Tour Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
AND then there were 30. The PGA Tour season reaches its climax with the Tour Championship at East Lake, with the top 30 golfers playing for massive financial rewards and, at the end of it all, somebody walking away with the FedEx Cup and a tasty little bonus of $10m.
For a select group of men it has been an amazing 12 months, with Justin Thomas winning five times, Dustin Johnson four times and Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama three times each. They have dominated affairs, with Thomas claiming the US PGA championship and Spieth winning The Open Championship in such sensational style at Royal Birkdale in July.
The Tour Championship was won last year by Rory McIlroy, who also picked up the FedEx Cup, it was won in 2015 by Spieth, by Billy Horschel in 2014, Henrik Stenson in 2013, Brandt Snedeker in 2012 and Bill Haas in 2011. After finishing second in the first two playoff events, the Northern Trust Open and the Dell Technologies Open, Spieth goes to East Lake as favourite, but he is going to have one heck of a battle on his hands.
Thomas has been like a machine during 2017. There was his round of 63 at the US Open, there was his 59 while winning the Sony Open and another astonishing round of 63 on his way to victory at the Dell Technologies Open. It is well recorded that he hits the ball a country mile, which seems barely credible when you learn that he weighs barely 10.5 stones. But boy, does he pack a punch.
Thomas goes at it with everything he has, which also goes some way to explaining why he has spells when his game goes off. A spectacular example of that came at The Open when he opened with a 67, while dressed in a shirt and tie, and followed it up with a second round of 80 that included a nine, and missed the cut.
If you swing the club as hard as you can most of the time then it stands to reason that there are going to be times when things go slightly awry. But when his timing is on, he is well-nigh unbeatable.
What about Spieth? He won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the Travellers Championship and The Open. He has also finished second three times, third twice and fourth on one occasion. He has only missed two cuts and on both occasions he began with rounds under 70. It is an incredible body of work for a golfer who is still only 24/25 years of age.
There are those who will point to the fact that he should perhaps have won both Northern Trust Open, where he lost in a playoff to Johnson after a double-bogey five at the par-three sixth hole during the final round, and the Dell Technologies Open, where he lost after playing the first four holes in five under par to move in front. What they forget is just how difficult it is to win week after week - it takes a huge amount of physical and mental effort, and Spieth's real strength is that he keeps finding a way to get himself into contention, even when he is not at his best.
After both losses he was quick to pay tribute to both Johnson and Thomas, saying that they had won the tournaments, rather than him losing them. Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? But if anybody really thinks it will be playing on his mind and that it will affect his chances at East Lake, then they really don't know him terribly well - or understand what makes him tick. Those losses will have hurt Spieth and he will be absolutely determined to make up for it and walk away with the FedeEx Cup for the second time in three seasons.
Johnson will point to his season being ruined by the injury he sustained in the run-up to The Masters. It is true that he was the form player going into Augusta, and he might well have contended, but there are some highly respected judges who believe that Johnson does not have the game to win The Masters. As far as 2017 is concerned, we will never know. What we do know, however, is that he is back to his best and will pose a serious threat to Spieth. Everybody knows about his awesome length off the tee, which allows him to overpower every golf course he plays. But there is far more to the Dustinator than the ability to smash the ball 340 yards.
Realising that the weakest part of his game was his wedge play, he went away and worked hard with his coach, Butch Harmon, and he can now justifiably lay claim to being one of the best wedge players in the game. And because of the distance he hits the ball, he gets plenty of practice with his wedges. He has also become a much better putter during the past couple of years. DJ is quite clearly a man at peace with himself. He would be the first to admit that he does not think too much about golf, so swing thoughts never get in the way.
All logic dictates Thomas, Spieth or Johnson will be heading home with a handsome trophy and a bucketful of cash to spend in the close season, but Jon Rahm could still spoil the party. His technique is about as simple as it gets. He has a short backswing but generates enormous power because he is as fit as anybody else out there. Yes, he operates on a short fuse at times, but that didn't prevent Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal or Sergio Garcia from achieving great things - and Rahm could win as many majors as those three put together (eight, in case you were wondering).
At some point, somebody will need to have a quiet word in his ear about his flashes of temper, but for now he should be left alone to get on with it. The future of professional golf looks brighter than it has for many years and this Tour Championship promises to be a thriller.
Jordan Spieth. Perfect end to a perfect year
Dustin Johnson. Could run away with it
Justin Thomas. Can he keep it up? Erm, probably
Jordan Spieth. There is no fiercer competitor in golf
Dustin Johnson. Back in full flow
Justin Thomas. Quite capable of shooting the lights out
Paul Casey. Another week, another top 10
Jon Rahm. Keep calm Jon, keep calm
Daniel Berger. Will join the major club - and soon
Justin Rose. Suffering horribly on the greens
Matt Kuchar. Mr Consistency
Marc Leishman. Finally proving he belongs in this company
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