A continuing story of perseverance, a developing story of dubiousness, a unique story of benevolence.
This week's edition of the Weekly 18 has all of 'em, starting with a story that almost never happened.
1. Even before his title contention at the Dell Technologies Championship two weeks ago and his victory at the BMW Championship on Sunday, the scuttlebutt within golf circles was that Marc Leishman just might be the world's most underrated player. In fact, it's a notion that has been suggested so much in recent weeks that it might be enough to insist he isn't underrated anymore. Whatever the case, this much we know: He's really good. With one event left in the season, Leishman owns two wins, seven top-10s, 15 top-25s and made the cut at all four majors. He's not flashy. He doesn't wow crowds with massive drives or incredible putting performances. He's just really good -- and that's enough.
2. The story has been told before. It has been told so much, in fact, that it might not still have the impact that it should. But the story of Audrey Leishman's health battle, one which left her in a coma two years ago with a 5 percent chance of living, is worth telling again. I wrote about it when he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational back in March and since then, the couple has welcomed a third child to the family. Here's the operative quote from Leishman: "I was ready to give it away. If Audrey had passed away, I was going to be a dad and that was it. It didn't cross my mind to keep playing golf." All of which makes his current success even more substantial.
3. One of the best perks of reaching the Tour Championship -- you know, other than all those extra greenbacks lining your pockets, even for a last-place finish -- is that it comes with invitations into each of the next year's first three major championships. (The PGA Championship isn't always a given, solely based on this qualification.) There's usually one player who earns that golden ticket, one guy who clinches a first trip down Magnolia Lane based on his play during the first three playoff events. This year, that player is Tony Finau. He has never competed in the Masters, and while that may have seemed like a foregone conclusion, he can now start making plans. "[It] means everything," Finau said. "The four majors, four WGCs. To have those locked in next year would be huge. You play to play against the best players in the world and get in those fields."
4. As noted on the telecast as he finished Sunday, this was the first tournament in which Jason Day posted four rounds under par since May, when he lost in a playoff at the Byron Nelson. It was an important one, too. Day is trying to salvage something at the end of what has been a trying season, both on and off the golf course. Prior to this past week, he announced that longtime caddie Colin Swatton wouldn't be on the bag, leading to speculation that he was grasping for an answer that might not exist. Instead, he finished in fourth place -- and now has one more chance at that elusive victory before the season is over.
5. Day won a brand-new BMW M760i for his hole-in-one at the 17th hole on Friday afternoon. He gave it right back to the Evans Scholars Foundation, which helps fund the educations of young caddies, and BMW tossed in an extra $100,000, as well. "I realized that someone came in and said they're giving $100,000 to the Evans Scholars Foundation," Day said. "I'm like, that goes toward helping someone go through college. I talked to my agent about it, 'Can we do that with the car?'" Yes, he can. Classy move.
6. Caddies matter, I wholeheartedly believe that. Years ago, I asked PGA Tour pros to quantify the impact of a strong looper on their performance. The guesses -- and yes, they were all just guesses -- ranged from a full stroke per round to just one stroke per tournament. As if that alone isn't a big enough variable, consider this: A "good caddie" can't be judged solely on past experience. In other words, the guy who helps one player on the bag might not be right for another. As if to only support that point, five of the world's top-10 players currently employ caddies who didn't previously serve as a professional in that role for somebody else. Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler employ men who are, respectively, a brother, a teacher, a friend, a friend and a fellow pro golfer. Yes, a good caddie can have a positive impact on a player's performance. But there's no singular blueprint as to what a "good caddie" really is.
7. Patrick Cantlay has always been a can't-miss kid. He was all-everything as an amateur, nearly posting a 59 at the Travelers Championship when he was just 19. Since then, he has suffered through some health issues and personal setbacks, but the talent has never left. This year, playing a limited schedule to protect a balky back, Cantlay made the cut in all dozen tournaments he has played, including a second-place finish in Tampa, third place at Hilton Head and results of 10th, 13th and ninth in the first three playoff events. With a final-hole two-putt birdie on Sunday, he not only squeezed into the Tour Championship field, like Finau, he'll be able to cherry-pick a schedule next year that includes competing in each of the first three majors. Expect to see his name on a lot more leaderboards when he does.
8. Strange stat of the week: With Rory McIlroy failing to reach the Tour Championship, this makes eight of the 10 FedEx Cup champions who have failed to reach the playoff finale one year later. The only two who have returned? Brandt Snedeker in 2013 and Jordan Spieth three years later.
9. The changes have yet to be announced, but we can now readily assume that alterations to the FedEx Cup schedule will happen for the 2019 season. It's possible there will only be three playoff events and likely that they'll end on or before Labor Day, offering more of an offseason for both players and fans. Here's one more potential change that has been floated: Starting in two years, the Tour Championship might be played in the regular 30-man field from Wednesday through Saturday, with a shortened field -- maybe a half-dozen players -- competing for an additional winner-take-all prize on Sunday afternoon. I'll write more about this in a piece early this coming week, but it could be the perfect way to appease both players and fans.
10. First things first: The biggest story from this week's Evian Championship -- the LPGA's fifth major chronologically, if not also in respectability -- was indeed the champion. Anna Nordqvist won her first major in 2009, but looked like she might claim a second at last year's U.S. Women's Open, until a delayed ruling cost her 2 strokes in the final round. Consider this victory a healthy dose of karma, as Nordqvist got into the clubhouse, held onto a share of the lead, then survived a playoff with Brittany Altomare to clinch the title with a bogey on the sleet-splattered first extra hole.
11. Speaking of karma, it can often be a you-know-what. After the literally and figurative mess that rained down upon the Evian earlier in the week, perhaps we should've expected it to end in a playoff on the long, difficult-to-reach par-4 18th hole while it was sleeting and the grounds crew was squeegeeing the final green. But, hey, it could have been worse: If the playoff had continued, the second extra hole would've been played on the same 18th hole, followed by the third extra hole on -- you guessed it -- the 18th again.
12. Now let's get to that bigger controversy. On Thursday morning, with most players in the early wave already on the course in treacherous conditions, play was suspended and quickly postponed for the remainder of the day. Rather than continue playing from that point on Friday, officials invoked a long-standing rule to wipe out all scores and begin from scratch with the event relegated to 54 holes. Strictly by the book, it was a legal move by LPGA/LET standards, but it's certainly a bad look -- especially for a tourney that was only deemed a major in 2013.
13. The reason officials decided to scrap those initials scores? It was considered an equality issue -- or more to the point, an inequality issue, since nearly half the players had to compete in poor conditions while the rest wouldn't start their rounds until a glorious, calm Friday morning. Well, this just in: Golf isn't fair. It's not supposed to be. As many players rightly insisted after the decision, this is an outdoor sport. Getting the right side of the draw or the luck of the land is an integral part of the game. This is also a dangerous precedent for the LPGA. The next time bad weather forces an early-Thursday suspension, those players on the bottom of the board will be able to cite this decision as rationale for a similar do-over.
14. The story of this decision would have -- or at least could have -- ended as Thursday faded into Friday, except for a big asterisk. That would be the one attached to Sung Hyun Park's opening-round 8-under 63. The world's third-ranked player initially started with a quadruple-bogey and triple-bogey, standing at 6-over when the suspension began. Good for Park in taking advantage of a second chance, but the 14-shot swing only shined a greater spotlight on the decision makers.
15. Let's end the Evian talk on a positive note. Ai Miyazato played her final LPGA round on Sunday, finishing while surrounded by many of her fellow professionals who'd come to the 18th hole to greet her -- and by Gary Player, who brought a bouquet of flowers. The final LPGA win total for Miyazato rests at nine, though perhaps the most surprising thing about her illustrious career is that despite 10 top-10 finishes at majors, she never won any of them. However, ask anyone associated with the LPGA and they'll maintain her biggest impact was her personality and demeanor, that ever-present smile easily the lasting image of her career.
16. David Skinns is 35 years old. He has never owned a PGA Tour card. In fact, he's only played in three PGA Tour events, making the cut in one, the 2014 Puerto Rico Open, for which he earned a whopping $21,306. This week, though, he was so close he could almost taste it. Skinns needed a top-five finish at the Boise Open -- the second event of the Web.com Tour Finals -- to clinch that long-elusive card. With rounds of 69-66, he was T-9 at the midway point ... when his wife went into labor with their second child. Skinns promptly withdrew from the tournament and returned home to Georgia for the birth.
17. Maybe that sounds like an easy decision to some people. Family comes first, we always say. And so when your family needs you -- especially when that family is expanding -- you're supposed to drop everything and be with them. And yet, it's also easy to see it from the other side. If Skinns believed the best way to provide for his family was to clinch his PGA Tour card and play for greater riches over the next 12 months, he couldn't really be faulted for that decision, either. Instead, he chose to withdraw, with everything on the line for his career. What a commendable move, one that deserves all the respect he'll receive.
18. There are plenty of players to root for at the Web Finals. The journeymen, the dreamers, the come-backers -- all of them worthy of support. But I'm not sure any of 'em will have more of it from the masses during the final two events than Skinns.