In Steele-Els duel, both players win,advance to BMW Championship

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Monday's weather delay came at just the right time for Brendan Steele.
September 02, 2013
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

NORTON, Mass. -- Brendan Steele wasn't a happy camper.

He had just three-putted the 14th hole at TPC Boston and was projected 74th in the FedExCup standings when the horn sounded to suspend the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship. He headed into the clubhouse, chowed down on a couple of pieces of chicken and ended up taking a nap, using his golf shoes as a pillow.

Steele was still mad at himself when he woke up -- and not because that rather unique "pillow" was less than satisfactory. But he decided to go back out and see if he could make something happen after what turned out to be such a well-timed delay.

"It's really how I should have been all day," the lanky Californian said. "But I wasn't hitting the shots, making the putts. It's one of those things where momentum was going the wrong way, you get a break. You see it all the time in other sports. Somebody calls a time out and the team makes a run the other way or whatever the case may be. 

"Just a momentum thing."

Steele grabbed that momentum at the 15th hole when he made a 12-footer for birdie. He hit it to 17 inches at No. 16 and 5 feet at the 17th for two more birdies. When he launched a 2-iron to the green at the par-5 18th and two-putted from 42 feet for his fourth straight birdie, Steele was projected No. 69.

That, as we have all come to know, was big. Anyone who finished 70th or higher in the FedExCup standings when play concluded Monday at TPC Boston advanced to the BMW Championship for the third leg of the FedExCup Playoffs.

Ernie Els, who was also in Steele's group, moved up from 89th to 70th but was in for some anxious moments when he failed to birdie the final hole. Marc Leishman's birdie at the 15th hole then knocked the big South African out of the top 70 but K.J. Choi's bogey at the 18th left Els 70th for good.

"I knew that there was some crazy stuff going on and I knew that I needed some serious birdies there after the delay," Steele said. "I didn't even actually think that I had much of a chance. And then I hit it to a foot on 16. And I was like, all right, if we can finish, three, three, I might have a chance. 

"And I knew I started a point in front of Ernie (in the FedExCup projections), so I knew I needed to at least get tied with him, maybe, for the last spot.  So I was trying to chase him down, for sure."

Steele said it felt like he and Els were in the last group "and it's down to a two-horse race for the golf tournament.

"That's all that mattered in our group," he said. "We're not going to win the tournament. ... We're trying to shoot for that last spot."

Toward that end, Els birdied two of his first four holes but finished with 14 pars. He was 12 under and Steele was four strokes behind when the two went back out to the 15th hole after play resumed.

"It didn't actually cross my mind catching him," Steele said. "I was just trying to move up as far as I could." 

At that point, though, Steele had heard about Jordan Spieth's furious finish that included three birdies and an eagle in his last four holes.

"So I made that my goal," Steele said. "That was like if he can do it, it can be done."

Steele didn't quite match the wunderkid but he did enough to punch his ticket to Chicago for the second time in as many appearances in the FedExCup Playoffs. Els, meanwhile, is headed to the BMW Championship for the seventh straight year.

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"I kind of knew I was right on the line," the Big Easy said shortly after signing his scorecard. "I didn't know exactly what the limitations would be. But there's so many players to play, and so many little twists and turns that could come. But I really felt I needed to get to 14 under to be safe. I didn't quite do that. Right now it feels like I've just missed the cut."

Another threesome battling to make the top 70 was the group of Kevin Stadler, Ian Poulter and Marc Leishman. Stadler started the week ranked 75th in the FedExCup, one spot ahead of Leishman and two up on Poulter.

Stadler ended up tying for fourth, which moved him to 32nd in the FedExCup -- on the cusp of being among the 30 who qualify for the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola for the first time in his career. He's reached the BMW Championship for the second straight year.

"It's what I set out to do when I got here this week," Stadler said with satisfaction.

Poulter was also playing extremely well and was among the players tied for fourth at 17 under when he came to the 18th hole. The Brit, who has never advanced to East Lake, was projected 24th at the time but fell to 52nd after a messy double bogey.

Leishman was doubly motivated.

He managed to play well enough at TPC Boston to advance to the BMW Championship for the fifth straight year, jumping 18 spots to No. 58 in the standings with his tie for 16th. But he didn't crack the top 10 for the International Presidents Cup team although he undoubtedly got the attention of Captain Nick Price, who completes his team with two picks on Wednesday.

Price was at TPC Boston on Sunday. Leishman, who said he "scratched it around" on Sunday but finished strong with a birdie at the 18th hole, spoke with the International captain and Price told the Aussie he'd call on Tuesday -- either way.

"I guess it will be a bit of an anxious wait," Leishman said. "But I would love to be at Muirfield Village in early October."

First on the agenda, though, is a hard-earned trip to Conway Farms.

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