Tour Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
BELIEVE it or not, despite winning the first two events of the four tournaments that comprise the FedEx Cup Playoffs, it is possible that Bryson DeChambeau could miss out on both the trophy and the $10m bonus prize that goes with it at the Tour Championship at East Lake. The reason is that the points gained have been re-set and the young American can still be caught.
With just the top 30 players in the standings in the field, DeChambeau is, of course, in the driving seat, and he would be pretty upset to miss out. He has had an extraordinary year, during which he has won three times and gained a Ryder Cup wild card selection from US captain Jim Furyk. His recent run of form is all the more impressive given the travails he endured during The Open Championship at Carnoustie when he was seen on the practice ground pulling his hair out because he was hitting the ball so poorly. The thing with DeChambeau is that with the sort of unique golf swing he possesses there are always going to be times when things go awry - Thomas Bjorn, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, will be hoping that happens at Le Golf National, near Paris, from September 28-30.
Just at the moment, however, he is full of confidence. Purists will look at just about everything he does and wince because there is no part of his game that is orthodox. He is a physics major and has applied science to his swing. Every iron in his bag has a shaft that is the same length, and his putting style sees him anchor the club against his left forearm. But it is when he starts giving his post-round interviews that DeChambeau moves into a different world. By his own admission, he is weird. If you ever ask this guy a question and expect a short, concise response then you are going to be very disappointed.
One of the great surprises of 2018, apart from the success he has achieved, has been the unlikely friendship he has forged with 14-time major champion Tiger Woods, who also received a Ryder Cup wild card (a third went to Phil Mickelson and fourth in Tony Finau). DeChambeau sought out Woods and asked if he could play practice rounds with him because he wanted to know how Tiger approached the game. And he kept going back, week after week, looking to play with Woods.
And from there a genuine friendship has developed. “He is one of a kind,” says Woods. “He has his own unique approach to the game but you cannot take anything away from what he has achieved so far. Yes, he talks a lot, and I don’t pretend to understand him when he gets into full flow. When he does that, I just look at him and tell him to shut up. He usually gets the hint. In all seriousness, I have really enjoyed his company and if I have helped him in any way then I am delighted.”
DeChambeau surely can’t win again this week. Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose all head to East Lake knowing that they can hoist aloft the FedEx Cup on Sunday night. Thomas knows exactly what it takes because he achieved it 12 months ago, even though Xander Schauffele won the tournament.
But there will be a lot of smart money on Rose. He has enjoyed a stellar 12 months and it all really began for him during the 2017 Playoffs when he found himself in contention at all four. It seemed to give him a new-found sense of belief and he has gone on to enjoy a glorious year that could still see him finish as the world’s top-ranked golfer. Dustin Johnson will, of course, have something to say about that but the thing nobody can argue about is that Rose has become a big-time player, a man who is able to arrive at the world’s most important tournaments with his A-game in his bag. He has recently struggled with a back injury but has managed to find a way to play through the pain - and to play through it at an incredibly high level. He finished second at the Dell Technologies Championship and the BMW Championship, which was good enough to see him overtake Dustin Johnson at the top the world rankings. If Rose has any regrets about 2018 it will be the fact that he failed to add to his solitary major victory, but claiming the Tour Championship and then heading across the Atlantic Ocean and helping Europe win the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National would be a decent consolation prize.
At the conclusion of the BMW, Furyk handed his fourth wild card pick to Tony Finau. Although the big-hitting American has yet to land his first PGA Tour title of the year, he has done everything else but - week after week he turns up, and week after week he produces world-class performances. He has turned himself into a money-making machine. There are those who wonder whether he possesses the killer instinct, whether he will turn out to be another Charles Howell, a man who seems to be there or thereabouts on a regular basis but without being able to finish off the job. There is a key difference between the two - Howell seems to be content with his lot; Finau is desperate to start turning his chances into victories. He has no weaknesses and it is surely only a matter of time before he enters the winners’ enclosure.
There were no such worries for Francesco Molinari, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm and Paul Casey, which has to be good news for Bjorn. Fleetwood continues to be a revelation. It is not so very long ago that the man from Southport was struggling to keep hold of his playing privileges on the European Tour, but look at him now. He once again has a chance of winning the Race to Dubai (although Open champion Molinari will have something to say about that) and has performed some heroics in America, not least during the final round of the US Open, when he shot a 63 and very nearly snatched the title from under the nose of Brooks Koepka. Like Finau, Fleetwood is still looking for his maiden victory in the States; it can’t be long before it happens and, when it does, it will surely open the floodgates.
With only 30 players in the field, I am restricting my picks this week to a Fab Five.
Justin Rose. He just loves the playoffs
Best of the Rest:
Tony Finau. Pressure is off - now watch him go
Xander Schaufelle. So unlucky to miss out on Paris
Justin Thomas. Another amazing year for the young American
Tiger Woods. Keeps getting closer and closer
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