A Fitting Finish
The season ending TOUR Championship held annually at East Lake Golf Club (which was home to Bobby Jones) is a unique event in many respects.
The elite field is the smallest of the year, with only 30 players who qualify, for any officially sanctioned PGA Tour event. It is the last tournament played in the 2016-2017 season and is actually two events wrapped into one.
The winner of the TOUR Championship itself is the player who records the best score from Thursday-Sunday. The bigger prize however, is the US 10M dollar bonus that goes to the player who wins the season long FedExCup that culminates with the TOUR Championship.
The tournament leader beginning Sunday’s final round was 40-year old Englishman, Paul Casey. Casey has had a remarkably good season on the PGA Tour, coming into the TOUR Championship ranked 10th in FedExCup points on the heels of 8 Top 10 finishes this season. Casey has recorded 23 Top 10 finishes in the last 3 years, and has 9 Top 10 finishes in FedExCup Playoff events which also include 3 runner-ups. But Casey has only one win in his PFA Tour career, at the 2009 Shell Houston Open (he has won 12 times on the European Tour), so is the epitome of the girl who continually stands to the immediate left of the one getting married.
After opening the TOUR Championship with rounds of 66-67-65, Casey was at 12-under and in control of his own destiny.
As they began play on Sunday Casey had a two shot advantage over Americans Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele and was five clear of Justin Thomas (who was one of the players that could win the FedExCup), Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka. Sunday would prove to be another disappointment though for the likeable Englishman as he faltered with 3-over 73 and a 5th place finish.
Thomas made the day’s biggest move fashioning a 4-under par 66 that gave him a four day total of 11-under and the biggest payout in golf.
23-year Schauffele upstaged all the bigger names to win the TOUR Championship and make history in doing so by becoming the event’s first PGA Tour Rookie to claim the crown. A clutch birdie-4 on his last hole for a 2-nder 68, left him one clear of Thomas at 12-under. For the man with golf’s best name it was his second win of the year after he captured the Greenbrier Classic in June. The Californian in all likelihood becomes the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and is the 19th player in his 20’s to win on Tour this year.
But the day and this year belonged to Thomas as he added the FedExCup trophy to his PGA Championship and 4 other Tour victories for the year. It also assures the 24-yaer old superstar another piece of hardware, the Player of the Year, in what has been a sensational campaign.
In a fitting tribute, Thomas’s great friend and fellow phenom, Jordan Spieth (who finished in second in the FedExCup race) was waiting to congratulate him as he walked off the final green. These two amazing players will surely continue to lead the game’s incredible youth movement for many years to come.