Elite field heads to East Lake
19 SEP 2017
By Dave Kaplan
Although Jordan Spieth leads the field in FedEx Cup points heading into the Tour Championship, Marc Leishman might actually be the man to beat this week in Atlanta.
After missing the cut at the Northern Trust, the Australian has caught fire and is suddenly playing the best golf of his PGA Tour career.
Leishman was the 54-hole leader at the Dell Technologies Open just over two weeks ago and nearly won the tournament. However, the 33-year-old coughed up the lead late to Justin Thomas on Sunday afternoon and finished the week in third place. After the round, Leishman told reporters that he was looking forward to going home for a week in order to clear his mind and “recharge the batteries.”
Clearly, that strategy paid off because the Aussie was absolutely electric last week at the BMW Championship, where he decimated the field by five shots en route to the first wire-to-wire victory of his career. Leishman opened the tournament with rounds of 62 and 64, made a total of 29 birdies for the week and even tied the tournament record that Dustin Johnson had set last year with his four-day score of 23-under-par. However, it was the manner in which the 2009 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year closed out the BMW Championship that was most impressive.
Leishman appeared unfazed as he made the turn onto the final nine at Conway Farms, despite having fallen flat in that exact situation just two weeks prior. When the Aussie bogeyed the 13th hole and his lead shrunk to just two strokes over Justin Rose, he righted the ship quickly with this pair of birdies on 15 and 16.
Then, on the final hole, he made this 20-footer for birdie from off the green to clinch the win.
The victory — the second of the year for Leishman and the third of his PGA Tour career — catapulted him into fourth place in the FedEx Cup standings with just one event remaining. That is excellent news for the Aussie as he is now in a prime position to win the FedEx Cup and its $10 million prize with a victory this week at East Lake.
Of course, anyone ranked in the Top 5 can win the FedEx Cup outright with a victory in Atlanta and, this year, we have an A-list roster of potential candidates in Spieth, Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. With a win and a third-place finish in his last two starts, Leishman is unquestionably the hottest of the five players leading into the finale. However, Spieth, Thomas, DJ and Rahm have all had excellent playoff runs as well and it is not very difficult to come up with a few compelling reasons for why each one of these guys could win this week:
- Spieth, for instance, has two runners up and a 7th-place finish to this point in the playoffs and is the only player in the Top 5 who has won a FedEx Cup before (2015).
- Thomas has two wins over his last four starts, including his first career major victory at the PGA Championship, and appears to be firing on all cylinders at the moment.
- Johnson, the top-ranked player in the world, won just a few weeks ago at the Northern Trust and will undoubtedly be extra motivated to win this week after letting the FedEx Cup slip out of his grasps in Atlanta last season.
- And Rahm might be the most incredible rookie on the PGA Tour since Tiger Woods! The Spaniard has nine finishes of 5th place or better in 22 starts this season and appears to actually be getting better every single week. Moreover, in his three career playoff starts, he is yet to finish worse than in a tie for fifth!
Additionally, there are 25 other players in the field that can also theoretically win the FedEx Cup this week, including Canada’s Adam Hadwin, who currently sits in 21st place. However, in order for that to happen, a lot of luck is going to need to fall their way.
Seventh-ranked Hideki Matsuyama can win the FedEx Cup this week if he wins the Tour Championship and Spieth finishes in a three-way tie for second place. However, if Matsuyama wins the event and the Texan manages to finish in a two-way tie for second place, Spieth would still win it all.
The odds are even worse for 12th-ranked Matt Kuchar, who would need a win this week in addition to — at the very least — a three-way tie for 6th from Spieth, a fourth-place finish from Thomas, a third-place finish from DJ, a three-way tie for second from Leishman, and a runner up from Rahm.
Just in case you’re curious, Hadwin would need a victory, as well as a 13th-place finish from Spieth, a fifth-place finish from Thomas, a three-way tie for third from both DJ and Leishman, a three-way tie for second from Rahm, and a runner up from Rickie Fowler.
That’s not to say it’s impossible. Bill Haas started the Tour Championship in 25th place back in 2011 and went on to win the FedEx Cup after points-leader Webb Simpson imploded at East Lake and finished the week in 22nd place. Additionally, Jim Furyk won in 2010 after beginning the week in 11th place and Rory McIlroy won the cup just last year, despite not starting the tournament in the Top 5, with brilliant shots like this down the stretch.
So get ready for one exciting week of golf because, as we have seen in the past, anything can happen when $10 million is on the line!
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