CARMEL, Ind. – The final round of the BMW Championship might be the only time all year that the most compelling action isn’t at the top of the leaderboard.
Brace yourselves, because there’s a lot to keep tabs on Sunday at Crooked Stick.
Sure, there’s the actual tournament, where Dustin Johnson surged to a three-shot lead after four birdies in his last five holes Saturday. But even tighter races are playing out for the Ryder Cup captain’s picks, as well as the top five and top 30 in the FedEx Cup.
U.S. captain Davis Love III will make three of his four wildcard picks on Monday morning. Phil Mickelson suggested last week that the picks were “fairly obvious,” but that’s news to just about everybody else.
Matt Kuchar seems the most logical choice, with an Olympic bronze medal and nine top-10s this season. (He is also tied for fifth through three rounds here at the BMW.) But after that, you can make a case for – and just as easily against – as many as a dozen other Americans.
J.B. Holmes is making the strongest statement, likely moving into position to secure a spot with his strong play at Crooked Stick. Ranked 10th in Ryder Cup points, he now has shot three consecutive rounds in the 60s and is in solo third, four shots behind Johnson.
“Winning takes care of a lot of things,” Holmes said. “I’m going to go out there, play the best I can and let things happen as they may.”
There aren’t many other standout contenders.
Rickie Fowler has had three chances to win this season, most recently at the Barclays. But he’s projected on the FedEx Cup bubble, No. 30, after another pedestrian showing.
Bubba Watson is ranked seventh in the world, but he doesn’t have a top-10 on Tour in six months. Jim Furyk has the most losses in Ryder Cup history (20) and, because of a wrist injury earlier this year, didn’t even reach the third leg of the playoffs.
Hoping to add the hottest player heading into the biennial matches, Love will make his final selection on Sept. 25, after the Tour Championship and five days before the first tee shot is struck at Hazeltine. It’s possible that no other American will step forward before then, leaving Love to sort through a handful of unimpressive candidates.
The race for the top 30 might be even more unpredictable.
Every player in the 69-man field began the week with a mathematical chance to advance to the Tour Championship, but the picture has focused only slightly after three days.
According to the projections, Fowler trails No. 29 Daniel Berger by one FedEx point. Jason Kokrak is the odd man out, 69 points behind, but the player stinging most Saturday night should be Roberto Castro. He shared the halfway lead with Johnson and was projected to rocket to sixth; after a no-birdie 74, he is projected at 32nd.
“I still have a very obvious objective,” Castro said, “which is to play really well and try to win the tournament or come close.”
Every year, the final round of the BMW offers thrills and spills in equal measure as players jockey for position. Last year, Harris English and Justin Thomas swapped top-30 positions when they were in the scoring trailer. It’s usually that close.
Not that the players usually keep an eye on all of the fluctuations, mind you.
“It changes so much it’s just really hard to watch,” Berger said. “You can’t really pay attention to it.”
Even the top five players have something to play for Sunday. Finishing the event in that position would allow them to – all together now – control their own destiny at East Lake. Those in the top five can take the $10 million prize if they win the season finale.
Adam Scott, who already has a pair of top-4 finishes in the playoffs, is currently projected to finish fourth in points, while Paul Casey, who will be in the final group Sunday with Johnson, is fifth. Just outside are Rory McIlroy (T-35) and Jordan Spieth (T-9), respectively.
“You would be pretty unlucky if you were sixth and won East Lake and didn’t win the FedEx Cup, but it’s possible,” Scott said. “So if you rule out one variable, that’s a good thing. I would like to stay in the top five, and good play takes care of that.”
Seems that's the proper mindset for this day, because it’ll also take care of the BMW, Ryder Cup decision and top-30 race, too.