Tour Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
WE HEAD to the Tour Championship at East Lake with huge rewards at stake for the elite field of 30, and with some notable absentees into the bargain.
Two years ago, Tiger Woods won this tournament amid scarcely believable scenes, with thousands of spectators swarming onto the final fairway as he made his triumphant procession towards the most unlikely of victories. Sadly, Woods has failed to make the field this time and, of course, the man who collects the biggest prize in golf on Sunday night will do so with not a fan in sight.
It brings to an end an extraordinary season, one that has been heavily truncated because of Covid-19 but one that has also seen some sensational golf, some unlikely winners and the emergence of Bryson DeChambeau as a play who has changed the face of golf for ever.
Who on earth would ever have believed that we would get to East Lake without Justin Rose, Woods, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka (injured but unlikely to have made it anyway), Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry, the Open champion?
We have seen victories for the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Webb Simpson and Justin Thomas - no great surprise there. But what about Daniel Berger, Collin Morikawa and Jim Herman?
(Dustin Johnson Looking to Continue Sparkling Form)
Johnson has won twice since the restart and was never better than in winning the Northern Trust by an unbelievable 11 shots. During the second round he was 11 under par after 11 holes on a day when Scottie Scheffler shot a 59. Never have we seen a day like it. The Dustinator won the tournament with a 30-under-par total, just one shy of the all-time record. It took him back to the top of both the world rankings and the FedEx standings. He changes putters for fun but on this week he required the short stick just 104 times in 72 holes. He drove the ball brilliantly and he found more greens in regulation than anybody else in the field. It was a spectacular performance, and it was his second victory since the lockdown ended.
He has also produced some horror rounds but the thing with Johnson is that when he finds a bit of form it tends to last, so he is definitely the man to beat at East Lake. The FedEx Cup is one of the few targets still missing from is CV and he has made it clear that he wants to put that right.
Morikawa has also been sensational, winning twice, including the US PGA Championship, and losing in a playoff. He still has more wins than missed cuts to his name - he has three victories and has failed to make the weekend just twice.
Keep an eye on Webb Simpson, who is surely the most underrated player in the world’s top 10.
DeChambeau played poorly at the Northern Trust, missing the cut. He is surely beginning to learn that you simply cannot bully every golf course into submission. The American hits the ball miles but his game management at times is shocking. There are occasions when you must leave the driver in the bag and find the fairway. He seems believe that his incredible strength will allow him to escape from the most unlikely places but eventually it will catch up with you.
(Jon Rahm Determined to Win the FedEx Cup)
Jon Rahm's reign as world number one did not last long but he will reclaim the top spot sooner rather than later. He also wasn’t at his best in Boston but somehow managed to finish in a tie for sixth place, albeit 14 shots adrift of Johnson, before winning a dramatic BMW Championship at Olympia Fields.
Your correspondent’s tip is Daniel Berger, who has returned to the game like a man possessed. Before the shutdown he had shown some promising signs, with three successive top-10 finishes. But he has moved to a different level since then, with one victory and three top-three finishes.
And what a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, Rory McIlroy won the FedExCup for the second time when he breezed past Koepka in the final round of the Tour Championship and picked up a mind-boggling cheque for $15m. One shot behind at the start of the final round, McIlroy took the lead with a three-shot swing at the seventh. He closed with a four-under 66 and finished four shots ahead of Xander Schauffele.
In 2018, he was a bystander playing in the final group as Woods capped off his comeback by winning at East Lake. This time, the cheers were for him.
"It was pretty cool," McIlroy said. "I must say I didn't enjoy that walk last year like everyone else did. I played terribly. I got myself into the final group and never took the fight to Tiger. Going up against the No. 1 player in the world today, he got one over on me in Memphis, and I wanted to try to sort of get some revenge today.
"To play like that alongside Brooks and get the win, win the FedExCup, yeah, it's awesome. You know, it's amazing how different things can be in a year.”
Koepka shot a 72 in the final round, his chances undone by a stretch of three consecutive bogeys on his back nine.
When the season restarted, the Northern irishman was top of the world rankings, riding high in the FedEx Cup standings and had finished no worse than fifth in six starts.
Ahead of the BMW Championship he had tumbled to 12th in the FedEx Cup standings and seen his world ranking fall to fourth. His best finish was a tie for 11th at the Travelers Championship. He has limped through the season, showing flashes of brilliance but unable to string four rounds together.
The tournament was won in 2015 by Jordan Spieth, in 2016 by Rory McIlroy, in 2017 by Xander Schauffele, in 2018 by Tiger Woods and last year by McIlroy.
Daniel Berger. Brimming with confidence
Dustin Johnson. In the form of his life
Jon Rahm. Course is made for him
Daniel Berger. Has become one of the most consistent players on tour
Dustin Johnson. Desperate to win the FedEx Cup
Jon Rahm. Needs to keep his cool
Rory McIlroy. Defending champion, looking for his best form
Collin Morikawa. Looking to put the icing on the cake
Webb Simpson. Massively underrated
Justin Thomas. Looking for a big finish
Xander Schauffele. Class act
Bryson DeChambeau. Needs to find some course management
Patrick Reed. Can never be written off
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