Tag Archives: FedExCup

Rory McIlroy returns to RBC Canadian Open to face strong field

By: PGA Tour

TORONTO, Ont. – Rory McIlroy marked his ball with a Canadian $1 coin, nicknamed a ‘Loonie,’ the last time he played the RBC Canadian Open. He received one from his pro-am partner in 2019 and that extra luck worked. He won.

This year, tournament organizers came prepared.

“I turned up to the locker room and there was already one in my locker,” said McIlroy with a smile. “And then one of my pro-am partners gave me one this morning on the first green as well.

“I’m loaded with loonies this week.”

McIlroy will (finally) defend his title this week in Canada, three years after he won by seven shots at Hamilton Golf and Country Club. He flirted with 59 much of the final day before shooting a thrilling 61 that separated him from the field.

He comes to St. George’s Golf and Country Club looking to go back-to-back for the first time on the PGA TOUR, but to do it he’ll have to top one of the strongest fields north of the border in recent memory.

McIlroy is one of five golfers ranked in the top 10 in the world who are teeing it up this week in Toronto, including Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns. The top two players in the FedExCup are making their Canadian Open debuts. Scheffler, who also sits atop the world ranking, has won four times this year, including the Masters, while Burns earned his third win of the season by beating Scheffler in a playoff at the recent Charles Schwab Challenge.

PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas and THE PLAYERS champion Cameron Smith are the other two top-10 players in the field this week. There are 20 Canadians teeing it up in their national open as well, including Corey Conners, the top-ranked Canadian in the FedExCup standings.

“It’s really exciting to have those guys here,” Conners said of the stout field. “I think national championships, wherever they’re played, have a little bit more prestige and guys think really highly of this event. There are so many historic names on the trophy, and it would be awesome to be added to that and I think a lot of those guys feel the same way. It’s a good part of your legacy to be able to call yourself a Canadian Open champion and national open champion.”

McIlroy comes into the week after a T18 at the Memorial. He notched three consecutive top-10 finishes in his previous three starts, including a runner-up at the Masters and an eighth-place finish at the PGA Championship. He sits 15th on the FedExCup standings.

So far, he’s “loved” St. George’s Golf and Country Club, which is hosting its sixth RBC Canadian Open. He said it’s a “really good” traditional layout – built in 1929 – that will serve as a strong place to compete before next week’s U.S. Open.

McIlroy will be grouped with Conners and Thomas for the first two rounds.

Thomas said he took a few days off after he missed the cut at the Charles Schwab Challenge and celebrated his PGA Championship victory with some high-school friends back home in Louisville. Playing the week before the PGA Championship paid off with his win at Southern Hills and he’s hoping it will do the trick again with the U.S. Open coming next week. But Thomas is quick to recognize the legacy of the Canadian Open, as well. This is the 111th playing of the tournament.

“You look at the history of this event, it kind of speaks for itself,’ says Thomas. “The opportunity to come to a place and a tournament that’s so historic … definitely makes it a little bit more special.”

Scheffler said “it was easy” for him to include the Canadian Open in his schedule with a comparable set-up at St. George’s to The Country Club at Brookline. With seven of the top 25 in the world (Matt Fitzpatrick, Tony Finau, Tyrell Hatton and Shane Lowry are the others) all playing this week, it’ll be a solid challenge.

“I’m preparing for next week’s U.S. Open, but I really want to win this week. I really want to win every time I tee it up and play,” says Scheffler. “We (drew) a really good field this week and so definitely looking forward to competing against these guys.”

While Scheffler is on top of the FedExCup standings with his excellent play so far this season, it’s two-time FedExCup winner McIlroy who has quickly become the top draw in Canada.

This is, of course, attributed to winning in his debut in 2019 – “It would be nice to keep that percentage up this week, for sure,” he said – and the fact that he acted as the ‘defending’ champion for two extra seasons. His group drew the biggest crowds in Wednesday’s pro-am at St. George’s.

“I’ve worked hard to get to this position,” he says. “I mean if I didn’t like the attention I would go and I would play another sport or I would get another job or whatever. But there’s a lot of things that come along with being one of the top players in the game and yeah, I do relish it. I like that, I like being in that position.”

Another position McIlroy enjoys being in is first place on PGA TOUR leaderboards, something he’ll try to do again this week in Canada.

And he’s got a good-luck coin ready to go.

Bubba Watson diagnosed with torn meniscus

By: PGA Tour

Bubba Watson looked like he was firing on all cylinders when he tied a tournament record with a second-round 63 at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills last week.

As it turns out, he wasn’t.

After congratulating PGA winner Justin Thomas on social media Monday, Watson, who fell back with rounds of 73-75 on the weekend to finish T30, said he was playing on a torn meniscus and would have to pull out of this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge.

Here is the post: https://www.instagram.com/p/Cd6H6GLplfg/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

If Watson is out for four to six weeks, it could also mean missing the U.S. Open and Travelers Championship, where he’s a three-time champion. At 43, the 12-time PGA TOUR winner said last week, he’s had to make a few concessions to age, including using a lighter driver shaft.

“I’ve had a lot of issues over the last couple years,” Watson, who is 146th in the FedExCup and 69th in the Official World Golf Ranking, said at Southern Hills. “Had a lot of PRP (Platelet-Rich Plasma therapy) done on my wrist, PRP done on my knees. I’ve had a lot of issues.”

WiretoWire: Joaquin Niemann shines bright among stars at Riviera

By Staff ,  PGATOUR.COM

  • Joaquin Niemann goes wire-to-wire to win at Genesis

NEAR-FLAWLESS NIEMANN DRIVES AWAY AT GENESIS

Historic course. An event with a storied history. And the event host is Tiger Woods. As if there wasn’t enough pressure on Joaquin Niemann entering Sunday with a three-shot lead at The Genesis Invitational. But the 23-year-old from Chile settled in after a slow start, pulled off plenty of pressure shots and capped it with a final-round 71 to win by two strokes at The Riviera Country Club. Niemann, who opened with rounds of 63 on Thursday and Friday, became the first player to win the event in wire-to-wire fashion since Charlie Sifford in 1969. “This weekend felt like a month,” Niemann said. “I’m so happy it’s finally done. I’m really proud of the way my caddie and I battled.” It was Niemann’s second PGA TOUR win. His first came in 2019 at The Greenbrier. Niemann also came within one shot of tying the event’s scoring record. He finished at 19-under for the week, one short of Lanny Wadkins’ tournament record of 20-under which came in 1985. That remains as the longest standing active scoring record on TOUR. Niemann moved to No. 7 in the FedExCup standings after picking up 550 FedExCup points. The elevated event also brings with it a three-year exemption.

SUNSHINE STATE AWAITS

The PGA TOUR switches coasts for The Honda Classic, the start of the Florida swing. Matt Jones’ win last year was his first victory in seven years. He returns to defend, while South Florida locals Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger top the list of notables in the field. Koepka’s brother, Chase, will play on a sponsor exemption, as will 20-year-old Nicolai Hojgaard. The two-time winner on the DP World Tour, including earlier in February, will make his first star on the PGA TOUR at PGA National, the Tom Fazio design that was re-worked by Jack Nicklaus. The course has long been known as one of the toughest on the PGA TOUR thanks in large part to The Bear Trap from hole Nos. 15 to 17. Big names including Louis Oosthuizen, Sungjae Im, Keith Mitchell, Padraig Harrington, and Rickie Fowler are all set to tee it up. The winner will pick up 500 FedExCup points.

WOODS DISCUSSES HEALTH, PLANS TO RETURN

Tiger Woods met with the media last week prior to the start of The Genesis Invitational, which he hosts each year. It was a year ago when Woods was severely injured in a single-car accident. He suffered multiple fractures in his right leg and shattered his ankle. “I wish I could tell you when I’m playing again,” Woods said. “I want to know, but I don’t. My golf activity has been very limited. I can chip and putt really well and hit short irons very well, but I haven’t done any long stuff seriously. I’m still working.”

MIC CHECK

“This has to be one of the toughest courses we play during the year. “I surprised myself with how good I played. During the weekend, I just told myself that we have to finish this and to stay focused.” – Joaquin Niemann, winner of The Genesis Invitational

BY THE NUMBERS

64 – After shooting his age in Round 1, Bernhard Langer (64) went on to win at the Chubb Classic in Naples, Florida. Already the oldest winner in PGA TOUR Champions history, Langer broke his own record after winning a record fourth Chubb Classic title.

17 – Under-par score for Byeong Hun An to win at the Korn Ferry Tour’s LECOM Suncoast Classic.

COMCAST BUSINESS TOUR TOP 10

This Week Name Points
1. Hideki Matsuyama 1,276
2. Tom Hoge 1,115
3. Scottie Scheffler 1,063
4. Talor Gooch 1,000
5. Sungjae Im 894
6. Luke List 803
7. Joaquin Niemann 792
8. Sam Burns 775
9. Cameron Smith 754
10. Collin Morikawa 730

The Comcast Business TOUR TOP 10 highlights and rewards the extraordinary level of play required to earn a spot in the TOP 10 at the conclusion of the FedExCup Regular Season as determined by the FedExCup standings. The competition recognizes and awards the most elite in golf.

Tom Hoge shoots 9-under 63 to lead by one after Thursday at AT&T Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Tom Hoge enjoys being at Pebble Beach even in a frigid wind and relentless rain. He loved it even more Thursday in brilliant sunshine, especially with nine birdies on his card.

Hoge began his day along the Pacific Ocean with a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 10 at Pebble Beach. He made the last of six straight birdies with a 40-foot putt on the daunting eighth hole. It added to a 9-under 63, by four shots his best score at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

“It’s hard to be in a bad mood out here,” Hoge said. “I mean, Pebble Beach and perfect weather is about as good as it gets.”

He had a one-shot lead over Seamus Power of Ireland, whose round was equally stout. Power birdied his last four holes at Spyglass Hill, traditionally the toughest of the three courses in benign conditions. It was the only course that played over par Thursday.

Jonas Blixt had a 7-under 64 on the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula. Patrick Cantlay, the reigning FedExCup champion, birdied his last three holes for a 65 on the Shore.

Hoge has played just over 200 times on the PGA TOUR without winning, though he’s getting closer. He finished runner-up by two shots in Palm Desert two weeks ago.

Whether he gets another shot, that’s still a long way off, with two more courses to get through before Hoge gets back to Pebble Beach.

The coastline along the peninsula and the desert tucked amid the Santa Rosa Mountains are nothing alike, although Hoge managed to make one comparison. Scoring is on the low side.

Along with very little wind, the area has gone more than a month without rain and the courses are firm, without the greens being too fast because of amateurs in the field. To have greens running firm and fast, they might never finish.

“I was in the situation a couple weeks ago in Palm Springs — scores were a little bit better there — but you keep switching golf courses and you fee like you’ve got to keep making birdies the whole way because there’s a lot of great players out here,” he said. “Conditions look pretty good for the weekend, so I know that I’ve got to keep moving forward.”

There was no need to check the forecast and hope for the best — and this tournament, that means getting Pebble Beach and Monterey Peninsula on the calmest day and Spyglass in the wind. But it’s supposed to stay gorgeous all week.

Cantlay nearly had his round ruined around the turn when he squandered a good start with a pair of bogeys and began the back nine at the Shore by failing to birdie the par 5s. He made up for it with three straight birdies to finish his round, one of them on the 17th when his tee shot was about 6 feet from going into a small creek, and he hit a towering wedge over a pine to 12 feet for birdie.

Jordan Spieth, still trying to recover from an intestinal infection, had a 68 at Monterey Peninsula. He had hoped to be at full strength, but probably wasn’t quite there.

Otherwise, it was as perfect a day as the Pebble Beach Pro-Am can offer. About one-third of the field broke 70, and no one was terribly grumpy.

Power won an opposite-field event last year for his first PGA TOUR victory. He tied for third in the Sony Open in Hawaii and now sits at No. 50 in the world, needing to hold that position for two months to earn an invitation to the Masters.

He played in an all-Irish pairing with John Murphy, who went to Louisville and made his PGA TOUR debut, along with Irish amateurs Dermott Desmond and Gerry McManus. That added to a day that felt like more fun than work.

“I’m playing in a shirt. Normally I have a sweater and other stuff on,” Power said. “So it was nice, wind was minimal. It was a perfect day for scoring.”

His best moment was scrambling for par at the par-3 fifth hole, the last that runs along the Pacific on Spyglass Hill. He went from a fairway bunker on the uphill sixth to 25 feet and made that, and then finished with three more birdies.

“It’s always funny with the three courses,” Power said. “It’s great to have a good start but you’re on to a completely different challenge. Tomorrow I’m playing Pebble and it’s going to be a completely different course to today. So kind of makes it easier to reset, and hopefully we can kind of keep doing the same thing tomorrow.”

The First Look: The American Express

  • All-time shots from The American Express

Last season’s FedExCup champion Patrick Cantlay and world No. 1 Jon Rahm lead the field at The American Express, as the PGA TOUR returns to the mainland United States after two weeks in Hawaii.

Si Woo Kim, who bested Cantlay by one stroke in 2021, returns to defend.

FIELD NOTES: Patrick Cantlay shot a course-record 61 in the final round a year ago but ultimately fell one shot short of Si Woo Kim’s winning total. He’s back and hoping to lift the trophy … 2018 American Express winner Jon Rahm returns to action … Tournament host and reigning PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson is set to tee it up … 2020-21 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year Will Zalatoris will play his first event of the 2022 portion of the schedule … Other 2022 debutants include Francesco Molinari, Gary Woodland, Alex Noren, and Rickie Fowler … Fowler is teeing it up for the first time since the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba – and for the first time since becoming a father in November … There are 14 past champions of The American Express in the field … Sponsor’s exemptions include T.J Vogel, Chan Kim, James Hart du Preez and celebrated collegiate star John Pak … Cameron Champ is set to return to action after testing positive for COVID-19 and missing the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

FEDEXCUPWinner receives 500 FedExCup points.

COURSEThe American Express is set to return to play at three courses for 2021 after utilizing just two last year for the first time in tournament history.

Yardages are subject to change.

PGA West (Stadium Course): 7,113 yards, par 72

La Quinta Country Club: 7,060 yards, par 72

PGA West (Nicklaus Tournament Course): 7,159 yards, par 72

STORYLINES: The pro-am portion of The American Express returns in 2022 after being eliminated last year. Each professional will be grouped with amateurs for the first three rounds before the low 65 pros (and ties) will play their final round at the Stadium Course at PGA West … Jon Rahm is the first world No. 1 to tee it up at The American Express since former FedExCup champion Justin Rose in 2019. Rahm won the event in 2018, did not play for two years, and was scheduled to play in 2021 before tweaking a muscle at the gym … This is the 63rd annual American Express … Si Woo Kim will look to be the first player to successfully defend his title at The American Express since Johnny Miller in 1975-76.

72-HOLE RECORD: 260, Patrick Reed (2014).

18-HOLE RECORD: 59, David Duval (Round 5, 1999 at PGA West/Palmer), Adam Hadwin (Round 3, 2017 at La Quinta CC). Stadium Course record: 61, Patrick Cantlay (Round 4, 2021). Nicklaus Tournament record: 59, Harrison Frazar (Round 4, 2008 PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament, Final Stage*).

Note: Q-School does not count as an official PGA TOUR event.

LAST TIME: Si Woo Kim won for the third time on the PGA TOUR and extracted a little revenge on The American Express event after withdrawing a year prior due to severe back pain. The 25-year-old made birdie on two of his closing three holes to finish with an 8-under 64 on Sunday, topping Patrick Cantlay by one shot. Kim shot a 15-over 87 in the first round of The American Express in 2020 and promptly withdrew. Cantlay was six groups ahead of Kim and shot a final-round 61, breaking the Stadium Course record by two. Cantlay’s sizzling closer included 11 birdies, emphasized by a 37-foot birdie roll on 18. However, Kim’s solid closing stretch was good enough for the victory. Cam Davis finished third after a closing 64, while Tony Finau finished fourth. Abraham Ancer, Doug Ghim and Michael Thompson rounded out the top five.

HOW TO FOLLOW (All times ET)

Television: Thursday-Sunday, 3 p.m.-7 p.m. (Golf Channel)

Radio: Thursday-Friday, 1–7 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m.-7 p.m. (PGA TOUR Radio on SiriusXM and PGATOUR.com/liveaudio)

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Predicting the 2022 U.S. Presidents Cup team

  • U.S. Team highlights from the 2019 Presidents Cup

The U.S. Team rallied on the final day of the previous Presidents Cup to avoid an upset on a Royal Melbourne layout that was a mystery to most of its roster. Now the biennial competition between the U.S. and International teams returns to more familiar territory.

Next year’s Presidents Cup will be held at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club, the annual venue for the Wells Fargo Championship (the 2022 Wells Fargo will be played at TPC Potomac in Avenel, Maryland, to allow Quail Hollow to prepare for the Presidents Cup).

Davis Love III, a University of North Carolina alum, will helm the U.S. Team after leading two Ryder Cup squads. His 2012 team rolled through the opening two days before Europe staged an historic upset in Singles, known as the Miracle at Medinah, to score a road victory. Love’s 2016 team ensured that history didn’t repeat itself, winning 17-11 at Minnesota’s Hazeltine Golf Club.

Love also was a vice captain at this year’s Ryder Cup, giving him a front-row seat to watch the young talent that will undoubtedly form the core of his squad. He’s obviously excited to lead a team coming off a record Ryder Cup win.

Love’s team will be comprised of the top six players in the U.S. points standings after the 2022 BMW Championship. Players have been accumulating points in the Presidents Cup standings since the opening event of the 2020 season. Every FedExCup point earned during that campaign is worth a half-point in the Presidents Cup standings. FedExCup points earned in 2020-21 are worth one point, and each FedExCup point earned this season is worth three. (For the Presidents Cup standings, FedExCup Playoffs events are weighted the same as World Golf Championships.)

Love also will have six captain’s picks to round out the squad, giving him plenty of roster flexibility. To help you prepare for the upcoming Presidents Cup, here are a dozen names to consider for the next U.S. squad. This is supposed to be a fun exercise so don’t yell and scream because your favorite player wasn’t included (players are listed in alphabetical order).

Sam Burns

Age: 25
Previous Presidents Cups: 0
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 2

Burns narrowly missed out on a spot on this year’s Ryder Cup team after a breakout season that included his first win, at the Valspar Championship, and his first TOUR Championship appearance.

How’d Burns respond to his Ryder Cup near-miss? By winning his next start, the Sanderson Farms Championship, and contending in his next two events. Burns’ worst finish in four starts this fall is T14; he finished seventh or better in three of those events.

Injuries earlier in his TOUR career slowed his progress, but he’s fulfilling the lofty expectations that came after he was college golf’s player of the year in 2017, finished in the top-10 of a TOUR event while still an amateur and beat Tiger Woods while playing alongside the legend in the final round of the 2018 Honda Classic.

Patrick Cantlay
Age: 29
Previous Presidents Cups: 1 (2019)
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 8

Coming off a four-win season, it seems assured that the reigning FedExCup champion will be on the roster at Quail Hollow. His well-rounded game – he ranked in the top 30 of all four Strokes Gained categories last season – makes him an ideal partner in any format.

He went 3-0-1 at Whistling Straits this year – extending his individual record in international team events to 6-2-1 — and his bromance with Xander Schauffele guarantees he already has a partner queued up for Quail Hollow.

Bryson DeChambeau
Age: 28
Previous Presidents Cups: 1 (2019)
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 7

His driver produced some of the most memorable shots from this most recent Ryder Cup. There was the 417-yard blast that left him just a wedge into one par-5 and he drove the first green in his Singles win over Sergio Garcia.

He’s been driving for show (and dough) since his radical transformation before the previous Presidents Cup, leading the PGA TOUR in driving distance and Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee in each of the past two seasons while also ranking in the top 20 of Strokes Gained: Putting each season.

Quail Hollow can reward the big bomber. Look at Rory McIlroy’s success there. DeChambeau finished T9 in this year’s Wells Fargo Championship despite flying home to Dallas after thinking he missed the cut. A pair of 68s on the weekend moved him from the cut line and into the top 10.

Dustin Johnson
Age: 37
Previous Presidents Cups: 4 (2011, 2015, 2017, 2019)
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 13

This year’s Ryder Cup was the first since 1993 in which neither Phil Mickelson or Woods competed, leaving Johnson as the elder statesman of the American squad. It’s a quiet leadership, but one that his teammates respect. His record speaks for itself: Twenty-four PGA TOUR wins, including two majors and a FedExCup. And his best performance in one of these intercontinental tussles came in the most recent one.

He was the oldest member of this year’s Ryder Cup team (by a decent margin) but also the only one to go 5-0-0. He formed a strong partnership with a player more than a decade younger than him, Collin Morikawa. “He’s the oldest guy on our team, and it’s a very quiet leadership, but he makes his presence known,” Morikawa said. It’s hard to imagine an American team without Johnson, especially after what he did this year at Whistling Straits.

Phil Mickelson
Age: 51
Previous Presidents Cups: 12 (1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017)
Current President Cup ranking: 59

Look, it’s a longshot. We know it. Phil knows it. But it’s a thought worth entertaining. He readily admits that he needs to play better. But outside Augusta National and Pebble Beach, there may not be another course that elicits more excitement from Mickelson. He has 10 top-10s in 16 starts in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow. Even this year, he shot a first-round 64 that provided a glimpse of what was to come in his next start, his record-setting win at the PGA Championship.

Dominant PGA TOUR Champions seasons from both Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer led some to call for inclusion on their respective Ryder Cup teams. Mickelson could do something similar, having won four of six starts on that circuit. He relished being a vice captain in this year’s Ryder Cup – his banter on the radios was reportedly legendary – but his tenure as a playing member of the U.S. teams came to an unceremonious end in the United States’ loss at the 2018 Ryder Cup, where Mickelson went 0-2. Playing on this team could allow him to end on a winning note.

Collin Morikawa
Age: 24
Previous Presidents Cups: 0
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 1

He’s 24 years old and already owns two major championships. In an era obsessed with distance, Morikawa gets it done with the best iron play on TOUR. He acquitted himself nicely in this year’s Ryder Cup, his first time representing the U.S. in an international team competition as a pro.

He went 3-0 with Dustin Johnson – winning twice in Foursomes and once in Four-balls – before securing the clinching point by doing what he does best, hitting his 221-yard tee shot to 3 feet on the par-3 17th. After Morikawa snatched the Claret Jug, Ryder Cup and Race to Dubai trophy in 2021, Europe may want to lock up the Champions League trophy and perhaps even the Magna Carta, lest he run off with those prizes as well.

Scottie Scheffler
Age: 25
Previous Presidents Cups: 0
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 6

Beating the World No. 1 in Singles automatically earns you an exemption onto the next U.S. Team, right? Scheffler was DeChambeau’s right-hand man in this year’s Ryder Cup before blitzing Jon Rahm in Singles. Scheffler, the 2020 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, is still seeking his first win but the way he handled Rahm definitely counts for something. Scheffler birdied the first four holes en route to a 4-and-3 victory.

This season is off to a strong start, with a fourth-place finish at the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba and a T2 at the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open. The fact that he’s finished in the top 20 in his last six majors – including four finishes of eighth or better – show that his game is suited for the biggest stages.

Webb Simpson
Age: 37
Previous Presidents Cups: 3 (2011, 2013, 2019)
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 19

Charlotte’s favorite son  — Simpson lives on Quail Hollow – is a good bet to get a captain’s pick if he’s on the bubble for this team. He almost earned one for this year’s Ryder Cup team despite seeing a streak of four consecutive TOUR Championship berths come to an end. It was a difficult season for Simpson, who’d become a top-10 player in the world during his career resurgence. There was a COVID diagnosis and a neck injury that forced him to withdraw from the Wells Fargo. He finished the fall with a T8 at The RSM Classic that showed positive signs. He gained nearly 10 strokes with his approach play, more than three strokes ahead of Talor Gooch, who won the event and finished second to Simpson in that stat.

Simpson is a model teammate who’s respected by his peers, which is why he was on the short list of potential captain’s picks for this year’s Ryder Cup. Morikawa said at this year’s Olympics that tries to emulate Simpson’s balance of on- and off-course responsibilities, and he’s not alone in expressing that sentiment. Simpson still is one of the best players on TOUR from the approach shot in. Pair him with a long hitter and you have a formidable Foursomes pairing. And Simpson’s ability to make birdies in bunches pays off in Four-balls.

Jordan Spieth
Age: 28
Previous Presidents Cups: 3 (2013, 2015, 2017)
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 18

It’s the smallest of samples – just four rounds – but Spieth’s performance in his lone start of the fall could portend a successful season. He gained more than four strokes off the tee on the wide-open fairways of Summit Club, where he finished T18 in THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT. He was off the rest of the fall as he awaited the birth of his first child. The driver is the one club that still needs work. It’s trending in the right direction, though. Last year, he was just a tick below average in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, his best performance in that stat since 2018. As we know, Spieth doesn’t need to drive it on a string to succeed. He just needs to keep it on the planet. Spieth is a stalwart of these U.S. teams, and the plug-and-play partnership with Thomas adds a boost to his candidacy should he need a captain’s pick.

Justin Thomas
Age: 29
Previous Presidents Cups: 2 (2017, 2019)
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 3

This Presidents Cup gives Thomas an opportunity to return to the site of his 2017 PGA Championship win, and a chance to play for the captain he’s known since college. Thomas was teammates at Alabama with Love’s son, Dru. Thomas is 6-2-2 in his two Presidents Cup appearances and has become the United States’ biggest on-course catalyst, doubling as one of its best players and its most vocal competitor. He and Spieth have proven to be more than good friends, as well. They’ve formed a formidable pairing, going 4-2-0 together in Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup play. Having one of the best iron players in the game on your team is always an asset, as well. The reigning PLAYERS champion has ranked no worse than sixth in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green in each of the last five seasons.

Matthew Wolff
Age: 23
Previous Presidents Cups: 0
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 11

Matthew Wolff has become the poster child for mental health awareness after his leave of absence last season. He’s started an important conversation, but let’s not also forget that he’s also one of the most promising prospects in the game. Stepping away helped him learn how to cope with the pressures of stardom, and a late-night adjustment to his setup before the Sanderson Farms Championship has unleashed his unique, powerful action once again.

Wolff had the best resume when he turned pro alongside Morikawa and Viktor Hovland and was the first to win, becoming the just the third player to win an NCAA individual title and PGA TOUR event in the same year (Tiger Woods and Ben Crenshaw are the others). He finished in the top 4 in his first two majors and reached as high as 12th in the world ranking. The pressure got to Wolff last season, but he showed wisdom in deciding to step away. His enthusiasm for the game has returned and it showed with back-to-back top-5 finishes this fall. That run started at the Sanderson Farms Championship, where he was thinking about his swing while in bed and realized that his setup was off. “From that point on I’ve just been rolling,” he said.

Tiger Woods
Age: 45
Previous Presidents Cups: 9 (1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2019)
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 118

What will Tiger Woods’ role be at next year’s Presidents Cup? That’s for Tiger Woods to decide. Love said he’d even step aside as captain if Woods requested to lead the team for a second consecutive Cup. According to Love, Woods was in consideration to return as captain but turned down the role to focus on his playing career. If Woods can walk 18 holes, there’s a chance he’ll be on this team. Perhaps as a playing vice captain. It’s been a difficult road to recovery and Woods loves the camaraderie of these team events. Even if he can only play one Foursomes match and Singles, his appearance on the roster would mean so much to Tiger, his teammates and the event.

Look to 2011 as something of a precedent for Tiger making a team as a part-time player. Woods was inconsistent during just nine starts in that injury-interrupted year. He didn’t have a top-10 after the Masters but was still picked for the team and scored the clinching point for the U.S. Team at Royal Melbourne. And if he can’t play? Woods has shown his passion for playing any role he can in these team events, so it would be no surprise to see him assisting Love, just as he did at the Ryder Cup five years ago.

Monday Finish: Five things from Congaree

By Ben Everill

  • Garrick Higgo’s Round 4 highlights from the Palmetto Championship

The new South African wave is well and truly here. While the likes of Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel have been the headliners over the last 15 years or so, Garrick Higgo’s win at the Palmetto Championship at Congaree is a serious statement.

Higgo held firm down the stretch to post in at 11 under while a raft of others couldn’t match it. Chesson Hadley lost a four-shot 54-hole lead and a two-shot buffer with three to play, Harris English dropped five shots in his last eight, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson stalked the lead before a late triple … but Higgo, at 22, is now a PGA TOUR winner

Here are five things you may have missed from the unique visit to Congaree Golf Club.

1. Higgo here to stay

It’s an incredible story. Garrick Higgo, a 22-year-old South African who lost his father to a car accident when just nine, claimed the Palmetto Championship in just his second PGA TOUR start. His first was the recent PGA Championship (T64) at Kiawah Island after earning a start thanks to a golden month on the European Tour that read T4-1-T8-1.

While players were crumbling all over Congaree, the left-handed youngster held firm and thanks to three closing bogeys from Chesson Hadley, he didn’t even need extra holes to become the first player to win in one of their first two starts since Jim Benepe in 1988.

Should he take up PGA TOUR membership as expected, Higgo will immediately slide into 80th spot on the FedExCup standings and be a potential giant-killer come Playoffs time. While others struggled on the back nine, Higgo was one of just five players to play those holes 6-under in the final two rounds making 113-feet, six-inches of putts in the process.

With Gary Player as a long-term mentor Higgo has always had plenty of support in the right places and at this rate he could become the first Junior Presidents Cup player to make the actual Presidents Cup in 2022, ironically under the same captain in fellow South African Trevor Immelman. Read more about his great story here.

Oh and he’s not the only young South African about to make serious waves… introducing the smash factor of Wilco Nienaber!

2. Chesson Hadley had the trophy in his grasp before a heart-wrenching finish

When Hadley won the 2014 Puerto Rico Open the common thought was the almost always smiling character wouldn’t wait long before another triumph. But assuming success on the PGA TOUR is always fraught with danger.

Hadley had runner-up finishes in the fall of 2017 and 2018 but had failed to notch up a top-10 in 2020 or 2021 when he turned up at Congaree. In fact he’d missed 12 of his last 14 cuts, including the last five straight.

So to say his four-shot 54-hole lead was a surprise was certainly an understatement. A couple of early fourth round bogeys could’ve been early killers but Hadley battled on and through 15 holes he found himself with a two-shot lead and on the verge of a drought breaking win.

But his approach game had proven problematic throughout Sunday and to that point he’d found only four greens in regulation. He wouldn’t find any of the last three and the bogey-bogey-bogey finish to fall one short will grate on him for some time.

“I was uncomfortable out there, and I could never really hit some good shots to try to settle me down… It was always an uphill battle. It was always putting for pars and bogeys. It caught up with me,” Hadley said.

“I hate the word choked. That’s not the right word because that’s a very negative word, but I didn’t handle it the way I needed to handle it … it sucks, right? I can only imagine what it looked like on TV because it looked freakin’ awful from my view. I could barely keep it on the planet.”

While it certainly stung, the good news is Hadley jumped from 151st in the FedExCup to 111th, and now has the chance to secure a spot in the August Playoffs if he can continue some half decent form.

“It was a good week. If I had shot 75 the first round and then 65, 66, 68, I’d be tickled,” Hadley said. “I made a nice jump today in the FedExCup, but I still probably need to just get some more points if I’m going to head on to Liberty National. Plenty of golf left to see if we can’t get in the mix a few more times and maybe seal the deal on one.”

3. The last time Bo Van Pelt had a runner-up finish the Twilight saga was ending and The Hunger Games was just beginning. He also had an extra rib

That was back in 2012 but Van Pelt produced a blast from the past to go close to a second TOUR victory (2009 U.S. Bank Championship). Playing with eventual winner Higgo, Van Pelt will rue bogeys on 16 and 18 on Sunday that cost him any chance.

Van Pelt remains on the comeback trail from a shoulder injury that occurred when trying to haul a backpack over a car seat in 2015 – a freak issue that would ultimately lead to Van Pelt needing to have one of his ribs removed and spend near three and a half years away.

Last season he made just four cuts and this season he opened with nine straight missed cuts before starting to find just a little form.

“I didn’t play 18 holes for over three years. I had three shoulder surgeries, so I thought I was done, to be honest,” Van Pelt admitted. “My hand kind of got numb. Got referred to a guy down in Dallas named Greg Pearl, who looked at me and said, I’ve got to take out your first rib. As soon as he did, my shoulder didn’t hurt anymore. I said, well, let’s see if I can get my game back in shape.

“It’s been fun. It’s been tough. It’s kind of like starting over. When you’re out of the game that long, all your old feels aren’t the same. My coach Mark Wood, who’s up in Charlotte now, we’ve been together 20 years. We’ve been working hard to try to get it back. He came up here this week and gave me a couple of good tips and kind of got me going in the right direction.”

Van Pelt rode a hot putter, finishing third in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting (+6.043), after Indiana based coach Bruce Rearick helped with a slight adjustment in his posture and setup, and “just kind of cleaned up my stroke a little bit”.

4. The early fruits of PGA TOUR University are starting to ripen

Davis Thompson’s pro debut at Congaree did not start according to plan when he was 5-over through eight holes. You’d be forgiven for putting a missed cut next to his name right there and then.

But the former University of Georgia star, who was second on the PGA TOUR U rankings before turning pro, wasn’t about to lie down and knuckled down to show some serious grit that makes one think he’s got a serious future ahead of him.

He was still five-over after 11 holes in the opening round but then exploded with five birdies, including four straight to close the day and shoot an even-par 71. Rounds of 69-71-70 followed for a very respectable T35 which made his mom, dad and sister in the gallery extremely proud.

“I got off to a terrible start. I don’t know if I was nervous, or I just wasn’t really thinking or calculating the right yardages in the fairway. I was landing everything hole-high, and it was going over the green. Made a nice adjustment on the back nine, or really starting on the ninth hole, was able to make birdie there and just turned it on on the back,” Thompson said of that opening round.

“I thought I did a lot of things well this week. It’s just there are some things I need to work on. Great experience, being my first professional event. It was great for me to make the cut. I learned some things, simple course-management stuff. I learned I have what it takes to compete. Just making a few less mental mistakes and I should be good.”

Thompson has starts locked in at the Travelers Championship and Rocket Mortgage Classic in coming weeks.

Former PGA TOUR U No. 1 John Pak also played his first pro event and although he missed the cut, he’s another to keep an eye on.

5. Koepka and DJ remain confident despite stumbles

FedExCup champion Dustin Johnson was seven shots back starting the final round in his home state and once again it appeared his ho-hum home results would continue. But then he birdied three of the first four holes on the back nine Sunday to rocket to 11 under (the eventual winning score) and become a serious threat and an ominous presence on the leaderboard.

There was almost a sense of inevitability around the place that he was going to surge to victory and head to the U.S. Open as the man to beat.

But then the 16th hole swallowed him up and spat him out with a disastrous triple-bogey and just like that he was gone. Despite the setback Johnson has clearly found some form by collecting his first top-10 since The Genesis Invitational back in February.

Four-time major winning Koepka, who was runner up to Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship, missed the cut meaning his incredible run of results since winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open reads 1-T38-T2-CUT-CUT-T2-CUT.

Despite missing the weekend Koepka was happy his troublesome right knee was feeling stronger and stronger.

“It’s good,” he said. “It’s in a really good spot. I like where it’s at. I’ve done enough rehab, strength’s coming around. I mean, I can almost squat down to read a putt like normal. Didn’t do it too much this week just because I don’t want to screw it up for next week.”

The First Look: Palmetto Championship at Congaree

The Palmetto Championship at Congaree is a one-time replacement for the RBC Canadian Open, as lingering concerns tied to the U.S.-Canada border and ongoing COVID-19 challenges made it too difficult to host Canada’s national open for the second year in a row.

This is the third PGA TOUR event contested in South Carolina this season (RBC Heritage and PGA Championship) while the Korn Ferry Tour’s BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation will be hosted in South Carolina the same week as the Palmetto Championship.

FIELD NOTES: Reigning FedExCup champion and South Carolina native Dustin Johnson leads the field… The recently announced Ben Hogan Award winner, John Pak, is making his professional debut. Pak, who also won the Fred Haskins Award as the nation’s top men’s collegiate golfer this year, is the top-ranked played in the inaugural PGA TOUR University Class… Former No.1-ranked amateur in the world, Davis Thompson, is also making his first professional TOUR start. Thompson, a University of Georgia product, finished T23 as an amateur at The RSM Classic… Former PGA TOUR Player of the Year Brooks Koepka is making his first start since the PGA Championship where he was runner up… Fellow major winners Danny Willett, Jason Dufner, and Padraig Harrington (fresh off his T4 at the PGA Championship) are teeing it up… Also amongst the Sponsor Exemptions is Bluffton, South Carolina native Bryson Nimmer. The Clemson University product is playing his third TOUR event of the season and grew up less than an hour from Congaree.

FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 500 FedExCup points.

COURSECongaree Golf Club, par 71, 7,655 yards. The 2017 Tom Fazio design in South Carolina’s Lowcountry (about 30 minutes north of Savannah, Georgia) is built on a 3,200-acre property with holes routed between trees that are up to 300 years old. It was built with the sandbelt courses of Australia in mind and will challenge the TOUR’s best with its length (the par-5 4th, for example, measures 645 yards while there are two par-4’s on the front nine longer than 520 yards) and natural hazard areas.

STORYLINES: The RBC Canadian Open will return to the PGA TOUR’s schedule in 2022, hosted by Toronto’s St. George’s Golf and Country Club which last hosted the event in 2010. Oakdale Golf and Country Club will host in 2023, while Hamilton Golf and Country Club will host in 2024… Other high-profile names who are choosing to play in South Carolina prior to heading to Torrey Pines for the U.S. Open include world No.10 Tyrrell Hatton, fellow Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, and former PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year Sungjae Im.

72-HOLE RECORD: N/A (first-time event)

18-HOLE RECORD: N/A (first-time event)

LAST TIME: In the spot on the PGA Tour schedule normally occupied by the RBC Canadian Open, the Palmetto Championship is a one-off replacement event as COVID-19 challenges were too great to overcome for the second year in a row in Canada. Rory McIlroy captured the 2019 RBC Canadian Open by seven shots – even flirting with a 59 in the final round – but will not be in the field in South Carolina. The previous years’ Canadian Open winner, Dustin Johnson, will be teeing it up at the Palmetto Championship, however, along with 2016-17 champion Jhonattan Vegas.     


HOW TO FOLLOW

Television: Thursday-Friday, 3 p.m.-6 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 1 p.m.-3 p.m. (Golf Channel), 3 p.m.-6 p.m. (CBS)

PGA TOUR LIVEThursday-Friday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. (Featured Groups). Saturday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. (Featured Groups), 3 p.m.-6 p.m. (Featured Holes)

Radio: Thursday-Friday, 12 p.m.-6 p.m ET. Saturday-Sunday, 1 p.m.-6 p.m. ET. (PGA TOUR Radio on SiriusXM and PGATOUR.com/liveaudio).

TOURCast: Get shot-by-shot info in real time with shot tracks and video with TOURCast.

TOUR Pulse: Get the PGA TOUR app to utilize TOUR Pulse, which provides users the ability to experience a mix of content, such as video highlights, written hole summaries and stat graphics on every player after every hole they complete.

The First Look: the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide

A stout field led by the top five in the FedExCup standings will all head to Jack Nicklaus’ renovated Muirfield Village for the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide.

Jon Rahm, whose victory pushed the young Spaniard to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time, is back to defend. The Memorial was the first of two wins last season, marking Rahm’s first multi-win campaign on TOUR.

FIELD NOTES: Bryson DeChambeau, who leads the FedExCup standings and won the 2018 Memorial, will be teeing it up … Other past winners at Jack’s Place who will be in the field include Patrick Cantlay, Jason Dufner, William McGirt and, of course, Rahm. Overall there are six former Memorial winners in the field… Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, a pair of past FedExCup and PLAYERS champions, head to Muirfield looking for their first titles at the Memorial … Tyler Strafaci and Joe Long earned spots in the field after winning last year’s U.S. Amateur and British Amateur, respectively. Pepperdine alum Sahith Theegala is in the field as last year’s Jack Nicklaus Award winner, given to the top player in college golf … Sponsor exemptions include Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, who is coming off a fourth-place finish at the PGA Championship; fellow major champions Vijay Singh and Danny Willett; and Bo Hoag who, like Nicklaus himself, played golf at Ohio State and has a deep connection to the Golden Bear.

FEDEXCUPWinner gets 550 FedExCup points.

COURSEMuirfield Village Golf Club, par 72, 7,543 yards. The House That Jack Built hosted two consecutive PGA TOUR events in 2020 prior to getting a renovation (Collin Morikawa beat Justin Thomas in a playoff to win the Workday Charity Open in the week preceding the Memorial). The renovation efforts started during the final round of last year’s Memorial Tournament. Turf was being lifted as the leaders were on the back nine. Changes included irrigation work, the addition of a PrecisionAire system, rebuilt fairway and greenside bunkers, reconstruction of the greens, over 140 trees added in various spots (for example, the fairway width on No.13 was reduced), plus resurfaced tee boxes. The course can also play up to 100 yards longer now.

STORYLINES: What will a renovated Muirfield Village look like? Last year, the course played the toughest it had in more than 40 years as the crew let the golf course get firm and fast before being torn up for the renovation. The renovations will challenge the players in a new way … Rahm is looking to become the first man to defend his title at the Memorial since Tiger Woods in 2001 (that was actually Woods’ third consecutive title) … Seven of the top-10 golfers in the world will be teeing it up at the Memorial… A limited number of spectators will be allowed to attend. The tournament is also taking the unprecedented step of offering COVID-19 vaccinations to on-site spectators June 4-6… With the Memorial Day weekend in the rear-view mirror, the FedExCup race is heating up. And with 550 FedExCup points available to the winner at the Memorial, it’s a fine opportunity for someone to make a big-time jump.

72-HOLE RECORD: 268, Tom Lehman (1994)

18-HOLE RECORD: 61, John Huston (2nd round, 1996)

LAST YEAR: Despite shooting 75 in the final round, Jon Rahm captured the 2020 Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide and in the process got to No. 1 in the world. Rahm had an eight-shot lead as he made the turn Sunday in 2020, but he came home in 5-over 41. The highlight for Rahm came on the par-3 16th as he flopped in a pitch for birdie and unleashed a big fist pump… until it was revealed the ball moved slightly when he placed his wedge behind it, and he was assessed a two-shot penalty. It was no matter, however, as he notched his fifth TOUR title. Rahm’s 9-under 279 was good for a three-shot victory over Ryan Palmer. It was the highest winning score at Memorial since Woods shot the same number in 2012. Rahm and Palmer paired to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans a year earlier. Matthew Fitzpatrick finished 5 under and alone in third place; his 68 was the only sub-70 score in the final round. Matt Wallace and Muirfield Village member Jason Day rounded out the top five. Only nine players finished under par. Tiger Woods, in his first start back after the COVID-19 break, finished T40.      


HOW TO FOLLOW

Television: Thursday-Friday, 3 p.m.-7 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday, 12:30 p.m.-3 p.m. (Golf Channel), 3 p.m.-6 p.m. (CBS). Sunday, 12:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. (Golf Channel), 2:30 p.m.-6 p.m. (CBS).

PGA TOUR LIVEThursday-Friday 7:15 a.m.-7 p.m. (Featured Groups). Saturday, 7:45 a.m.-3 p.m. (Featured Groups), 3 p.m.-6 p.m. (Featured Holes). Sunday, 7:45 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (Featured Groups), 2:30 p.m.-6 p.m. (Featured Holes).

Radio: Thursday-Friday, 12 p.m.-6:30 p.m ET. Saturday-Sunday, 1 p.m.-6 p.m. ET. (PGA TOUR Radio on SiriusXM and PGATOUR.com/liveaudio).

TOURCast: Get shot-by-shot info in real time with shot tracks and video with TOURCast.

TOUR Pulse: Get the PGA TOUR app to utilize TOUR Pulse, which provides users the ability to experience a mix of content, such as video highlights, written hole summaries and stat graphics on every player after every hole they complete.

FedExCup triumph caps McIlroy’s greatest season

ATLANTA – The celebration was more muted than the first time Rory McIlroy won the FedExCup. And that was intentional.

When McIlroy holed a 20-foot putt to win at East Lake three years ago, he twice let out a primal scream of “Come On!” His mouth was agape as he looked skyward and puffed out his chest.

The context played a part in his visceral celebration. McIlroy, who holed a wedge shot on the 16th hole of the final round, had to endure a tense playoff to win his first FedExCup.

This time, McIlroy gave a simple downward swing of his fist after he tapped in to complete a four-shot victory at the TOUR Championship.

Since leaving East Lake last year, McIlroy has tried to not be swayed by the emotional swings that are inherent in this game. He doesn’t want his score to define him. This decision was part of McIlroy’s unceasing quest for improvement, what he calls his “personal journey” for both personal and professional improvement.

“Who I am as a person isn’t who I am as a golfer, and it took me a while to get to that point where I realized who those two people were,” he said earlier this year.

McIlroy, once the teenage phenom with the mop top of hair, turned 30 earlier this year. A few gray hairs now peek out from under his cap, but there are also advantages to his advancing age. His maturation paid off with the best season of his professional career.

The TOUR Championship was his third win of the season. He also won his first THE PLAYERS Championship and claimed the RBC Canadian Open by sprinting past the field with a final-round 61. This was his first three-win season in five years, and his first campaign with multiple wins since 2016.

Some may say his multiple-major season of 2014, or his dominant 2012, were better, but McIlroy gives the nod to this season. Victories are the most memorable metric for fans, but they’re also an imperfect one. Too much is determined by other players’ performances.

Players emphasize consistency because their play is all they can control. A string of high finishes proves they’re playing well. The wins are just a bonus. McIlroy finished in the top-10 in 75% of his starts this season – only two players other players did that in more than half their starts – and had a career-high 14 top-10s. He missed just two cuts.

“I think some of the work that I’ve put in on the mental side of the game, … I think you’re starting to see the fruition of that,” McIlroy said.

With Sunday’s win, McIlroy joins Tiger Woods as the only two-time FedExCup champions. This was the first year that the FedExCup paid $15 million, a $5 million increase over previous years. It’s an impressive figure – the largest single payout in professional golf history – but there may be another number that means more to him: +2.55.

That’s the number of strokes McIlroy beat the field by per round this season. Officially, it’s known as Strokes Gained: Total. To calculate it, just subtract McIlroy’s score from the field’s scoring average each day.

McIlroy’s mark this season is the highest of this decade, beating his own performance in 2012 (+2.41). It’s also the highest single-season mark by anyone not named Tiger Woods, per 15th Club’s Justin Ray.

At this point, many people are probably rolling their eyes, wondering how any statistic could outweigh an eight-figure check or a major trophy. But this metric says McIlroy just completed the best season of his PGA TOUR career, and he concurs.

“I think it is. We talk about consistency,” he said. “That attitude and consistency, day in, day out, I think that’s what you’ve seen over the course of this year, and hopefully will continue to see going forward.”

 When 2019 began, it had been more than eight months since McIlroy’s last win, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. That was his only PGA TOUR win since the 2016 TOUR Championship.

He started this year with five consecutive top-10 finishes before arriving at TPC Sawgrass for THE PLAYERS Championship. His game was displaying promising signs, but he was also facing questions about his Sunday struggles.

McIlroy ended those queries with his Sunday performance at TPC Sawgrass. He started the final round one stroke off the lead, then 70 to beat Jim Furyk by one. McIlroy overcame a double-bogey on the fourth hole with four back-nine birdies.

TPC Sawgrass was a course that long confounded him. Pete Dye’s design handcuffed him, forcing him to keep his biggest asset, his driver, in the bag. That was in May, though, when the course was firm and fast. The tournament’s move to March, when the course played longer and the temperatures were cooler, allowed him to use that club more often.

He bogeyed the 14th to fall out of the lead, but responded to that miscue by making birdie on the next hole from a fairway bunker. He calls that 6-iron to 15 feet the most important shot of the season.

“That basically set up me going on to win THE PLAYERS Championship. If I don’t win THE PLAYERS, I don’t know what happens after that and where the season might go,” he said.

McIlroy’s streak of seven consecutive top-10 finishes ended at the Masters, the one tournament he needs to win to complete the career Grand Slam. He was never in contention at Augusta National, but rebounded from that disappointment with consecutive eighth-place finishes at the PGA and Wells Fargo Championship.

His second win was preceded by a missed cut at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide. Having the weekend off was a blessing in disguise, giving him two extra days to prepare for his debut in the RBC Canadian Open, where he had authored one of the most memorable rounds of his career.

McIlroy decided this year that he would no longer work on his swing at a tournament. This week was the first that his swing coach, Michael Bannon, was on-site. McIlroy believes it’s another reason he was so steady this season.

“I made a plan at the start of the year not to really focus or worry about my swing the week that I’m playing,” he said. “I think you should do your work before the tournament starts, and then once you’re there, just go with what you have. That’s basically what I did this year.”

McIlroy entered the final round tied with Matt Kuchar and Webb Simpson, but flirted with 59 to win by seven.

Even the best golf season is not be devoid of disappointment, though. For McIlroy, it came in his home country. The Open was visiting Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush for the first time in more than 50 years, but McIlroy’s stay was short. He knocked his first tee shot out-of-bounds and shot 79. A spirited Friday-afternoon charge, in front of a raucous crowd that was trying to will him to the weekend, fell short, but McIlroy was so touched by the outpouring that he got choked up in post-round interviews.

McIlroy’s game left him at an inopportune time in the next week, as well. He shot 62 in the third round of the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational to set up a heavyweight fight with Brooks Koepka in Sunday’s final group. McIlroy hit more like a featherweight, though. He made just one birdie and lost by five.

Those disappointments set the stage for the TOUR Championship. They showed McIlroy, who’d been trying so hard to stay even-keeled, that there were still appropriate times to channel his emotions.

“Brooks went out there in Memphis and shot 65 and just basically dominated the tournament, dominated me. And I realized if I want to become the dominant player in the world again, I need to be more like that,” McIlroy said. “I guess that’s the ultimate compliment I can give Brooks, that today I wanted to be a little bit more like him.”

McIlroy arrived at East Lake ranked fifth in the FedExCup and five shots behind leader Justin Thomas. McIlroy started the final round a stroke behind Koepka, setting up another final pairing between the season’s two best players.

Koepka struggled with his driving, including a lost ball on the seventh hole. McIlroy, who shot a bogey-free 33 on Sunday’s front nine, took a one-shot lead at the turn.

He ranked in the top 25 of the four Strokes Gained statistics that measure each aspect of the game (Off-the-Tee, Approach, Around-the-Green, Putting), and he exhibited that well-rounded game on the final nine of the season. McIlroy pulled away early on the back nine, beating Koepka by four strokes on the first four holes of that side.

He parred the 10th hole, then executed a delicate flop shot from behind the 11th green. McIlroy stiffed an iron shot on 12, then holed an 11-footer for birdie on the next hole. He made back-to-back bogeys on 14 and 15, but holed a 9-footer for par on 16 before birdieing the last two holes.

“He played great golf today, pretty much mistake-free. He was impressive to watch. He put it in the fairway a lot, hit a lot of greens,” Koepka said. “And even his short game, the up-and-down he made on 11, that was pretty tasty right there. And then the way he finished it off right there was very impressive.”

McIlroy had returned the favor from the FedEx St. Jude Invitational. Beating Brooks just weeks after the beat-down in Memphis is part of a bigger theme to this season. McIlroy also is proud that he ranked 10th in bounce-back, the rate at which a player follows a bogey with a birdie. During his earlier days, McIlroy’s shoulders would slump shortly after making some bogeys. He is steelier now.

“If you look at my bounce-back stat this year, it’s way up there, and I think that’s a good indication of where my mind and my attitude is while I’m out there playing,” he said.

McIlroy now has 17 PGA TOUR wins. All have come since 2010, making him the unquestionable Player of the Decade. He’s seeking more wins in the next decade, but is driven by another benchmark.

“The Holy Grail is three,” he said. He was referring to 3.0 Strokes Gained per round. Woods is the only player who’s done that.

“I’m not going to stop until I get to three because Tiger has done that multiple seasons, and when you get to three strokes gained, you’re just in another league,” McIlroy said. “That’s what I strive towards.”

The FedExCup was the end of McIlroy’s most consistent season. And it may just be the beginning of another act in his career.