For the third time in four events and for the second consecutive week, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy raised the winner’s trophy on the PGA TOUR. McIlroy rallied from a one-shot deficit on Sunday to pass Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh to win The BMW Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana over Englishman Lee Westwood and Mickelson by two shots. Robert Garrigus and Tiger Woods rounded out the top five by finishing three shots back.
The hype started on Thursday morning when he was paired with Tiger Woods and Nick Watney as the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 golfers in the FedExCup Playoffs. McIlroy responded with 64 and was on his way to doing something that only Woods, Singh and, interestingly enough, Camilo Villegas have done: win back-to-back FedExCup Playoff events. He found himself just one back of Singh after 68 on Friday and just one back again on Saturday after surviving with 69. McIlroy handled the pressure by making 10 birdies to two bogeys on the weekend. The final bogey came on the 72nd hole when his lead was three shots.
The funny thing is McIlroy won without dominating and against a field of this quality, that’s scary. He said he scraped it around on Saturday and was lucky to have posted 69. Sunday, his driver responded to the challenge as he hit 13 of 14 fairways and gave himself a chance to make birdies, which he did. His final round 67 (five-under) was tied for third best round of the day behind Bubba Watson’s 65 and Greg Chalmers 66. McIlroy birdied three of the four par fives and didn’t make a bogey until 18. He made 14 bogeys in his last 144 holes in the FedExCup Playoffs. That’s it.
After finishing T24 in the opening event of the FedExCup Playoffs, McIlroy has now won in back-to-back weeks by playing those events a combined FORTY-under-par. Poor Tiger Woods is 35-under in that same stretch and all he has to show for it is T4 this week and solo third last week. But enough about Woods; this is McIlroy’s time in the spotlight. In his last five events McIlroy has finished T5 (WGC-BI), WIN (PGA), T24 (Barclays), WIN (DBC) and another win this week. He’s now won four times (Honda Classic in March was the other) in 2012 and has, for me, locked up Player of the Year based on his major victory, by eight shots nonetheless, at the PGA Championship. 2012 has been a validation of all the hype that McIlroy was going to be “the next Tiger Woods.” He’s proven he can win majors. He’s proven he can win FedExCup Playoffs. No offense to guys who win TOUR events, but these fields validate for me who are the better players on TOUR and in the world. The only thing that is missing from the young man’s C.V. is a World Golf Championship at the moment. Not bad for a kid who just turned 23 in May.
Now what? Can he win three in a row just to completely blow everyone away or will he be on the outside looking in two weeks from now when Woods, Watney, Mickelson or Snedeker lifts the final trophy and collects the 10 million dollars? The Playoffs giveth and the Playoffs taketh away and since the points are reset heading into East Lake outside of Atlanta in two weeks, the above scenario is completely plausible whether we like it or not.
Here’s what I’ve learned about McIlroy in the last few years: He really likes long courses that have been soaked by rain (Congressional, Kiawah, Crooked Stick) and also has no problem going low. His power overwhelms. Imagine when Dave Stockton really has some time to sit down and help him putt. Some guys don’t like making tons of birdies. He’s not in that category, either. Take a bow, son!
Déjà vu All Over Again?
Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh became the 26th “player” to hold 54-hole lead in 39 stroke-play events this season and not go on to close out the tournament. The last two weeks (Oosthuizen last week) have seen major champions not be able to hold their lead on Sunday. If that’s not great for golf, I’m not sure what is. Everyone now watches until the last player is mathematically eliminated.
Rory McIlroy (4) now takes over the top spot from Tiger Woods (3) as the player with the most victories on TOUR this year. Jason Dufner (2), Hunter Mahan (2) and Zach Johnson (2) are the only other multiple winners on TOUR this year and will all head to East Lake in two weeks for the TOUR Championship. American players have dominated on TOUR this year but Rory McIlroy has been doing his best for the foreign contingent with four wins. Americans now have registered 29 victories in 40 events. The only foreign-born players to win in 2012 are Rory McIlroy (Honda, PGA, DBC and BMW), Justin Rose (WGC-CC), Luke Donald (Transitions), Carl Pettersson (RBC Heritage), Marc Leishman (the Travelers), South African Ernie Els (The Open) and Spain’s Sergio Garcia (Wyndham).
McIlroy now has six wins in his 20’s and is now level with Dustin Johnson (six) for that lead. McIlroy has won four of his six events in 2012.
There have only been five first-time winners on TOUR in 2012: Kyle Stanley, John Huh, Rickie Fowler, Marc Leishman and Ted Potter, Jr.
With this victory, McIlroy collects $1,440,000, 2500 FedExCup points and remains in first place in the FedExCup Playoffs after three events. In two weeks, the top 30 players move on to the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club outside Atlanta for the final of four FedExCup Playoff events. He is the first player since Tiger Woods (Buick Invitational; WGC-BI) in 2009 to win back-to-back events. He’s the first player since Jon Byrd (2010 Justin Timberlake; 2011 HTOC) to win back-to-back starts. Not bad, son!
“Young” Guns versus “Middle” Guns versus “Old” Guns
In 40 events on TOUR in 2012 the “Young” continue to increase the lead thanks to victories in the past weeks by Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Nick Watney and now McIlroy again and again. The “Young” guns have locked it up at the top as they now lead 21-16-3.
For the “Young”, age during their victory in ( ), Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24), Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan TWICE (29) Rory McIlroy FOUR times (22), Justin Rose (31), Rickie Fowler (23), Dustin Johnson (27), Webb Simpson (26), Marc Leishman (29), Ted Potter, Jr. (28), Scott Stallings (27), Keegan Bradley (26), Sergio Garcia (32) and Nick Watney (32) are your winners.
The “Middle” guys are Mark Wilson (37), George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods THRICE (36), Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34), Ben Curtis (34), Matt Kuchar (33), Jason Dufner TWICE (35), Zach Johnson TWICE (36), Scott Piercy (33) and J.J. Henry (37) have been victorious.
Steve Stricker (44), Phil Mickelson (41) and Ernie Els (42) are the only “Old” guys to hit the board in 2012. At least 33% of their wins are majors! Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood both finished T2 for the “old” folks.
According to the rules, any player that begins the TOUR Championship in the top five can win the $10 million with a victory in two weeks. (Ranking heading into Atlanta in parentheses.)
Phil Mickelson (4): For the second week in a row, Mickelson found himself in the top five come the end of play on Sunday. His T2 finish was his best since his victory at AT&T Pebble Beach in early February. The key to Mickelson’s resurgence has been the return of his game from tee to green. After the round on Saturday he remarked that his game was coming back together in phases and he was just starting to put all of them together. He survived two nervy tee shots to begin his round on Sunday and still had a chance, although a slim one, to force a playoff. His putter though will be the main story as it lead to 28 birdies for the week, the most in the field. He was 15th or better in all three putting categories which helped make up for T57 in driving and T24 GIR. His round of 70 today was his first round of 70 or worse in his last eight rounds. East Lake is next and all the folks, as we mentioned last week, who were saving Mickelson can all take a big sigh of relief that he’s played himself into a chance for 10 million bucks. Mickelson has never won the TOUR Championship. He’ll just have to find a way to knock off that pesky kid from Northern Ireland…
Lee Westwood (8): Remember when agent Chubby Chandler was managing both Westwood and McIlroy and neither of them were too keen to apply their trade on this side of the Atlantic? Seems like eons ago, right? Well, McIlroy has left the stable and has moved to the TOUR full time. Westwood, still with Chandler, is right behind him after he admitted to watching the Playoffs last year from afar. Westwood and the family are moving to Florida so he can play the TOUR full time in 2013 but he has plenty left to do in 2012. In three playoff events this season, Westwood has finished T5, T13 and T2 this week. Westwood cleaned house a few weeks ago and this has jump-started the end of his season. His new coach is working as Westy rattled off 24 birdies this week and his putting numbers were all 12th or better in the three measured categories, including second in putts per GIR. That’s a great number when he’s T4 GIR. As we’ve mentioned before, the more GIR you hit, the more birdie chances you have. Westwood struggled on few short ones on Sunday but overall he looks more comfortable over the ball. His ball-striking has been lights-out, as usual. He had a couple iron shots today where he looked disappointed that they didn’t go IN! He has one round over par in his last 12 and could win the 10 million bucks at East Lake if he wins and the heavy hitters don’t finish in the top five. Get out the permanent marker to write down Westwood’s name on your sheet for East Lake.
Robert Garrigus (20): Garrigus started the week on the outside looking in as he was 31st on the points list. He took matters into his own hands and finished T4 this week to move up to No. 20 and a nice extra payday in two weeks. Garrigus fired a bogey-free 66 on Saturday to make the leap into a late tee time on Sunday. He looked like he might have been knocked out with a double-bogey six on No. 8 (found the water). He came back with a birdie on the next hole and then rattled off four straight (Nos. 13 through 16) before an errant tee shot on 17 finally knocked him out of contention. Garrigus is a big hitter who hits tons of GIR and this week was true-to-form. He was third in driving distance and second in GIR while finishing 11th in strokes gained-putting. Garrigus, who was using the long putter earlier in the season, decided to go with his “medium” putter (33”) instead of his small (29”) putter. Whatever. Use a broom stick with a bar of soap tied to the end. Whatever works, works.
Tiger Woods (2): As I mentioned earlier, he’s 35-under in his last two tournaments and doesn’t have a victory to show for it. The times they have changed and there just might be a new sheriff in town but that’s not going to stop Woods. I believe the McIlroy challenge will do nothing except fire up Woods to get back to “that” level of playing. Whether he can attain it again remains to be seen but after the last two weeks, I believe we’re in for a great finish at East Lake and an even better 2013. Woods has opened the last two playoff events with 64 and 65 and has broken par in his last eight rounds. And he hasn’t been at his best either. He was 67th in driving accuracy, T17 GIR and was 22nd in strokes gained-putting. Somehow, he still managed a way to make 24 birdies. But, he only birdied two of the final eight par-fives on the weekend and that was probably the difference as he was three off McIlroy at the end. Woods also didn’t make a bogey on the back nine Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Dustin Johnson (7): As the chalk continues to roll here on a Sunday night, Johnson, finishing T6, had his worst finish in three FedExCup events. Before being added to the Ryder Cup, many wondered if Johnson had the short game to be a factor in that event. After chipping in twice on Sunday and playing great around the greens for the last two weeks, I believe that question has been answered. As far as he hits it, the accuracy won’t always be there, but he’ll be a lot closer than most guys (and right next to Garrigus!). His loose drive on 18 into the drink cost him a final bogey that knocked him out of a tie of fourth with Woods and Garrigus. His nine-footer on the same hole allowed him to stay T6 for the week. Johnson’s length and GIR (third) were part of the formula that’s seen him tear up the playoffs so far. The only thing that is missing is a victory but he’s obviously not bothered by playing against the big fields in big events.
Adam Scott (21): Another ball-striker with a putting “problem”, Scott was primed and ready on Sunday after posting only four bogeys Thursday through Saturday. On Sunday he made four bogeys through the first 12 holes. Long and accurate off the tee, Scott couldn’t dial in his irons as usual and finished T28 GIR and only hit 56% on Sunday. After finishing T11 at the PGA, Scott’s Playoffs started with 62nd at the Barclays, but has now finished T7 at DBC and T6 this week. He’s now put together eight rounds in a row of 70 or better. He’s trending in the right direction and you should keep an eye on him in two weeks at East Lake.
Vijay Singh: So close again for the 49-year-old Fijian as he held the 54-hole lead with Mickelson but couldn’t find any magic in that long putter on Sunday or at the end of Saturday. Short misses on 16 and 18 came back to haunt him on Sunday as he began the day tied with Mickelson instead of having a little cushion. After only making two birdies in the first two rounds to lead at 13-under, Singh melted away on the weekend as he carded eight bogeys, including three on his last five holes to close out the weekend. Those bogeys were important because his solo eighth-place finish was not enough to make him eligible for the TOUR Championship as he finished 33rd. Singh started hot at the RBC Canadian and the Barclays as well but his timing was just a bit off this weekend. Singh was the only player to finish in the top 10 and NOT advance to the TOUR Championship. Ouch. Oh, and if he plays on the Senior TOUR next year, ouch again. For them.
Jim Furyk (18): Similar to Dustin Johnson, Furyk was selected to the Ryder Cup Team last Tuesday as a Captain’s pick and parlayed that announcement into some very solid play in finishing solo ninth. Furyk led the field in strokes gained-putting, was second in driving accuracy, T4 in GIR and had the only bogey-free round on Sunday and was NINTH. Huh? No, not him, I’m just questioning, wait, never mind. This doesn’t make sense but obviously Furyk has made over three million bucks this season and is on the Ryder Cup team so I doubt he’s complaining. He was T13 last week and is trending in the correct direction for East Lake.
Bo Van Pelt (19): For the ninth time in 23 events in 2012, Van Pelt makes it into the wrap-up column. That’s fantastic work from the Indiana native and Oklahoma State grad but it wasn’t enough to catch Davis Love III eye for a spot on the Ryder Cup team. Van Pelt gave the locals something to shout about as he blistered Crooked Stick for 64 on Thursday afternoon to co-lead. He dug himself a hole on Saturday as he bogeyed three of his first five holes but found a way to dig out and birdie four of his last 13 coming in to finish one-under 71. Three bogeys and two bogeys on Sunday led to consecutive 71’s on the weekend and another top 10. He’s had only one round over par in his last 12 rounds as he heads to East Lake for the third consecutive year.
Ryan Moore: For the second week in a row, Moore checks in at T10. This week, there was just a little bit more on the line for Moore as his birdie on 18 forced him into the top 30 (28th) and he advanced to East Lake. Moore made 13 birdies and one bogey on Thursday and Friday but was leaking oil coming down the stretch on Sunday. After bogeys on 11, 14 and 17, Moore was going home until his final birdie dropped. Moore is heading to the TOUR Championship for the first time since 2010 as he jumped from No. 35 to No. 28 on that birdie.
“Hey, what ever happened to…”
This is the cruelest week of the FedExCup Playoff season as it’s the end of the road for those outside of the top 30 at the end of business on Sunday. Players on the “bubble” around position No. 30 had three weeks to play themselves in or to play themselves out.
Bill Haas: Even though Haas won at Riviera back in February, he couldn’t find the consistency throughout the summer to enhance his position to have a chance to defend his FedExCup championship. In fact, no player has ever had the chance to defend their FedExCup championship. It can’t be a curse, right? Anyhow, Haas was nine under and began the day T18. After seven bogeys, including four of his last five holes, and a double against three birdies, Haas found himself T45 and No. 32 on the only list that matters. Long putters, short putters, Haas amassed exactly one top 10 in his last 18 events on TOUR.
Kyle Stanley: Another early-season winner, Stanley had his troubles throughout the season as he went through three caddies before May 1. He also struggled to find the comfort zone as the season wore on. His best finish after his P2 (FIO) and WIN (WMPO) in consecutive weeks was T16 at WGC-BI, a span of 23 events. His best finish in three Playoff events was T34 this week at the BMW which knocked him from No. 30 to No. 31. His 75 on Sunday didn’t help matters.
We’ll see both of those lads in the Recap column down the road as they both have plenty of talent and will be back.
“And another thing…”
The analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat with TheGolfNewsNet.com's Ryan Ballengee on Wednesday September 19 at NOON, ET. They will be breaking down the field at the TOUR Chmapionship and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.