Second is Best? – Dustin Johnson Earns POY Honors, Falls to McIlroy in 3-Man Playoff
Typically, the player who wins the season swansong, the TOUR Championship, also wins the FedEx Cup.
The TOUR Championship which is held at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, GA, (it was Bobby Jones’s home course, not Augusta National) is the fourth and final FedEx playoff event. The field is limited to the top 30 in the season’s FedEx points race. Points are weighted more heavily after each of the playoff events and while it is the PGA Tour’s objective to have every qualified player be competitive and both trophies up for grabs, that is rarely the case.
You have to go back to 2009 when Tiger Woods claimed the FedEx trophy and Phil Mickelson hoisted the TOUR Championship hardware to find two different players winning the two events within an event. In many years, there is a third prestigious trophy to be won at East Lake; the “Player of the Year” honors, and that was also the case in 2016.
The only player who controlled his own destiny heading into Sunday’s final round was Dustin Johnson who was tied for the lead with Kevin Chappell at 8-under par. Johnson was the FedEx points leader as the TOUR Championship began and was the winner of the third Playoff event, the BMW Championship, two weeks ago. Basically, if Johnson either won or finished alone in second place he would claim all at least two of the three titles.
2016 has been a halcyon year for the 31-year old South Carolinian after he claimed his first Major with stirring triumph at the U.S. Open http://www.birdgolf.com/redemption/ and won a WGC event (Bridgestone Invitational) to go with his win at the BMW. Johnson’s streak of having won a PGA Tour event in each of the last 9 years is also the longest streak on Tour.
The only other 3-time winner on Tour this year is world #1, Jason Day, who was forced to withdraw during the second round this week with back problems, further narrowing the list of players who could catch Johnson for the Cup.
Chappell has had a slew of good finishes this year and has over $10 million in career earnings, but is still looking for his first victory in his 8th season on Tour. Although Chappell came into the week 15th on the points list, he could still win the FedEx but a great many dominoes would have to fall perfectly his way.
Chappell and Johnson were two shots ahead of Rory McIlroy and Ryan Moore. A resurgent Rory McIlroy who won the second Playoff event at the Deutsche Bank three weeks ago http://www.birdgolf.com/making-a-move/. The 27-year old Northern Irishman, who has regained his form with the guidance of a new putting coach, was one of the contenders who could overtake Johnson if different scenarios evolved on Sunday’s round and win his first FedEx Cup.
It is also a decided statement of fact that McIlroy is the only player on next week’s European Ryder Cup team to make the top 30 at East Lake, further emphasizing the strength of the favored U.S. Team at Hazeltine.
Sunday would not be Johnson’s day as he stumbled to a 3-over par, 73 that saw him fall into a tie for 6th place.
Paired together in the penultimate twosome, McIlroy and Moore closed with matching 6-under par, 64’s that left them at 12-under par. McIlroy’s brilliant round was highlighted by a supreme hole-out from 137 yards with his second shot to the 16th hole for an eagle-2.
Playing with Johnson in the final pairing, Chappell outplayed his more heralded playing partner and closed with a 4-under 66, to join McIlroy and Moore and be part of a three-man playoff.
If McIlroy won in the playoff he would overtake Johnson and win the FedEx Cup. If either Chappell or Moore prevailed, Johnson would hang on to win.
McIlroy and Moore both made birdie-4’s on the first playoff hole while a par-5 eliminated the courageous Chappell relegating him to his 6th runner-up finish on Tour.
McIlroy and Moore par’ed both of the next two holes before Moore made a great save for a scrambling par-4 on the 16th hole only to be outdone when McIlroy followed that with a birdie putt from 15 feet to seal the deal.
McIlroy becomes the seventh consecutive player to capture both the TOUR Championship and the FedEx Cup, along with the US $10 million bonus that goes with being the FedEx champion. It was his 13th career PGA Tour title and perhaps his most magnetic win in America.
Johnson takes away a consolation prize of US $3 million and is sure to be named as the 2016 “Player of the Year”, but had to feel that on this day, he was only one out of three.