ATLANTA – There’s no need for a FedEx Cup task force.
At least that was the feeling as dusk descended on East Lake with both the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup hanging in the balance and a playoff that wouldn’t end.
Why would you want it to end?
If the FedEx Cup is sometimes guilty of fading into a post-major championship season lull, all PGA Tour officials needed to spice up the season-ending finale was a new routing for East Lake and an absolute best-case scenario on Sunday.
It was an embarrassment-of-riches deal, with Rory McIlroy, Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell heading back down the newly christened 18th hole for extra innings to decide the Tour Championship winner, FedEx Cup champion and, in all likelihood, the final U.S. Ryder Cup captain’s pick.
With all the subtext of a Russian novel, each would-be champion set out with his own unique baggage.
A twice-bitten FedEx Cup bridesmaid after having been pencil-whipped by the playoff math in 2013 and ’14, McIlory closed with mid-Ryder Cup form a few days early to steal the show with one clutch shot after another.
For Chappell, a three-time runner-up this season, the near misses were there for all to see, and he cut deep regarding his title chances on the eve of the final turn.
“No one else thinks it's going to happen. The scenario hasn't happened. So no one believes in me. So I got nothing to lose,” Chappell said.
Then there was Moore, the quietly unassuming bulldog who has made a career out of staying under the radar, so much so that they called him “stealth” during his junior golf days.
U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III came to the party late, inviting Moore to last week’s practice session at Hazeltine National. He declined, citing the need for some R&R after playing eight of nine weeks.
It was so Ryan.
Of course, it was all predicated by Dustin Johnson’s stunning collapse. Two strokes clear of everyone not named Chappell to begin the final round, the American bomber had more bogeys on his opening nine of the final round than he did for his first 27 holes and double bogeyed the 12th on his way to a tie for sixth.
Had DJ’s about-face been slightly less dramatic he could have assured himself the FedEx Cup jackpot, if not the Tour Championship title, thanks to the postseason algorithms.
As a result, midway through Sunday’s sweltering finish, McIlroy found himself two strokes away from winning both the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup as Johnson faded, and when the Northern Irishman holed his approach shot for eagle at the 16th hole from 137 yards the home of the finale took on the chaotic glow of Hazeltine South.
“I knew I needed to do something. At that point, I was in the middle of the 16th fairway,” said McIlroy, who closed with rounds of 66-64 to win the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup for the first time. “So I was trying to just do something, make something happen. Fortunately, I hole a wedge shot, and I get myself in position to have a chance to win.”
In a nod to the decision to reverse East Lake’s nines, McIlroy finished his round with a birdie, while Moore and Chappell both failed to convert their birdie attempts.
After another trip down the par-5 18th hole in OT, which eliminated Chappell who again failed to make birdie, the event took on a distinctly Ryder Cup feel – with McIlroy and Moore trading knockout blows.
McIlroy missed walk-off attempts from 6 feet on the first extra hole (eagle), 19 feet at the second (birdie) and 57 feet (birdie) at the third before finally putting things away with a 14-footer at the fourth extra hole, but only after Moore converted a par attempt from 16 feet to force the conversion.
Last year, McIlroy turned heads when he suggested the $10 million FedEx Cup payday really didn’t move his needle, but on Sunday after collecting a cool $11.5 million, which included the $1.5 million winner’s check, his story didn’t change.
This was personal.
In 2012, McIlroy won the second and third playoff stops, finished tied for 10th at the finale and watched Brandt Snedeker cash the big check; a year later he began the playoffs first on the FedEx Cup points list, finished second at East Lake and third in the season-ending pool.
This time he created his own equation – win and let the math take care of itself.
“After 2012 and 2014, it definitely feels that little bit sweeter that I've been able to get it done,” said McIlroy, who began this postseason 36th on the points list before moving into the playoff picture with his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
As for that Ryder Cup task force – you know the one that was designed to revitalize America’s chances in the biennial matches and set up much of Sunday’s drama with two of the three leading men, Moore and Chappell, making 11th-hour bids to join Love’s dozen next week in Minnesota – if the final spot in the U.S. locker room isn’t reserved for Moore or Chappell it might be time to go back to the community drawing board.
In fact, considering Sunday’s script with both would-be Ryder Cuppers in the mix well past the end of regulation maybe the PGA of America/Ryder Cup task force should have saved two picks for after East Lake.
There is no shortage of reasons to pick either Moore or Chappell, but if Sunday’s showdown against Europe’s best doesn’t count as earned credit it’s hard to imagine what does matter to Love & Co.
“I didn't earn a spot. I've left it up to other people to make that decision for me,” said Moore, who was paired with McIlroy on Day 4 and matched him for every shot (64) until the 22nd hole. “I kind of thought I had to win this golf tournament, and I didn't. So we'll see what happens from here.”
Instead, Moore was still focused on the chain of events that wrapped up the 2015-16 Tour season.
“It was a blur,” he said.
It was the best.