Patrick Cantlay continues his global domination, Jon Rahm strengthens his Player of the Year case even in defeat, the U.S. Ryder Cup picture gets even more muddled, 25 more players lock up their PGA Tour card and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:
Justin Thomas. Collin Morikawa. Bryson DeChambeau. And now Jon Rahm, twice.
Any more questions that Patrick Cantlay definitely, absolutely, positively has the goods and is wholly deserving of that “Patty Ice” moniker?
Staked to a lead for the sixth consecutive round, Cantlay stared down the world No. 1 and never forfeited his advantage, two-putting for birdie on the 72nd hole to seal his one-shot victory for the FedExCup. (Read colleague Rex Hoggard's on-the-ground reporting from East Lake.)
It was the signature title of the 29-year-old Cantlay’s career, even if he didn’t technically win the tournament – that honor went to Rahm and Kevin Na, who were 13 under for the 72-hole event. Cantlay shot 11 under across the four rounds and used to his advantage his two-shot head start as the playoff frontrunner. He’s now the third No. 1 seed to enter the Tour Championship and win the FedExCup, joining Tiger Woods (2009) and Dustin Johnson (2020).
In addition to the $15 million, this will go down as Cantlay’s fourth victory of the season – two more than any other player – and make him a serious contender for Player of the Year (more on that in a bit).
The swollen bank account and potential awards are nice, but that’s not what drives golf’s cold-blooded killer. It’s for moments like he had on the 72nd hole, when he hit two perfect draws to nail down the victory. Clinging to a one-shot lead after a clutch bogey save on the previous hole, Cantlay busted a huge drive onto the downslope and then pured a 6-iron into the final green that gave him an 11-foot look for eagle. All this after Rahm’s long-iron approach scared the cup.
It was vintage Cantlay – as was the muted celebration.
“The money is not what’s really important to me,” Cantlay said. “Winning golf tournaments, playing golf under pressure, and hitting quality golf shots under the gun, that’s why I’ve practiced my whole life. That’s the best feeling in the world – winning golf tournaments.”
Under any of the FedExCup’s previous iterations, Rahm should have been heading out for an early-evening playoff with Na. Instead, he was in the scoring area, trying to make sense of the staggered start and how he might have tied the low 72-hole score at East Lake but still wasn’t the biggest winner.
“It felt really weird to have this feeling of disappointment of not winning on a day when you are making $5 million,” he said. “Something doesn’t add up. And then I’m thinking, You know, I gave it my all. It wasn’t enough.”
It still might be enough for Rahm to earn the Player of the Year award.
He'd get the nod from this scribe, at least.
Though Cantlay has a significant edge in the wins department during this super-season – four to one, officially – we'd hope that his peers would add some additional context when casting their votes.
Sure, there was no disputing Cantlay's impressive wins at the 2020 Zozo or last week’s BMW, but he also claimed the Memorial in a playoff after Rahm, sitting on a six-shot lead after 54 holes, was forced to withdraw following a positive COVID-19 test. Then came East Lake, where Cantlay earned the big bonus but not the world-ranking points that came with the best 72-hole score.
Rahm’s lone title was massive – the U.S. Open. He finished ninth or better in all four majors, The Players and each of the three playoff events. (Cantlay missed two of the four major cuts, as well as The Players.) In all, Rahm posted six more top-10s than any other player, owned the lowest scoring average and played with the pressure of world No. 1. And for the stats geeks: Rahm led the Tour in strokes gained: tee to green and SG: total, the latter which measures a player’s performance throughout the bag against his peers.
Yep, it's straightforward: Jon Rahm, the 2020-21 PGA Tour Player of the Year.
Well, that didn’t help sort out anything.
In the final week of competition before U.S. captain Steve Stricker finalizes his squad, no player – other than ... Kevin Na? – stepped up to show Team USA leadership that they were deserving of a pick.
You know the automatic qualifiers: Collin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka (who injured his wrist at East Lake and withdrew), Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay.
You know who’s a lock to get a pick: Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth.
You know who should get a pick: Harris English, whose resurgent season has included two victories, and Daniel Berger, who’s one of the top all-around players on Tour and has been one of the best-performing Americans over the past six months.
That leaves one spot – and a bunch of guys hoping to get a call.
The good news for Stricker is that he has options. Lots of ’em. And he doesn’t need a Hail Mary, just someone who is serviceable, who can fill a need.
If we’re advising Stricker – sadly, we are not – here’s how we’d look at it:
ON THE SHORT LIST
Patrick Reed: Doesn’t have a top-10 in three months and recently was hospitalized with double pneumonia, but he also shown his trademark grit and desire. He hopped on a plane, no questions asked, when a spot came open on the U.S. Olympic team, and then he drove 15 hours and returned to East Lake for the season finale to show Stricker something in the final week of auditioning. His short game is filthy, he can be lethal in match play and, if picked, he said he’d be 100% ready in two weeks’ time.
Webb Simpson: Didn’t qualify for the season finale and had a down year, but he has plenty of team experience, fills a hole in the foursomes format, is one the best iron players and putters on Tour, and perhaps most importantly, could pair with DeChambeau.
GOT A CHANCE
Scottie Scheffler: The birdie machine is hurt by the fact that A) he’s still winless on Tour, and B) he didn’t do anything over the past few weeks to impress. Three straight finishes outside the top 20, when you have to perform? Oy.
Kevin Na: He made no secret about the fact that he wanted to win the shadow leaderboard in Atlanta, to show Stricker that he was deserving of a pick, and he did (or at least he tied Rahm, the world No. 1). Even so, it’s hard to see this one happening: Na was 19th in points and remains a below-average ball-striker heading to a big ballpark in Whistling Straits. His on-course mannerisms would be maddening for his opponents and he’s a lights-out putter, but he’s not scaring anyone if those makes are for par.
MAYBE NEXT TIME
Sam Burns: Took the leap to Tour winner this season, but it’s hard to see how the ultra-conservative Stricker would pick a kid who was ranked No. 154 in the world at the end of last year. Maybe he’ll surprise us, but the Presidents Cup is better suited for grooming America's next generation ...
Jason Kokrak: Thought he had a good chance to make the team after that Colonial win, but he didn’t have another top-10 and would be a 36-year-old rookie.
Will Zalatoris: PGA Tour rules kept the non-member out of the playoffs, even though he had enough points to start inside the top 30. A shame, but he’ll likely be on the U.S. squad in 12 months at Quail Hollow.
WHO SHOULD GET THE PICK: Patrick Reed.
WHO WILL GET THE PICK: Webb Simpson.
Following months of heckling and jeering directed at one of the Tour’s biggest stars, commissioner Jay Monahan stepped in to save DeChambeau.
By announcing that the Tour was banning any fan language on-site that would be considered “disrespectful” or “harassing,” Monahan and Co. declared war on the stale cheer of “Brooksy!” His missive sets a dangerous precedent and will be awfully hard for Tour security to enforce, but ultimately it’s the right call.
Here’s why: The “Brooksy!” heckles aren’t necessarily being yelled by Koepka’s super-fans; he’s not that popular. Instead, they’ve become the soundtrack of the Bryson HATERS, and that’s a problem, because five hours of that relentless chorus – being reminded over and over and over how much these fans despise you – had clearly begun to damage DeChambeau’s psyche. It’s bullying, plain and simple, and it needed to stop.
There is a larger issue here, and it’s what will happen once gambling and golf become even more intertwined. With money on the line, will the heckling return, or get worse? Will play be affected by ill-timed taunts?
It could get ugly, fast, and this is likely the first of many updates to the Tour’s fan conduct policy.
Twenty-five more PGA Tour cards were handed out Sunday at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship, won by Joseph Bramlett. That victory solidified Bramlett’s spot and launched him to No. 1 on the Finals 25, giving him fully exempt status.
Here are the others who are joining him on the big tour next season (which begins in ... 10 days) via the Korn Ferry Tour Finals: Trey Mullinax, Aaron Rai, Bronson Burgoon, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, J.J. Spaun, Hayden Buckley, Sahith Theegala, Matthias Schwab, Vincent Whaley, John Huh, Alex Smalley, Joshua Creel, Lucas Herbert, Callum Tarren, Scott Gutschewski, Dawie van der Walt, Kelly Kraft, Michael Gligic, Patrick Rodgers, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Austin Cook, Kurt Kitayama, Peter Uihlein and Justin Lower.
• You’re probably very familiar already with Bezuidenhout, the South African who earlier this year climbed as high as No. 33 in the world; Herbert, who has won twice over the past two years on the European Tour; and Kitayama, an American has been toiling for the past few years in Europe.
• A former star at Pepperdine, Theegala won the Haskins Award as the nation’s top collegian for the 2019-20 season. Smalley was a stud for Duke a couple of years ago while Schwab had a decorated college and amateur career as a semi-recent standout for Vanderbilt.
• Now 44, Gutschewski is headed back to the Tour for the first time since 2011; it’ll be van der Walt’s first trip to the bigs since 2016. Justin Lower, who has been agonizingly close to a card over the years and overcame personal tragedy as a kid, grabbed the last spot by a slim margin. His emotion afterward was apparent.
Later, Lower summed up his promotion thusly:
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
Not Ideal!: Brooks Koepka. It’s one thing to drop out of the season finale, which proved costly, even if last place still pays out $395,000. But even if Koepka believed that his third-round withdrawal was merely precautionary because of past wrist injuries, its timing is noteworthy because of A) his much-publicized charity match with Barstool president Dave Portnoy on Tuesday, and B) the Ryder Cup begins in less than three weeks. If Koepka can’t answer go – he told NBC’s Steve Sands that he’ll be fine for Whistling Straits – then that’s another trouble spot for an American side that already has more question marks than the Europeans.
Horses for Courses: Xander Schauffele. With five birdies in his last six holes, Schauffele signed for a final-round 64 that marked his 20th consecutive round of par or better at East Lake. AT EAST LAKE! Few play tough tracks better than X.
The Kordas of the European Tour, Only More Impressive?: Hojgaard family. A week after Rasmus Hojgaard won on the European Tour, his 20-year-old TWIN BROTHER Nicolai did the same at the Italian Open for his first pro title. His even-par final round was enough to beat a host of worthy challengers, including European Ryder Cupper Tommy Fleetwood, to get on the board along with his other more accomplished brother – at least for now. What a crazy feat.
More Touchups Needed: Marco Simone GC. The revamped 2023 Ryder Cup venue got its showcase last week at the Italian Open, and reviews for the track were decidedly mixed. Francesco Molinari called it a “great course” that could be adjusted “slightly” with some of the more exaggerated greens slopes, while Oliver Wilson was among those (in this well-reported Golf Digest story) who was quoted as saying that there isn’t a single great hole. The good news for the European Tour: The massive check will still clear even if it's not an architectural marvel.
Ironman Record-Breaker: Sungjae Im. It took him until the final day of this super-season to complete, but Im on Sunday set the Tour mark for the most birdies in a season (498). Im, who played 35 out of a possible 50 weeks, broke Steve Flesch’s old mark that had stood for 21 years. That year, Flesch made 493 birdies – who knew anyone else played in the year 2000 besides Tiger? – despite logging four fewer rounds than Im and three fewer events.
That'll Pay: Kevin Na. It remains to be seen whether his play was enough to sway Stricker, but Na closed out his final 57 holes at East Lake without a bogey and finished third in the FedExCup, banking a cool $4 million. Na's lone bogey was the fewest all time in a Tour Championship there. Really impressive.
Oooooo, Got Emmmmmm: Joaquin Niemann. In a rushed attempt to break the Tour mark for the fastest 18-hole round, Niemann and caddie Gary Matthews sprinted around East Lake and finished their Sunday 72 in just 1 hour, 53 minutes. Waiting for them in the scoring tent was Tour executive Andy Pazder, who duped Niemann by telling him, stone-faced, that he’d disrespected the game and the Tour’s crown jewel by speeding through his round. The punishment: a $10,000 fine. “I was burning inside,” Niemann said afterward. “I was going to say something like, ‘All right, forgive me.’" Then Pazder came clean. "I was like, ‘Oh, I hate you,'" Niemann said. "He gave me a really hard time.”
#Perspective Alert!: Jordan Spieth. After keeping quiet for the past few months, Spieth revealed that he and his wife, Annie, are expecting the couple’s first child in mid-November. And, hey, that’s right around the time that Rickie Fowler and his missus will become parents for the first time. Congrats to the entire Spieth family.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Collin Morikawa. The reigning Open champion said that he’s “100%” after recent back trouble, but the results suggest otherwise. After a missed cut at the playoff opener, he tied for 63rd in the 69-man BMW and then broke par during only one round while finishing one spot out of DFL at the Tour Championship. Not exactly the form Captain Stricker was looking to see in the final start for the Americans’ top points-earner.
FANTASY LEAGUE RESULTS
Let’s hope the Ryder Cup is more competitive than this meeting of the minds.
In our FedExCup fantasy playoff draft, Team Lavner didn’t just beat Team Hoggard – it was a shellacking the likes of which haven’t been seen in the 21st century.
Never forget that Hoggard lucked into the No. 1 overall pick ... and bypassed Rahm for Collin Morikawa, who nearly finished DFL in the Tour Championship despite entering the playoffs in the No. 1 spot.
The final damage is below, and stay tuned to this page over the next few weeks, because we’ll post pictures – many, many pictures – of the losing owner wearing his shirt that reads I SUCK AT FANTASY GOLF during the captains’ news conferences.
TEAM LAVNER: $28,046,975 (Tour Championship payout: $24,616,667)
Patrick Cantlay: $15 million
Jon Rahm: $5 million
Xander Schauffele: $2.5 million
Daniel Berger: $750,000
Jordan Spieth: $505,000
Scottie Scheffler: $466,667
Brooks Koepka: $395,000
TEAM HOGGARD: $10,297,957 ($8,615,000)
Justin Thomas: $3 million
Viktor Hovland: $2.5 million
Dustin Johnson: $1.1 million
Rory McIlroy: $620,000
Harris English: $535,000
Hideki Matsuyama: $435,000
Collin Morikawa: $425,000