FedExCup update: Jubilation, heartbreak define top-50 bubble at FedEx St. Jude Championship
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Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Hideki Matsuyama bounds through the TPC Southwind clubhouse, the momentum of his final six holes carrying him forward. Three birdies and an eagle in the gasping moments of Matsuyama’s season launched him from the brink of elimination to inside the top 50 bubble.
Matsuyama knows it. So does his manager Bob Turner, who swings his arm around his client as he finally catches up to him. The two let out a euphoric cheer as they strut into the locker room.
It was as though Matsuyama had just won the tournament – and in his own way, he did. He had yet to miss a TOUR Championship in his career. His closing stretch assured that streak continued. Job accomplished.
Not 50 yards away stood Nick Hardy. He was enjoying a similar run to Matsuyama, with three birdies in his last five holes before he stepped on the 18th hole. His demeanor was much different.
Matsuyama needed a par on the difficult closing hole to secure his Playoffs spot. He got it. Hardy needed another birdie. His tee shot found the water.
“Just sucks, I mean it really sucks,” said Hardy, choking back tears as he recounted the final-hole bogey that dropped him to 52nd in the FedExCup standings.
Matsuyama’s season continues. Hardy’s is over. Jubilation and heartbreak.
Those are the margins that make up the FedExCup Playoffs. Seventy players arrived at TPC Southwind but only 50 advanced to the BMW Championship, keeping their season alive and qualifying for next year’s slate of Signature Events. The bowels of the clubhouse were where players learned their fate. A mix of ear-to-ear smiles and faces hidden by sweat-drenched towels.
Matsuyama was one of two to play their way in, alongside Cam Davis. Outside the top 60 after bogeying the 12th, Matsuyama birdied the 13th and 15th. Then after a short weather delay, he eagled the 16th, sticking his approach to 9 feet on the gettable par 5, then birdied the 17th to resuscitate his chances.
“During the suspended play, I looked and saw what I needed to do on the final three holes,” he said. “Especially at 18, I looked up and saw I was 47th on the FedExCup list, which made that approach shot really difficult. I'm just happy that I was able to get it up-and-down.”
Usually a three out of 10 difficulty, Matsuyama said the chip felt more like an eight or nine out of 10 given the circumstances.
He wasn’t the only one to stare at leaderboards on the back nine. Mackenzie Hughes was trying not to, but inevitably as he stood over a 19-foot par putt on the 17th hole, his gaze briefly caught the FedExCup projections.
“Oh, (No.) 49, that’s great, lots of wiggle room there,” Hughes thought to himself.
He missed the par putt, then made par on the 18th to card a final-round 69. His spot at No. 49 didn’t hold. By the end of the day, he dropped to No. 51.
“I just grinded my a** off,” said Hughes, who has been diligently fighting to regain the early-season form that helped him win the Sanderson Farms Championship. He was 19th in the FedExCup after the Masters but missed seven of his following 11 cuts. He entered this week 47th. “I told my caddie today, that's probably one reason I hate golf is that you can try really, really hard, and it guarantees absolutely nothing.”
Taylor Montgomery knows the feeling. He stood on the 18th tee box inside the top 50, a spot he seemed assured to hold until a late-season slump. He bailed right with his tee shot, leaving a long second shot that settled short of the green. A sub-par chip shot left him just inside 20 feet for par to keep his season alive. His putt hung out to the right.
“There's a reason why the top 10 guys are who they are,” Montgomery said. “It's because they do every aspect of the game really good. Obviously, we're all trying to do that, but it would be nice to get to that next level.”
A spot in the top 50 certainly felt like the next level. Montgomery is a rookie – an automatic qualifying spot in the Signature Events would have gone a long way to keeping him on TOUR for years to come.
Hardy has that security thanks to a win earlier this season at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. But he was looking to take another step towards the sport's upper echelon. He will have to wait.
“The hardest part is I love competing and I love just coming out on the other side better, but winning. And obviously I came out on the wrong side this time,” said Hardy, who badly wanted to make a triumphant return to his hometown Chicago for next week’s BMW Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club.
Instead, it will be Davis, whose Playoffs seemingly started in Minnesota at the 3M Open. Two top-10 finishes snuck him into the FedEx St. Jude Championship and his T6 was enough to keep his season alive for another week. He is 45th entering the BMW Championship.
It doesn’t get easier from here. Davis enters the BMW Championship in 45th, ready to go through all the same emotions he has felt for the last month.
It’s better than going home. He’s jubilant tonight. Any heartbreak can wait.
Patrick Cantlay settled for a runner-up finish after finding the water with his tee shot on the first playoff hole, though he set himself up nicely for the rest of the Playoffs. He moved from 13th to fifth with this week’s result. Cantlay has won three of the last six FedExCup Playoff events… Tommy Fleetwood narrowly missed a birdie putt on the 72nd hole to join the playoff. He is still searching for his first PGA TOUR win but will have two more cracks this season. He moved from 26th to 10th this week, securing his spot for East Lake… Adam Schenk likely joined Fleetwood with a TOUR Championship spot. His final-round 66 was enough to jump from 24th to 20th. A holed 20-footer for par on the 18th could pay dividends in the standings next week at the BMW Championship… Jordan Spieth did the opposite. A bogey on the tournament's final hole cost him nine spots in the standings. He was projected to finish 18th if he made par. Instead, he will enter next week 27th… Sungjae Im moved inside the top 30 with his T6 showing at TPC Southwind. He made two birdies and 16 pars on Sunday, derailing any chances of contention but securing valuable FedExCup points. He moved from 32nd to 28th… Max Homa joined Schenk Spieth and Im with a T6 finish, though it actually hurt his spot in the standings. He moved from fourth to sixth as both Cantlay and Lucas Glover jumped him… Eric Cole is the only rookie to advance to the BMW Championship. He finished T31 and is 42nd in the standings.
Hideki Matsuyama (No. 57, moved to No. 47): Not since the Regular Season opener at the Fortinet Championship had Matsuyama found himself inside the top 50. He waited until the last moment to do so. His flurry of back-nine birdies moved him up more than 15 spots in the standings. He’s already looking forward to next week. “I've got to play better next week in order to make it to East Lake,” he said. “I'm just going to give it my best shot.”
Hideki Matsuyama cards an eagle on No. 16 at FedEx St. Jude
Cam Davis (No. 62, moved to No. 45): A third consecutive BMW Championship is in the cards for the Australian following a rock-solid week. With his back against the wall, Davis shot 66-67-69-67. He’s getting used to that feeling. He was 76th after the Open Championship and played his way into the Playoffs. That will be the task again next week.
Mackenzie Hughes (No. 47, moved to No. 51): A third-round 75 will be the round that haunts the Canadian. He made four bogeys, a double and a triple on Saturday to stifle his hopes. He ended four shots short of a spot in the top 50.
Nick Hardy (No. 50, moved to No. 52): Hardy is on his way to Chicago, but not for the BMW Championship. He will start his offseason by visiting his family in the Windy City. He was hoping they’d be at Olympia Fields to cheer him off instead. A 5-over stretch from Nos. 7-11 on Saturday proved too much to overcome for the 27-year-old.
Patrick Rodgers (No. 43, moved to No. 50): Rodgers hung on to the last spot in the Playoffs, eclipsing Hughes by 29 points. The 31-year-old did just enough to clinch his first BMW Championship appearance, carding a final-round 70 to finish T52. His 66 on Saturday was his only round under par this week. He will need an inspired performance to advance to the TOUR Championship.
Lucas Glover (No. 49, moved to No. 4): The 43-year-old Glover vaulted himself up the FedExCup standings 45 spots thanks to his second straight TOUR win. He came into the week already having moved up 63 spots from 112th to 49th after his win at the Wyndham Championship last week. Glover just needed to finish in the top seven to secure a spot in the top 30 in the FedExCup standings, the all-important threshold to qualify for the TOUR Championship in two weeks. As for his mindset Sunday, the North Carolina native reflected: “It was just keep fighting, stay close, stay close, and I was fortunate to get in a playoff. I said yesterday the guns would be coming, and they came. I was just last man standing this week.”
Lucas Glover's interview after winning FedEx St. Jude
Taylor Moore (No. 25, projected to No. 14): The 30-year-old Moore started the final round just one stroke behind Glover, but a 1-over 71 on Sunday derailed his effort to secure a second career TOUR title. He made four bogeys and just one birdie on the front, but he birdied two of his final three holes to finish solo fifth, three shots back. Moore said Sunday he’s drawing on past experience on the Korn Ferry Tour to deal with the Playoffs pressure: “I think it's just all whatever you put into your head. If you tell yourself and think about all the good things that come from being top 50 on the TOUR – which obviously, it's a lot – I think if you think about it that way, you're going to feel a lot of pressure. But it's all about kind of tricking yourself in a sense and being able to control your mind in those situations, which sometimes I'm good at and sometimes not.”