The first of three events in the 2021 FedExCup Playoffs resulted in the win Tour fans have been waiting for for more than five years, with Tony Finau finally elevating himself from perennial bridesmaid to Tour Champion. Finau now leads the Tour standings with just two weeks to go.
Can he be counted on to keep the heater going at the unknown Caves Valley Golf Club? Is there another Finau in the field this week? We touch on several possibilities in this week’s top 15:
15. Corey Conners
A third-round 62 meant a T8 for the Canadian at Liberty National, who was fantastic in everything that did not happen on or around the green.
Even if his short game let him down in New Jersey, this is still a man with 17 finishes inside the top 25 in 2021, and being relevant in several majors this season makes us unafraid to predict good things at the BMW Championship.
Conners ranks in the top 10 in three strokes gained categories this year, and is in the top 11 in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation.
World Ranking: 34th
14. Harris English
Currently 8th in the FedExCup standings, the 32-year-old shot four rounds of 70 or better to finish T31 in his first event since his disastrous attempt to close the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational earlier this month.
English has missed just one cut on Tour since February, and has been as consistently high in the standings as anyone. He had three eagles at The Northern Trust, and was stellar on the greens. He has shown too much mental tenacity to expect him to flounder in the lead-in to the Tour Championship.
World Ranking: 11th
13. Bryson DeChambeau
Shooting an even-par 71 in the first round, despite only carding pars on two holes will forever stand in statistical-anomoly lore, but DeChambeau did show some improvements in a T31 where he was T4 in birdies and was third in strokes gained: off-the-tee.
He is bound to get back into consistently good results soon, and hitting 12 of 14 fairways on Sunday at Liberty National is certainly encouraging, given how much he has sprayed the ball in recent months.
World Ranking: 6th
12. Patrick Cantlay
Hey, four rounds in the 60s at Liberty National: not too bad for Cantlay, who has somehow been underwhelming despite being atop the FedExCup standings for a significant part of the 2021 season (currently fourth).
Cantlay had just two bogeys over the weekend at The Northern Trust, leading to a T11, which was his best result since winning The Memorial Tournament in June. He was solo runner-up to Justin Thomas at the 2019 BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club.
World Ranking: 10th
11. Abraham Ancer
After a breakthrough victory at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in his last start, the man who had been consistently racking up high finishes prior was expected to finish better than T64 at The Northern Trust.
However, somebody with his precision is always a good bet at an unfamiliar course, which is the case this week at Caves Valley, and the 30-year-old has a history of showing up at this time of year anyway.
Ancer has five top-10s in his last six starts on Tour, placing him 10th in the standings with a week to go until East Lake.
World Ranking: 13th
10. Collin Morikawa
The Open Champion Golf Of The Year is dealing with a pinched nerve in his neck, which played a big role in his rare missed cut at The Northern Trust.
If he is feeling better this week, his tee-to-green play has been too unreal to count out, but with no confirmation on his status, he is difficult to place.
What we do know though, is that he has two wins on the season, and constantly finds ways to look well beyond his years. That missed cut dropped him from 1st to 6th in the playoff standings.
World Ranking: 3rd
9. Brooks Koepka
A man who has defined “hit or miss” in 2021, was much more the latter on Sunday at Liberty National, stumbling out of the gate to a 3-over 74 that dropped him into a share of 31st place.
The four-time major winner is now in no-man’s land at 15th in the FedExCup standings, meaning he’s a lock for East Lake, but needs to do much better than he has in August (T54, T31) to be relevant in the playoff finale. He is always a complete wild card on this kind of stage, so bet with caution.
World Ranking: 8th
8. Dustin Johnson
A year ago, DJ sunk a 43-foot-putt to make a BMW Championship playoff that he lost after Jon Rahm hit a 66-footer.
Again, Rahm and Johnson enter the week in the first two spots in the OWGR, with DJ the No. 2 this time, but it is difficult to be too ebullient on Dustin after he missed the cut at The Northern Trust.
He has not been showing up in the big events this season, but there is probably nobody on Tour capable of turning it up any random week than the 37-year-old. He has not won since November, but does have four top-20s in the last three months.
World Ranking: 2nd
7. Justin Thomas
A 1-under 70 on Monday, even with those four birdies in his last seven holes on the back nine, is a little underwhelming, but a T4 should still be considered massively encouraging for the 2017 FedExCup Champion, who has been in the longest funk of his career since winning THE PLAYERS in March.
Twenty-five birdies was enough to snap a streak of 11 straight starts outside the top 10, which once felt inconceivable for him.
In 2020, he only fell outside the top 10 in back-to-back events just once, and that was only three.
World Ranking: 5th
6. Cameron Smith
The 28-year-old Aussie has the uncanny ability to look like prime Rory one minute, and then come completely unraveled the next. Regardless of the absolute gift he gave Tony Finau in last week’s Northern Trust playoff, Smith’s second consecutive top 10 jumped him to third in the FedExCup standings.
He runs very hot and cold, so don’t expect the scar tissue from “the drive” to completely derail him. Also, don’t be surprised if he laps the field one day and then shoots a 77 the next. He is undeniably talented though.
World Ranking: 23rd
5. Jordan Spieth
Wow… what was that? The day off caused by Hurricane Henri was not helpful to Spieth, who shot 7-over 79 in a round that included four birdies, which should tell you how bad the other holes were.
We don’t have the data in front of us, but we’re comfortable reporting that Spieth’s week in New Jersey was the only time in Tour history that a player had back-to-back eagles and back-to-back triple-bogeys in the same tournament.
As for this week? Spieth dropped from 2nd to 7th in the standings, and considering the winless drought he suffered before this year, you have to worry whether he will carry the scar tissue into Maryland.
Considering he had nine top-20s in his previous ten starts, we’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and expect him to do better than 73rd this week. Granted, there are only 70 players in the field.
World Ranking: 12th
4. Xander Schauffele
We’re still waiting for the gold-medal winner to get past his Tokyo jetlag, but a T16 at The Northern Trust, which included a second-round 62, was much better than the T46 he had in his previous start.
Schauffele has had a penchant for showing up in the playoffs, and we can’t expect a player of his caliber to not make a push in the standings. We expect him to arrive at East Lake in two weeks better than his current position of 13th.
World Ranking: 4th
3. Tony Finau
Finally! A stunning 39 top-10s since his lone Tour victory in an opposite-field event in Puerto Rico, and FINALLY Finau gets it done.
Some might point to whatever that was Cameron Smith did off the tee in the playoff to denigrate it, but don’t forget: Finau had to come on in 30 to even make it to extra holes.
Is it floodgates time? That was like a 10-million lb monkey off his back. He now leads the FedExCup standings and becomes a marked man in Maryland. He finished solo-fifth a year ago at Olympia Fields after going insane on Sunday.
World Ranking: 9th
2. Louis Oosthuizen
With Jordan Spieth, Abraham Ancer, and Tony Finau all taking titles in 2021, a win by a red-hot Louis Oosthuizen, whose one PGA Tour win was in 2010 and in Europe, would fit into the trend nicely.
Oosthuizen sat out last week, but has been his best version this year, with four runner-ups since April. He owns the Tour’s second-best scoring average and is putting out of his mind.
Yeah, you have to be a little concerned about whether he can close, but well… the thing we said in the first sentence.
World Ranking: 7th
1. Jon Rahm
The world No. 1 looked on the verge of PGA Tour victory No. 7 at Liberty National, but a surprising late-round collapse meant a solo-third, his tour-leading 13th top 10 of the season.
That close should not be read into too much: when you test positive for COVID for the hundredth time, there is bound to be some fatigue.
Rahm is now fresh off his third straight top-3 finish on Tour, and comes into the event where he won in a playoff over then-world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
The man with the Tour’s lowest scoring average does not figure to lose that title this week. He is now second in the FedExCup standings.
World Ranking: 1st
Next Five: Alex Noren, Shane Lowry, Daniel Berger, Scottie Scheffler, Paul Casey