Any reasonably serious fan of the PGA Tour who tracked the FedExCup Deutsche Bank results actually noticed four story lines that demanded attention. There was the outcome of the tournament itself, with its $1.5 million payday to the winner. There was the 70-player cutline to advance the field to Crooked Stick next week for the BMW Championship. There was the top 5 FedExCup point standings, which guarantees a player $10 million for a win in Atlanta. And there were the continuing auditions for Davis Love III and his four remaining Captain’s picks for the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
The tournament itself produced major headlines with its winner. Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy had been largely disappointing this summer, especially given the lofty expectations attached to all his starts. His fifth-place tie at the Open Championship at Troon went mostly unnoticed with the Mickelson-Stenson duel on Sunday. The two American majors, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, played out over their weekends without McIlroy in the field after missed cuts in both.
The world of golf knew that the player who had collected four major wins by age 25 was being stymied by a putting stroke that left him frustrated. “My tee-to-green game, there’s not much wrong with that. It’s pretty solid. Driving the ball well, hitting good iron shots. I think if you had to give anyone else in this field my tee shots this week,” he said at Baltusrol, “they would have been up near the top of the leaderboard. It just shows you how bad I was around the greens. Tee to green is good, I just need to figure out what to do on the greens. I need to have a long hard think about that.”
Whatever those thoughts might have been, at least for the weekend in Boston, they were the elixir for the moment. “I tweaked a tiny little tweak on Saturday morning on the putting green, and I saw some putts go in and got some confidence from that.”
McIlroy shot 11-under par in the final two rounds, 66-65, and posted a two-shot win over Paul Casey. The young Irishman doesn’t need magic on the greens, he just needs to take advantage of what his other dominant skills give him. His final-round six-under 65 featured 31 putts, which is average for most, but good enough to point McIlroy in right direction. Four years ago he cashed in for a win in Boston and backed it up with another the following week at Crooked Stick.
The 70-player cut for BMW pretty much resolved itself on Friday. Only Ricky Barnes and Marc Leishman produced any drama on Monday, with Barnes sliding three spots to end his season and Leishman climbing up one to play another week. Phil Mickelson hurt his hopes of winning his first ever Vardon Trophy for low-stroke average, missing the cut with rounds of 75-72.
The chase for top 5 has already produced more than its usual volatility. With his win at The Barclays, Patrick Reed vaulted to the top of the point standings and looks secure for one of the spots in Atlanta. The same can be said for Dustin Johnson and Jason Day. Both had huge point totals before the playoffs began and were competitive last week in Boston.
Positions four and five, however, have created a very fluid ranking likely not to be resolved until after the BMW Championship. Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth both started last week in Boston at four and five respectively. Both dropped a notch with McIlroy’s revitalized performance, which moved him to fourth overall.
If Love was looking for clarity after the second week of FedExCup Playoffs, he has to be disappointed. Bubba Watson, J.B. Holmes, Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar filled out the next four slots in points going into Boston. None of them made statements about their selection. Holmes had a top 30, Fowler and Kuchar top 40s and Watson missed the cut. Players outside the four leading candidates accomplished nothing to sway Love toward making them a reach as a Captain’s pick. Jim Furyk, already a vice-captain, couldn’t break par on the weekend after an opening 67. Daniel Berger, poised to make a case at 7-under at the 36-hole mark, could finish no better than tied for 41st.
In fact, the Captain who had cause to celebrate after the Deutsche Bank is Europe’s Darren Clarke. An in-form McIlroy would be the kind of reliable points machine Clark needs for his rookie-laden team.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.