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Monday Scramble: Stage set for dramatic finish to unique PGA Tour season

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Jon Rahm out-stuns Dustin Johnson's stunner, the top 30 is set for the Tour Championship, Tiger Woods' season ends, Rory McIlroy prepares for fatherhood, Phil Mickelson's next chapter begins and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:


Rahm achieves first multi-win season – and on two of toughest setups

Rahm achieves first multi-win season – and on two of toughest setups

1. In the most stirring finish of the season, Jon Rahm rolled in a 66-footer on the first playoff hole to upend Dustin Johnson and capture the BMW Championship.

TAKEAWAY: Rahm’s marathon birdie putt – down a slope, with about 20 feet of break, an attempt that had a 1.4% make rate and a 28% THREE-PUTT RATE, according to stat guru Lou Stegner – came after Johnson’s own 43-footer on the final hole of regulation vaulted him into a playoff. It was the first time the top two players in the world had faced off in overtime since 1995. Read colleague Will Gray’s on-the-ground account here.

It was Rahm who prevailed on another difficult setup, just as he did last month at the Memorial. After entering the weekend at 6 over – the highest halfway total of a non-major winner since 1990 – Rahm went 10 under on the final two rounds (even after a bizarre ball-marking penalty), then made the stunning birdie in the playoff.

Remember when the fiery Spaniard supposedly didn’t have the “mental fortitude” to handle the toughest setups?

Rahm now has 11 worldwide titles, and this is the first time he’s had a multi-win season on Tour. Though he’s been surprisingly inconsistent during the restart, he has the complete game and confidence to be a locked-in top-5 favorite for every big tournament.


After BMW runner-up finish, DJ hungry for 'a little redemption'

After BMW runner-up finish, DJ hungry for 'a little redemption'

2. Despite the playoff loss, Johnson remained at No. 1 in the FedExCup standings heading into the Tour Championship.

TAKEAWAY: It’s the fifth time that Johnson has been inside the top 5 heading into the season finale; he has yet to win, even in 2016, when he came oh-so-close to capturing the season-long title before it was stolen by Rory McIlroy.

A reminder that this is the second year of the staggered scoring start, so here’s how the leaderboard will look when they tee it up Friday (Monday finish this week):

  • 10 under: Dustin Johnson
  • 8 under: Jon Rahm
  • 7 under: Justin Thomas
  • 6 under: Webb Simpson
  • 5 under: Collin Morikawa
  • 4 under: Daniel Berger, Harris English, Bryson DeChambeau, Sungjae Im, Hideki Matsuyama
  • 3 under: Brendon Todd, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed, Xander Schauffele, Sebastian Munoz
  • 2 under: Lanto Griffin, Scottie Scheffler, Joaquin Niemann, Tyrrell Hatton, Tony Finau
  • 1 under: Kevin Kisner, Abe Ancer, Ryan Palmer, Kevin Na, Marc Leishman
  • Even: Cam Smith, Viktor Hovland, Mac Hughes, Cameron Champ, Billy Horschel


Tiger on his BMW play: 'Great ramp-up' for U.S. Open

Tiger on his BMW play: 'Great ramp-up' for U.S. Open

3. Tiger Woods’ 2019-20 PGA Tour season came to an end when he failed to crack the FedExCup top 30 and advance to the Tour Championship.

TAKEAWAY: It’s the second straight year that Woods has failed to return to East Lake, site of his drought-busting victory in 2018. Last year he battled injuries all summer following his rousing Masters triumph. This year, he didn’t play enough events – his seven starts this season were the fewest of any BMW participant, by three – or play well enough in his infrequent appearances to build off his Zozo title.

Obviously, 2020 was a strange year for everyone, as the sport shut down for 3 ½ months. But the condensed summer schedule definitely threw off Woods, who is used to a certain rhythm during the course of the year, especially when he’s needed to be more selective because of his dodgy back.

If Woods is going to play only 10-12 events a year, he needs to make them count. Otherwise, playing the Tour Championship will always be a stretch.  


With baby on the way, Rory will leave at moment's notice

With baby on the way, Rory will leave at moment's notice

4. Rory McIlroy lost a 36-hole lead at the BMW Championship, ultimately finishing in a tie for 12th, but he has a big week upcoming.

TAKEAWAY: The reigning FedExCup champion’s status for this week’s Tour Championship is uncertain – not because of any injury, but because his wife, Erica, is expecting the couple’s first child, a girl, “any day now.”

The news came as a stunner, as McIlroy had made no prior mention of his impending fatherhood. It also wasn’t clear whether he actually wanted the news to come out; it had become a talking point during the  telecast on Saturday. McIlroy referred to it as a “private matter” while also saying that he “can’t wait for her to get here.”

Though not an excuse for his poor performance this summer, McIlroy clearly had other things on his mind – the reason, perhaps, why he said he had trouble concentrating while inside the ropes, especially when his play was less than inspiring. 

Best of: Rory and Erica McIlroy

Images of four-time major champions and reigning Players champ Rory McIlroy and his wife, Erica.

With the Labor Day finish, there’s an extra day this week before the Tour Championship gets underway, but McIlroy said he wouldn’t hesitate to miss the season finale depending on the timing of the birth.

“I’m going to play in many more Tour Championships, and it’s only going to be the birth of your first child once,” he said. “That trumps anything else.”

If he does compete, McIlroy will enter the Tour Championship at 3 under, seven shots back of Johnson.


Phil 'had a great time' winning Champs debut

Phil 'had a great time' winning Champs debut

5. Making his debut on the PGA Tour Champions, Phil Mickelson tied the 54-hole scoring record en route to a four-shot victory in the Ozarks.

TAKEAWAY: That’s 1-for-1 for Lefty, who suggested he’d use the Champions circuit as more of a training ground than a full-time landing spot. That’s OK for now, because his debut was must-see TV as he bashed away with driver and looked rock-solid on the greens while shooting a record-tying 191 over three rounds.

Beating up on the older generation doesn’t improve his chances for capturing that elusive U.S. Open at Winged Foot – he’s simply too wild off the tee and inconsistent for a serious run. But swinging with this level of confidence, it could make the Masters more interesting. After all, he does have a trio of top-3 finishes against the young bucks this year.  

 

WHAT ELSE WE'RE TALKING ABOUT ...

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Mackenzie Hughes clutched up with a sand save on the 72nd hole that secured his spot at the Tour Championship.

The one-time Tour winner was one of only two players who moved inside the top-30 cutoff at the BMW, along with Joaquin Niemann.

Reaching the Tour Championship opens a number of doors, especially for a player like Hughes. He’ll return to the Masters next year for the first time since 2017, in addition to spots in the 2021 Tournament of Champions, U.S. Open, Open Championship and WGC-Mexico Championship.

Billy Horschel came in at No. 30, by less than a three-point margin. For a time Sunday it appeared as though he’d get through only after his playing competitor on Sunday, Corey Conners, lipped out a 2-footer on the 72nd hole.  

“I’ll probably get him a nice bottle of wine or a good dinner,” Horschel said.  

Bumped out: Adam Long and Kevin Streelman.


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Want to see what leadership looks like?

This, from LPGA commissioner Mike Whan, who responded to the torrent of criticism after new star Sophia Popov won the AIG Women’s Open but wasn't awarded the usual five-year exemption:

We encourage you to watch the clip in its entirety, but if you didn’t, here’s the CliffsNotes: The rules and regulations were established at the beginning of the season, and he’s not going to amend them – even it harms a hugely popular winner like Popov, who, as a non-member, will now receive only a two-year exemption (through 2021) and just one major berth (the Women’s PGA) the rest of the year.

Whan acknowledges many will disagree with his decision but said he’ll look at the rules at the end of the year – as he does every year.

A shining example of leading by reason, not emotion.


Chamblee: BMW was just a good 'U.S. Open-style' contest

Chamblee: BMW was just a good 'U.S. Open-style' contest

Olympia Fields played more like a major last week than it did during the 2003 U.S. Open.

Three under was the highest first-round leading score at a non-major since 2014.

Through 36 holes, only two players were under par – the fewest in a non-major since 2000.

One under was the highest 54-hole score in a non-major in the last 20 years.

“This would be a wonderful test for a U.S. Open,” McIlroy said.

Sunday played easier – less wind, softer greens, a few more accessible hole locations  – but it was still a demanding test for the 69 players who teed it up at the BMW, and a stark contrast to what he saw a week earlier at TPC Boston.

For the most part, the Tour staff would love each week to present a firm and fast setup with narrow fairways (28 yards wide, on average) and thicker rough. It identifies those who are striking it, putting and thinking the best. But Mother Nature often intervenes.

Hopefully, we get a proper test like this in a few weeks at Winged Foot.

 

THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...

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Hottest Player in the World, Non-DJ Division: Rasmus Hojgaard. The 19-year-old is now a two-time winner in just 15 starts on the European Tour after beating Justin Walters in a playoff at the UK Championship. His recent run during the UK Swing – 2nd, T-6, 3rd, 1st, vaulting to 63rd in the world – suggests he could be a name to watch in three weeks at the U.S. Open.

Homecoming: Brandon Wu. The former Stanford standout, who grew up in Scarsdale, New York, about 10 minutes from Winged Foot, booked a trip home next week after winning the Korn Ferry Tour Championship.

Everybody in the Pool!: 2021 Sentry Tournament of Champions. Booking a spot at East Lake also secures a spot at the 2021 lid-lifter at Kapalua, which is usually reserved for winners only. That’s good news for Abe Ancer and Scottie Scheffler, who have never won on Tour, and Harris English, who hasn’t won since 2013.  


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Rest Over Reps: Webb Simpson. Two days before the start of the BMW, Simpson pulled out of the event, saying through his management team that he wanted to rest ahead of the Tour Championship. The move came with some risk, of course, but with the big-name playoff at the BMW Simpson dropped from only No. 3 to No. 4 in the standings – the difference of a single stroke.

Safe For Now, Bowdo: Marc Leishman. Having a no-good, very-bad week in Chicago, Leishman was in danger of joining an illustrious list of the worst 72-hole scores in Tour history, but he instead steadied himself for a Sunday 73 to finish the BMW at 30 over – well ahead of Steven Bowditch’s infamous 37-over total at Doral in 2016. Better still: Even after a MC and DFL in the playoffs, Leish still has a chance to win $15 million this week.

All-Time Brain Fart: Jon Rahm. On the fifth hole of his third round, Rahm – for some reason – picked up his ball on the green before marking it, an automatic one-shot penalty. He did well to make bogey on the hole, then still carded a third-round 66 to sit just three shots off the lead heading into Sunday. Fortunately for him, trophy by his side, he could only laugh about it afterward.

Cue the Jokes: Matt Kuchar and John Wood. One of the best caddies in golf, Wood decided he wanted off Kuchar’s bag and apparently is mulling a move to TV, like his pal Jim “Bones” Mackay. Kuchar will turn to Brian Reed.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Bryson DeChambeau. One of the few players with recent experience at Olympia Fields, site of his 2015 U.S. Amateur triumph, DeChambeau couldn’t get it going at the BMW. He failed to break par in any round, hit the fewest fairways of anyone in the field and finished 50th. Sigh.