Week one of the FedExCup Playoffs became the Bryson DeChambeau show, as the massively-talented 24-year-old used a four-day birdie binge to triumph by four over an incredible field. The rest of the Tour will be gunning for him, as the second leg of the playoffs, the Dell Technologies Championship, commences on Friday.
Some 25 players bid farewell to their seasons last week, leaving 100 still with a chance to win the FedExCup and its $10 million first prize. Of the 100 players who qualified, 98 will be in attendance at TPC Boston, with only Francesco Molinari and Rickie Fowler (injury) choosing to sit out this week.
With playoff and Ryder Cup implications, there are several good stories to keep close tabs on this week. Here are five of our favorites:
1. JT Defends
Coming into the final round of last year’s Dell Technologies Championship, Justin Thomas held the co-lead at 12-under with Marc Leishman, and had an impressive group of talent on his heels, among them being Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm, Paul Casey, and Dustin Johnson. Showing nothing resembling nerves, analogous to his breakthrough major victory at the PGA Championship just two starts prior, Thomas got his final round off to a tremendous start, with birdies on Nos. 2 and 7, no bogeys, and an eagle on the par-4 4th hole.
That start knocked out most of that furious competition, other than Leishman and Spieth, who each had ridiculous front nines of their own, but Thomas was easily the most composed of the three down the stretch, playing his back nine in 1-under, while Spieth played the same stretch in 2-over, and Leishman absolutely imploded (5 over).
After 72 holes, Thomas claimed victory by three over Spieth and vaulted to No. 2 in the FedExCup standings. The TPC Boston triumph played a huge role in Thomas eventually winning the FedExCup and its $10 million first prize.
Coming into his title defense this year, Thomas again finds himself in excellent form. He won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational earlier this month, which he followed up with a T6 at the PGA Championship, and a T8 at last week’s The Northern Trust – the first leg of the playoffs.
Impressively, Thomas has not shot a round outside of the 60s since his second round at The Open Championship.
The Bridgestone title gave Thomas his third victory of a season, although it had been his first since February. He did not factor significantly into the major championship season, but he seems to have saved his best for late. Thomas currently sits No. 3 in both the World Rankings, trailing only Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, and the FedExCup Standings, where he trails Bryson DeChambeau and Johnson.
Thomas is an incredible fit for TPC Boston, and it would be shocking if he is not in the mix again. He currently ranks 2nd on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, 2nd in scoring average, and 3rd in strokes gained: approach-the-green. He has the length and the accuracy, and he is coming in with great form.
2. FedExCup Movement
At last week’s The Northern Trust, the cutoff for the Dell Technologies Championship was the top 100, and we saw six players who started the week outside the top 100 player their way in. This week, even more will be eliminated from the playoffs as the cut stands at the top 70.
On average, around six players move from outside the top 70 to in at the Dell Tech, and with points quadrupled in the playoffs, there is opportunity for tremendous movement. Last week we saw Ryan Palmer jump 50 spots (100th to 50th), Cameron Smith climb 37 spots (53rd to 16th) , and Nick Watney vault 35 spots (102nd to 67th). Nobody is out of the picture.
With only the top 70 in the FedExCup standings after this week moving on to the BMW Championship, the third leg of the playoffs, here is the current bubble:
65. Stewart Cink
66. Jason Kokrak
67. Nick Watney
68. Jimmy Walker
69. Louis Oosthuizen
70. Kevin Streelman
71. Tyrrell Hatton
72. CT Pan
73. Bronson Burgoon
74. Matt Kuchar
75. Charley Hoffman
Other notables currently outside the top 70 in the standings include J.B. Holmes (80), Jhonattan Vegas (87), Kevin Chappell (88), Branden Grace (91), Russell Knox (93), and Jason Dufner (100).
Simply breaking the top 70 is just part of the battle though. At next week’s BMW Championship, the cut goes to the top 30 for the Tour Championship, so everyone will want to have themselves in good position with that coming up. The points reset for The Tour Championship in a way where anyone in the top 5 win the FedExCup with a victory at East Lake. Right now those five (in order) are Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Tony Finau, and Brooks Koepka.
3. American Ryder Cup Deadlines
Jim Furyk, a former FedExCup Champion failed to make the playoff field this year, but this will in no way be a week off.
As the American Ryder Cup Captain, he has the arduous responsibility of choosing four “captain’s picks” to join next month’s team with the eight players who qualified automatically. Three of those picks are due at the conclusion of the Dell Technologies Championship (Monday night), and the fourth and final selection due the following week (after the BMW).
Furyk has not said a lot on the matter, but the feeling going into last week was that Ryder Cup veterans Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were locks to be two of those picks, barring an absolute collapse in the playoffs. The duo did what they needed to at Ridgewood, with Phil finishing T15 and Tiger T40. It was not Tiger’s greatest week, but he did finish solo runner-up at the recent PGA Championship, and just barely fell outside the final top 8 that qualified automatically, despite missing a full year of accumulating points.
Bryson DeChambeau finished 9th in the standings, and as somewhat of a controversial player, he needed an excellent performance at The Northern Trust to capture Furyk’s attention. DeChambeau won the event in dominant fashion, and after that, it would be considered an enormous upset if the 24-year-old was not one of the captain’s picks.
That leaves one more spot unaccounted for, and those in contention to be a pick will have extra motivation to play well at TPC Boston this week.
Tony Finau helped himself the most last week, finishing solo 2nd, while the three who are widely considered to also be in the mix (Matt Kuchar, Kevin Kisner, and Xander Schauffele) all played poorly.
It would seem that it is Finau’s to lose, but Furyk is not going to base his picks on one tournament, and those other players, and maybe even a longer shot who gets hot over the next two weeks, are all still firmly being considered. It is a team that nobody wants to be left off of.
4. Tiger Looking to Rebound
While PGA Tour legend Tiger Woods has been stuck on 79 career victories since 2013, his 2018 comeback season has to be considered a resounding success so far. He has made 13 cuts in 15 starts, with five top-10s, and he contended in two majors this year, The Open Championship where he briefly held a back nine lead on Sunday and finished T6, and the PGA Championship, where he finished runner-up to majors machine Brooks Koepka. His iron game looks nearly as good as it ever has, and he has improved off the tees as the year has continued.
Last week was Tiger’s first appearance in the FedExCup playoffs since that five-win 2013 season, and given his recent form, expectations were high. However, Tiger was somewhat of a disappointment at Ridgewood, finishing T40.
On the positives, all four of his rounds were even-par or better, he bogeyed just five holes for the entire week, which ranked 2nd in the field, his irons were clicking, and he scrambled very well. However, his putting was absolutely abysmal, and while he was tremendous at avoiding bogeys, his flatstick issues stopped him from carding many birdies; he carded just nine for the week, which ranked 79th among the 80 players who made the cut.
If he can get his putter figured out at least a little better, he has an excellent chance of getting himself into the mix at TPC Boston, where he won in 2006 and was runner-up to Phil Mickelson in 2007. With soft conditions expected, it is likely that Tiger finds a lot more birdies than he did at The Northern Trust.
5. Rory Back in Action
Nearly the entire top 125 in the FedExCup standings teed up for The Northern Trust last week, with the most notable exception being Rory McIlroy. The man who won the entire FedExCup just two years ago felt that he needed a mental break after a disappointing T50 at the PGA Championship, an event where he was among the favorites.
The previous week got away from him too, as he played himself into contention at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational but a final-round 73 dropped him from second place to T6. He finished 21st in the final regular season FedExCup standings, so he was not risking elimination by sitting out Ridgewood, but he did potentially miss out on a great opportunity to secure his place at East Lake. He dropped seven spots last week, and now sits at 28th.
If Rory is properly rested and has his mental game where he wants it to be, this is a tournament that he has historically had tremendous success in; he is one of just two players (Vijay Singh) with multiple Dell Tech victories, taking the titles in 2012 and 2016. He missed the cut last year, but was battling a rib injury.
Rory’s season has been pretty up-and-down. He won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and contented at The Open Championship, where he finished T2, but has also had a number of big tournaments where he played poorly, such as the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. One of the Tour’s elite shotmakers though, there is good reason to think this week will be one of his biggest season successes.