Marc Leishman stays hot, the Tour Championship field takes shape, the Evian becomes a farce and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
Forty-six events down, just one more to go, and so much is still up for grabs.
The red-hot Leishman crashed the top 5 party, but the other four leading contenders for the FedExCup all are ranked inside the top 5 in the Official World Ranking. The system has worked, for now.
As the playoff No. 1, Jordan Spieth has the most mathematical scenarios working in his favor, and a victory this week at the Tour Championship could steal some Player of the Year votes from his longtime friend and rival Justin Thomas. The rest of the top 5 includes Dustin Johnson, who has won four times, including a playoff event, and Jon Rahm, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise in just 15 months as a pro.
East Lake seemingly always delivers high drama, no matter the protagonists.
Who rises to the occasion this year?
1. A week after kicking away the title at TPC Boston, Leishman put on an absolute clinic at the BMW Championship.
He became just the second wire-to-wire winner this season. He made 29 birdies. And his 23-under total tied a tournament record.
“It’s just nice to put four good rounds on the board in a really big event,” he said. “Backing up what happened last week was probably the most satisfying thing for me.”
2. Does this run by Leishman seem familiar?
It should recall Billy Horschel’s torrid stretch that bagged him the FedExCup title in 2014. That year, Horschel lost a heartbreaker in Boston (finished T-2), then ripped off wins at the BMW Championship and Tour Championship.
All Leish has done in the postseason is take the lead late in Boston (ultimately finishing third) and then win the BMW. He doesn’t have a great track record at East Lake – he tied for 28th (out of 30 players) in his lone appearance there, in 2009 – but his recent form suggests it might not matter.
3. The all-important top 5 is set. If any of those players win the Tour Championship, they also take the FedExCup.
1. Jordan Spieth
2. Justin Thomas
3. Dustin Johnson
4. Marc Leishman
5. Jon Rahm
Rickie Fowler had a chance to grab the fifth and final spot with a birdie on the 72nd hole, but his driver off the deck sailed left of the green, leaving him an awkward pitch from a thick lie. He couldn’t get up-and-down and settled for par.
4. A closing 65 allowed Spieth to hold onto the No. 1 spot and kept alive his hopes of sweeping both the season-long title and Player of the Year honors.
Personally, this scribe would vote for Spieth over Thomas if the Golden Child wins the Tour Championship and FedExCup, but here’s thinking that his peers might not.
Spieth said this Sunday afternoon: “It would make it a tough call for other people if I were to win and win the FedExCup. You start looking at depth of the years and how they compare. But the major and five wins, if he doesn’t win next week, it’s still tough not to give the trophy to him.”
5. Of the players who moved inside the top 30 after the BMW Championship, Patrick Cantlay was the most inspiring. He made a 10-footer on the final green to earn his spot.
In February, your trusty correspondent filed this story on the former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, who had fallen on hard times, injuring his back and losing his best friend and caddie in a hit-and-run accident.
In limited action this year, he played well enough to crack the top 30 in the standings – just the third player of the FedExCup era to qualify for the Tour Championship with a dozen or fewer starts.
6. Jason Dufner claimed the 30th and final spot by 0.72 points over Louis Oosthuizen – or less than a shot over the course of an entire season.
The other notables missing out on the Tour Championship were Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson, Bill Haas, Charles Howell III, Charl Schwartzel, Zach Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Ian Poulter.
Oh, and this guy ...
7. Rory McIlroy’s tie for 58th ended a disappointing Tour season and continued an interesting trend.
Only two FedExCup champions have returned to East Lake the following year: Brandt Snedeker (2013) and Spieth (2015).
Dogged by a rib injury all year, McIlroy doesn’t have a win anywhere in a year. Though he’ll play twice more in Europe, he had six top-10s and eight top-25s in 14 starts.
8. Keep an eye on Justin Rose for the FedExCup. His tie for second at the BMW was his third consecutive top-10 in the playoffs, and he moved to No. 8 in the standings. Now he heads to East Lake, where he has four top-6 finishes in a row. Hmm …
9. Chalk up a big loss for Mike Whan.
On Thursday, the LPGA commissioner not only scrubbed first-round scores at the Evian Championship, but he also turned the fifth and final major of the year into a 54-hole affair. Remember: This move was made on Thursday, and it was made, in part, because of a poor Sunday forecast. At the time, it seemed woefully premature. (Let’s just see how the rest of the week goes, no?) By Sunday afternoon, it was indeed horribly miscalculated.
Weather was not an issue Sunday – at least not until rain (and hail) began to fall as the final group made its way up 18, a problem that could have been solved by not having the first group go off at 9:22 a.m. local time. They easily could have played 36 Saturday. Heck, with no tournament next week, they could have played the final 18 on Monday or Tuesday. But Whan, three days too early, decided to make an LPGA major 54 holes for the just the second time in 20 years, diminishing the credibility of the event.
A major season that began with a rules controversy ended with poor decision-making from its top officials. Shame.
10. Still, a tip of the cap to Anna Nordqvist, who prevailed with a bogey on the first playoff hole to put away Brittany Altomare.
Nordqvist, who has struggled with mononucleosis over the past few months, shot bookend 66s (and played an 11-hole stretch in 8 under Sunday) and holed a clutch 5-footer on the first extra hole in some of the worst conditions you could ever imagine: cold, rain, hail, wind.
It’s her second major title (2009 Women's PGA), and it was sweet redemption for the close call at last year’s Women’s Open, when she was penalized for moving a few grains of sand in her backswing.
11. Tournament officials have taken some of the excitement out of the event after converting Evian Resort's par-5 18th hole into a difficult par 4.
Lydia Ko and Moriya Jutanugarn came to the final hole needing a par to get into the playoff, but each player made bogey.
Ko missed a 12-foot slider, while Jutanugarn sailed the green with her wedge shot. The playoff was brutal to watch, too.
Ko now has gone 29 starts since her last victory. The player who was supposed to challenge her, Ariya Jutanugarn, has missed the cut or withdrawn from seven of her last eight events.
12. The Evian was the final LPGA start for Ai Miyazato, one of the tour’s most popular players who announced earlier this year that she was stepping away because of a lack of motivation, burned out after more than a decade in the spotlight.
One of Japan’s biggest sports stars, Miyazato hasn’t yet decided how she’ll spend retirement but said that she has no reservations about her decision. She finishes her career with 15 wins on the JLPGA and nine on the LPGA.
Judging by the reaction among her peers, she will be missed.
13. Some other quick hits ...
• At the Boise Open, it was Alex Cejka, Tyler Duncan and Jonathan Randolph who clinched their cards for next season by virtue of their good play. Chesson Hadley, who had already secured his status for next season, earned the title.
• The top 5 players on the Mackenzie Tour (Canadian) money list earn Web.com Tour cards for next season. For college golf fans, that group includes some familiar names: Kramer Hickok, Robby Shelton and Rico Hoey, the latter of whom won the season finale Sunday. Lee McCoy was No. 6.
• The good times continue to roll for the U.S. Walker Cup team. Oregon’s Norman Xiong and Wake Forest’s Will Zalatoris, who teamed up to blow out Team GB&I a week ago at Los Angeles Country Club, shared medalist honors in their first college event of the season.
Ben Crane’s chances of earning his PGA Tour card for next season may have taken a hit last week with a bizarre DQ at the Boise Open.
In the first round, the PGA Tour veteran was hit with a pair of four-shot penalties for carrying two non-conforming clubs. The clubs themselves were fine, but his driver and 6-iron still had the dot sticker details from swing testing. That’s a no-no, and he was later disqualified.
With a sixth-place finish in the Web.com Tour Finals opener (worth $34,750), Crane should need just a few decent finishes the next two weeks to secure his card via the Finals money list.
This week's award winners ...
Clutch, Part 1: Tony Finau. With a chip-in birdie on 18, he capped off a final-round 64, moved inside the top 30 in points and earned his first invitation to the Masters.
Clutch, Part 2: Xander Schauffele. The Greenbrier champion played his last six holes in 6 under to reach the Tour Championship and seize control of the Rookie of the Year race. He's one of only two first-timers to advance to East Lake.
If There’s a Will …: This kid. Gotta want it, man.
End of an Era: Phil Mickelson. He didn't qualify for East Lake. And this was his first time in 27 years that he didn’t have a top-3 finish on Tour. Still hard to believe, but Tiger has won more recently than Phil.
Quote of the Week: Phil. After watching Sergio Garcia’s excruciatingly long wait for a ruling on the 18th hole, and then holing the putt for birdie anyway, Lefty offered this: “I was thinking, This is what my playing partners go through most of the time.”
Smart Man: David Skinns. Even in the cutthroat world of golf’s minor leagues, Skinns made the right call by withdrawing from last week’s Web.com Tour Finals event to be with his wife, who had gone into labor. Tied for ninth at the halfway point, he likely needed only to finish in the top 5 to earn his Tour card for next season.
When Real Life Intervenes: Japan Golf Tour. Thanks to Matt Griffin for bringing this to our attention – an event was stopped last week because of North Korea’s missile testing. Scary stuff.
Well this is a first. We currently have a suspension of play in Sapporo Japan due to North Korea launching ballistic missiles— Matt Griffin (@MattGriffinGolf) September 14, 2017
Oh, So They Can Play Fast: Wesley Bryan. First off Sunday at the BMW, the Tour rookie made it ’round in 1 hour, 28 minutes. The best part? He shot 69.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Hideki Matsuyama. Remember when the young Japanese star was the hottest player in golf, like, a month ago? He hasn’t finished better than 23rd in the playoffs, and now, at No. 7 in the standings, he’s on the outside looking in for the FedExCup. Sigh.