By Dave Kaplan
We saw one heck of a finish at the final event of the PGA Tour’s regular season on Sunday, as Henrik Stenson edged rookie Ollie Schniederjans by a single shot at the Wyndham Championship for his first victory of the season.
The Ice Man broke a tournament record with his score of 22-under par for the week and needed every stroke as the 24-year-old Texan pushed him to the limit with some excellent play down the stretch.
Schniederjans got a fortuitous bounce and a boost of momentum on the par-5 15th hole, when his second shot struck the canopy of a hospitality tent and bounced into a greenside bunker.
The former No. 1 ranked amateur in the world went on to make birdie on the hole and then poured in two more on 17 and 18 to get into the clubhouse at 21-under.
The Swede responded to Schniederjans’ strong finish with a birdie bonanza of his own. After tying Schniederjans at 19-under with a birdie on the 13th hole, Stenson made three birdies in a row beginning on the 15th hole to overtake his opponent at 22-under-par. Stenson then tapped-in for par on the 72nd hole to win.
Many players were sitting on the playoff bubble — just outside of the Top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings — as they headed into the Wyndham Championship and needed low finishes to earn spots in this week’s Northern Trust Open.
Harold Varner III jumped 15 spots into 123rd place after his Top 10 finish in North Carolina, Rory Sabbatini leapfrogged 26 spots into 122nd place after finishing in a tie for fourth, and JJ Henry improved 9 spots to 125th place with his 67 on Sunday. All three players will tee it up in the first round of the playoffs this week. As will, Texas’ Martin Flores, who locked down his spot after making a hole-in-one and a birdie on two of his last three holes of the tournament, catapulting from 139th to 118th in the FedEx Cup race!
Unfortunately, David Hearn went in the wrong direction last week, finishing in a tie for 64th place and dropping to 128th overall in the FedEx Cup standings. As a result, the Canadian will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and will need to finish in the Top 25 at this year’s Web.com Tour finals in order to regain full status for the 2017/18 PGA Tour season.
The first round of this year’s playoffs will be held at Glen Oaks Club, a par 70 track in Westbury, NY that many locals have been referring to as “the Augusta of the North” since it re-opened, following massive renovations in 2011. Not much is known about Glen Oaks except that the course has slick and undulating quadrant-style greens and plays to just over 7,300 yards. It has never hosted a PGA Tour event and a vast majority of this week’s competitors have never played the track before, so it is unclear what to expect. One thing that you are guaranteed to see at the Northern Trust Open, however, is a field brimming with A-list talent as the world’s best players all look to close in on that alluring $10 million FedEx Cup payout with a victory in New York.
At the conclusion of this week’s event, the field of eligible competitors will shrink to 100 players for the following week’s Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston, before reducing again to a field of 70 for the BMW Championship two weeks later at Conway Farms. The field will then be chopped down to just 30 players who will all compete for the FedEx Cup at the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Hideki Matsuyama currently holds the lead in FedEx Cup standings with 2869 points, followed closely by Justin Thomas (2689 points), Jordan Spieth (2671 points), and Dustin Johnson (2466 points). Rickie Fowler rounds out the Top 5 in the FedEx Cup race, although there is a considerable drop off in points after DJ in the standings. Fowler (1832 points) trails Johnson by over 600 points and is more than 1000 points back of Matsuyama.
However, all of that can change in just one week, as we have seen in the past!
Last year, Patrick Reed overtook DJ and Jason Day atop the FedEx Cup standings by winning the first leg of the playoffs. The following week, Rory McIlroy snapped out of his yearlong drought and jumped 34 spots to 4th overall in the point race after winning the Deutsche Bank Championship. That victory essentially guaranteed McIlroy’s spot in the Tour Championship a few weeks later, which he went on to win along with his first FedEx Cup after hitting ridiculous shots like this one down the stretch at East Lake.
Any player in the Top 125 can theoretically win the FedEx Cup by catching fire over the next month. Billy Horschel, who started the playoffs in 69th place, pulled it off in 2014 after tying for second at the Deutsche Bank Championship and then winning both the BMW and Tour Championships.
Horschel’s success should inspire hope in Canada’s Graham DeLaet, who begins the playoffs in 67th place in the FedEx Cup standings. The Saskatchewan native has not had much success in the first stage of the playoffs in recent years, but he did have back-to-back Top 5 finishes at the event in 2012 and 2013. Plus, DeLaet’s confidence should be rather high after finishing in a tie for 7th at the PGA Championship two weeks ago.
Ontario’s Mackenzie Hughes has been slowly losing ground in the FedEx Cup rankings since ascending to fourth overall in the race after his first career victory at the RSM Classic in November. However, the rookie, who begins the playoffs ranked 34th in points, is still in a favourable spot to contend for the $10 million prize. If the 26-year-old can put together a strong week at Glen Oaks, it will help his chances immensely.
Adam Hadwin has the best chance of any Canadian in this year’s playoff to win the FedEx Cup. The Moose Jaw native currently sits in 13th place in the standings, a little more than 1500 points behind Matsuyama and well within striking distance. Like Hughes, Hadwin jumped to fourth overall in the point race after his first career PGA Tour victory at the Valspar Championship in March and has not lost much ground since then, despite missing a small handful of cuts at the end of the regular season. The 29-year-old’s most recent success was a tie for fifth at the WGC-Bridgestone earlier this month. If he can post a similar result at either of the first two rounds of the playoffs, he will have a very good chance to make a run at the FedEx Cup in Atlanta.
Nick Taylor rounds out the Canadian contingent in the playoffs but sits well back in 84th spot. He should make it through the first round on that number but will need a couple of good results to get within the top 70 for Chicago and another stellar performance to make the finals at East Lake.
The FedEx Cup playoffs are always frenetic, unpredictable and downright fun to watch, especially as the players’ rankings adjust and recalibrate in real time after every completed hole. With the exception of the four annual majors and the Ryder/Presidents Cups, it is my favourite stretch of golf to watch every year. And with so many household names playing well heading into the first round, including our quartet of contending Canucks, you just know that this year’s playoff is going to be one for the ages!
Dave Kaplan is a Toronto-based freelance writer and golf fanatic who is sneaky long off the tee. He’s on a crusade to inject a youthful perspective into golf media, especially the broadcast booth. Follow him on Twitter @davykap