever known -- "The King," Mr. Arnold Palmer.

A seven-time major champion with 62 PGA Tour victories (good for fifth all time), there may be no other superstar more approachable, friendly and welcoming than Palmer. There will never be another Arnold Palmer.

Throughout his life, Palmer has followed a simple rule: treat others the way you'd like to be treated. When he greets fans, he looks them in the eyes. His handshake is firm. And his signature? Perfect penmanship so there's no doubt who you got it from.

RELATED: Graduation gift from the King | A special call from Arnie | Arnie Q&A

If you've been around professional golf long enough, chances are you have an Arnold Palmer story. I've been lucky enough to have a few personal encounters with the King. My favorite, however, came early in the week at the 2009 Masters.

During the practice rounds, I would take a stroll around the grounds to snap photos. After one such stroll, I walked back through the clubhouse with a fellow writer. It's certainly not a "thing" when you're a writer to ask a player to stop and take a picture with you.

However, after walking through the Augusta National clubhouse, I noticed Mr. Palmer walking in -- wearing his green jacket. I immediately turned to my friend and said, "I know we shouldn't, but how can we not ask the King to take a picture with us? He's wearing his green jacket!"

I excitedly approached Palmer and said hello. He looked right at me, smiled, extended his hand and said hello right back. When I asked, he said he'd be more than happy to take a picture. So we did.

Months later, I had the photo blown up into a 16x20. At the urging of another friend, I wrote a letter to Palmer's longtime assistant, Doc Giffin, at Bay Hill and sent along the photo. I said, "I've never asked for an autograph while on the job, but this photo is special to me. Would it be possible to have Mr. Palmer sign it?"

This was in November of 2009. Giffin got right back to me and said it would be no problem at all. Months went by and -- in all honesty -- I had forgotten I'd even sent the photo down to Bay Hill.

Then, on Monday, March 15, 2010 -- my 30th birthday -- a surprise package arrived in the mail. It was the photo with Palmer's perfectly legible signature. The photo hangs right above the desk we're I'm writing this. I have a lot of treasured golf-related items I've collected through the years, but nothing tops this photo with Palmer.

MORE: When I think Arnold Palmer, I think... | Palmer & Kate Upton | Special gift to GMac

Why?

Well, aside from the fact that he's the King, Palmer was always my great, great Uncle Manny's favorite player. "Uncle" as we called him, taught my dad, my brother and me how to play golf. Through junior high and high school, I played golf with Uncle every day in the summers... even well into his 80s.

He passed away in 2003, a little more than a month shy of his 88th birthday. Every time I look at this photo with Palmer, it reminds me of all the unbelievable times I had on the course with Uncle, my dad and my brother. For a long time, my dream foursome also happened to be my daily foursome.

And over those cherished rounds, we heard a lot about Arnold Palmer.

I wish Uncle could have seen this picture. He'd love it.

Happy 85th birthday, Mr. Palmer. 

Happy 85th birthday, Arnold Palmer
Minjee Lee and Matthew Pavlick
YouTube
Minjee Lee turned professional in a fun video in which she takes on Australian Rules Football star Matthew Pavlick.
A little less than a year ago, 16-year-old Lydia Ko announced her decision to turn professional a very fun video in which she played a lighthearted round with one of her heroes and friends, New Zealand rugby star Izzy Dagg.
 
And now comes golf's latest southern hemisphere superstar-to-be – 18-year-old Minjee Lee of Australia. And like Ko, she revealed her intentions in a fun video in which she turns professional so she can accept her winnings from some on-course bets with Matthew Pavlick, captain of the Fremantle Dockers team in the Australian Football League.
 
The Perth native – her parents moved to Australia from South Korea about 20 years ago – took up golf at the age of 10. She has grown up at the Royal Fremantle Golf Club, and spent the last four years in the High Performance program of Golf Australia, which provides comprehensive athletic training for promising young players.
 
She made her first international impact in the summer of 2012, when she became the first Australian to win the U.S. Junior Girls' Championship. Since then, she has won back-to-back Australian Women's Amateur Championships as well as a professional tournament Down Under.
 
She tied for 24th at the 2014 Kraft Nabisco Championship – her first start in a major – last spring, then tied for 22nd at the U.S. Women's Open over the summer. Just last week, she led her three-member team to victory in the Women's World Amateur Team Championship in Japan, and heads into the professional ranks as the world's No. 1-ranked female amateur.
 
"I'm excited about making the move to the pro ranks and everything that comes with that," she said. "Finishing my amateur career as the world No. 1 is a real honor."
 
Lee will make her professional debut this week at the Evian Championship in France, the LPGA Tour's newest major. There's no official word yet on her schedule going forward, but she has signed with IMG and indications are that she will try her luck at LPGA Tour Q-School later this year.
 
 
Minjee Lee follows Lydia Ko's lead into pro ranks
Joost Luiten and Miguel Angel Jimenez
KLM Airlines (left) and Joost Luiten (right) via Twitter
Miguel Angel Jimenez took a close look at Joost Luiten's in-flight putting stroke before the two players faced off in a lighthearted rematch of their 2013 duel in the KLM Open.
Last year's KLM Open in Holland went down as one of the most popular editions in the tournament's history as Joost Luiten edged Miguel Angel Jimenez in sudden death to become its first Dutch winner in a decade.
 
On Monday, Luiten and Jimenez held a rematch, though it was significantly more low-key and lighthearted than their final-round battle a year ago. The two convened at Kennemer Golf and Country Club, began their day with Jimenez's now-famous stretching routine and even took a few pre-match selfies. They then played seven holes, with Jimenez coming out on top this time – though both players pulled fans out of the enthusiastic gallery to take their final few putts.
 
"The match today was very nice and it showed the people watching that golf can be fun," Jimenez told EuropeanTour.com. "Today there were some jokes and we put the smiles on people's faces again."
 
 
Luiten agreed with Jimenez's take on the day.
 
"It was good fun. There were a lot of people there for a Monday and we both enjoyed playing in front of them. It's always good to show people what we do," he said. "I tried some of Miguel's stretching, too, although it's more like dancing. Maybe next time I won't do that on the first tee."
 
Before their on-course showdown, Luiten and Jimenez also participated in KLM's Champions' Flight, with Luiten flying to Geneva, Switzerland, to pick up Jimenez and the other players coming in from the Omega European Masters to Amsterdam. And while they were in the air, Luiten and Jimenez even staged a little putt-off.
 
Neither Luiten nor Jimenez made the European Ryder Cup team this go-round, but Jimenez – who has played on four teams – will serve as a vice captain later this month in Scotland.  
 
"Joost is 28 years old and I played my first Ryder Cup at 35 years old, so he has plenty of time," said Jimenez, who is now 50. "He has a good character and I think he will definitely play in the Ryder Cup."
 
Miguel Angel Jimenez and Joost Luiten battle in the air and on the land
TPC Sawgrass
TPC Sawgrass
TPC Sawgrass's time-lapse video shows sunset at the club.

The worst thing about a greenskeeper's job? It makes for a very long day, especially in the summer: On the course before dawn, leave after dusk. It's a hot, sweaty, dirty, hands-on occupation.

The best thing about a greenskeeper's job? The views, especially if you work at someplace like TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Just to prove their point, the folks at the course posted a time-lapse video, showing what happens there during a typical summer day, from the time the carts get rolled into place until the time the lights start to come on inside the clubhouse.

 

 

Two thoughts.

One, the geese that photobomb the shot around the 1:19 mark are awesome.

Two, it wouldn't have been a real Northeast Florida summer afternoon without massive black clouds rolling in and a daily thunderstorm.

Stunning time-lapse video of a day at TPC Sawgrass
September 8, 2014 - 11:29am
mark.aumann's picture
Sunday Night Football guests
Rickie Fowler/Twitter
Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Graeme McDowell were some of those in attendance Sunday night at the NFL opener in Denver.

The Ryder Cup competition is now less than three weeks away, and a few members of both squads got their competitive juices flowing at Denver's Mile High Stadium on Sunday evening, watching the Denver Broncos host the Indianapolis Colts.

The content came just an hour or so after the final round of the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills, so players like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Graeme McDowell and Bubba Watson were on the hand for the game.

Fowler finished tied for fourth at the BMW, and was definitely hanging out with some familiar faces afterward:

 

 

For the second consecutive day, McIlroy four-putted the 12th hole at Cherry Hills, but that didn't keep him from enjoying one of the more unusual distinctions when it comes to "football." He was at Manchester United's Premier League opener -- the sport Americans refer to as "soccer" -- on one side of the pond last month, and now watched Peyton Manning pick apart the Colts defense in both teams' NFL opener.

It appears Bubba Watson was able to get to the stadium in time for the pre-game festivities, as evidenced by this tweet:

 

 

Watson might be more inclined to grab a seat at the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, but he'd definitely be sitting on the opposite side of the stadium from the guy who won Sunday. Billy Horschel was dressed in orange and blue all weekend, but not because he was trying to influence local fans. 

It's one of them Florida-Georgia things.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the guys will have the same opportunity to play sports hooky at the Tour Championship at Atlanta's East Lake. Looking at the weekend calendar, on Sunday, the Braves are in Texas to play the Rangers and the Falcons are at Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. On Saturday, Georgia's at South Carolina and Georgia Tech's home against Georgia Southern, but that game has a noon ET start. 

On one hand, that's too bad. On the other, golf could be the only game in town.

Ryder Cup stars ready for some football