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For the third straight week, PGA Tour competition ended in sudden death as the first leg of the FedExCup Playoffs needed an extra day and a playoff of its own before Tony Finau ended a five-year drought with a victory at the Northern Trust on Monday.
What’s more, the secondary headline also had a familiar ring as world No. 1 Jon Rahm, who had at least a share of the lead through three rounds at Liberty National Golf Club – and through 14 holes on Sunday – faltered coming down the stretch, making bogey on two of his last four holes to finish solo third and out of the playoff by two shots.
After Tropical Storm Henri forced a Monday finish in Jersey City, N.J., Finau carded the low round of the day, posting a 6-under 65 that featured a 30 on his back nine and was highlighted by a birdie-eagle-birdie stretch on Nos. 12-14. Another birdie at 16 put him atop the leaderboard and an up-and-down par save at the 18th had him in the clubhouse at 20-under 264, where 54-hole co-leader Cameron Smith joined him following a 4-under 67 that featured back-to-back birdies on 16 and 17.
“It took everything I had because I knew I had to get to 20 under,” said Finau, who made 143 starts and had gone 1,975 days since his lone prior victory at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. “I was chasing down the best player in the world. Jon is a good friend, but I know what type of game he has. He’s not going to let up on a lead. So I knew I was going to have to catch him and eventually pass him, and Cam was playing well. I gave it everything I had. …
“But this is cool. I’ve been thinking about that walk up 18 for a long time. It’s been years. It’s nice to finally have that and now put this second win behind me.”
Finau came into the week listed at +6000 to win via PointsBet Sportsbook and was +1200 ahead of the final round while was Rahm was the betting favorite at +1000 to start the week and +140 going into Monday. Smith, a three-time Tour winner with seven top 10 finishes on the season, came into Jersey City at +3500 to win and +300 going into Monday.
“You know, my driver has cost me a few tournaments this year,” said Smith, who hit his tee shot out of bounds on 18 in the playoff and could make no better than a double bogey while Finau made a two-putt par for the win. “That makes mean more determined to try and figure it out before the end of the year.”
After starting Monday tied for the lead with Rahm, a double at the fifth forced Smith to grind his way back into the lead. He carded a back-nine 31 and finished with a 67 on the day. Smith, however, recorded his career best 18-hole score during the third round and set the Liberty National course record in the process with a bogey-free, 11-under 60 on Saturday.
Reigning U.S. Open champion Rahm notched his third straight podium finish in his return to action following a positive COVID-19 test that forced him to miss representing Team Spain at the Tokyo Olympics. But the six-time winner found the positives in the week, which kicked off with bogey-free rounds of 63-67, included one double and one bogey in his 67 on Saturday and 14-hole, bogey-free stretch on Monday before an errant tee shot into a left fairway bunker at 15 led to a bogey and loss of the lead.
“I haven’t been able to digest it. My son put a smile on my face so at least I’m not in a terrible mood,” said Rahm, who also made bogey at 18 after hitting driver left again into a fairway bunker en route to a 69 and 18-under 266 total. “You know, I think it’s going to be very easy to focus on maybe 15, even though I did not make a putt all day. I did what I had to do tee-to-green, and it could have been a lot better than what it was. I felt like I could have had a bigger lead and that wasn’t the case. …
“And then, you know 15, it’s the one I keep going to. I hit every single one of those five shots the way I wanted to, and that’s the unfortunate part. That bunker, the wind didn’t push the ball the way I thought, and I think that was the difference.”
For Finau, who moved to No. 1 in the FedExCup standings and into the top six in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings, the victory was validation for the 31-year-old Utahn whose had 39 top-10s and eight runner-up results since his 2016 win.
“I thought my first one (win) was going to be my most important one, but I actually think this one is,” said the father of five. “It validates the first one but because of how long I’ve had to wait, I’m a totally different golf player because of how long I’ve had to wait.
“Nothing has come easy for me. I’ve lost in playoffs, taken second, third in major championships. I’ve persevered and that’s the biggest key is I haven’t given up on myself and on my team. I feel like I’ve got great team behind me, and I’ve got a great wife, family, who supports me. Things are great and now to finally have this happen again, this is great for my family and for my career.”
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Reed hospitalized with pneumonia, withdraws from BMW Championship
Patrick Reed, who withdrew prior to the start of The Northern Trust with an ankle injury, released a statement Monday revealing he’s been hospitalized at home in Houston due to bilateral pneumonia.
“I just want to update everyone…First and foremost-thank you all for your support,” Reed said in a statement, which was released to Golf Channel. “The good news is, my ankle is okay. The bad news is I’ve been in the hospital with bilateral pneumonia. I’m on the road to recovery, once I’m cleared from the doctors — I look forward to returning. I wish you all the best and I can’t wait to get back out there! Thank you so much for your support, it means a lot to me. Also, a special thank you to the doctors, nurses and staff at the Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center.»
Reed subsequently withdrew from this week’s BMW Championship, marking three straight events he will have missed due to illness or injury after spraining his ankle at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
Reed hasn’t missed the Tour Championship since 2013, but after entering the week 22nd in points he’s now 26th and in jeopardy of falling out of the top 30. He sits 10th in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings and will now need to be a captain’s pick by Steve Stricker to make the team for Whistling Straits next month. The top six in points after the BMW automatically qualify.
Finau takes over FEC No. 1, top 70 set for Caves Valley
As Finau moved to No. 1 in the FedExCup standings for the first time in his career, Collin Morikawa (+1700) dropped from the top spot to sixth after shooting 74-70 to miss the cut. It marked his first MC in an individual tournament since last October, when he made early exits at the U.S. Open and Shriners.
Earning his spot in the top 70 with a dramatic finish, Keith Mitchell (T-8) birdied his last three holes on Monday to qualify for the BMW Championship. Five other players moved into the top 70 including Sweden’s Alex Noren (T-4), South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen (solo seventh), Tom Hoge (T-4), Harold Varner III (T-11) and Harry Higgs (T-16).
Odds and ends: DJ’s driver debacle; season ends early for Scott, Watson
Defending champion Dustin Johnson’s (+1700) bid to win The Northern Trust for a fourth time ended when he shot 70-72 and missed the cut. Johnson’s tournament started on a strange note – and without a driver – after he noticed a crack in the crown of the clubhead just minutes prior to his opening round. Johnson had a 3-wood in his car, though, which was retrieved and brought to him on the second hole. However, Johnson’s playoffs continue next week at the BMW Championship.
Speaking of broken clubs, Norway’s Viktor Hovland smashed his putter in anger after making a triple bogey at the eighth hole on Monday, rendering it unusable. Hovland putted with a wedge for the remainder of the round, and while he finished T-43, the 23-year-old was able to make three birdies over his back nine, carding an even-par 35 and finishing with a 6-over 77.
Adam Scott (+5000), who missed a 4-foot putt in a playoff to win the Wyndham Championship last week, failed to extend his season after shooting 67-75 to miss the cut by one shot. The 41-year-old Aussie was among 28 players outside the top 70 in the FedExCup who missed the cut. That list included Bubba Watson (+15000), who started the week 71th in the FEC standings, but shot 71-72 to miss out on the weekend. … Phil Mickelson (+15000) missed the cut but managed to hold onto the 70th and final spot ahead of Matthew Wolff.
Up next: BMW Championship
Players face a quick turnaround as the FedExCup Playoffs continue this week with the BMW Championship, the penultimate event of the 2020-21 season. The Tour visits Baltimore for the first time since 1964 as world No. 1 Jon Rahm looks to defend his 2020 title, which he won in a dramatic playoff over Dustin Johnson at Olympia Fields Country Club in Illinois. Only the top 70 in the FEC standings following The Northern Trust will tee it up at this year’s venue – Caves Valley Golf Club, a 7,542-yard, Tom Fazio design that has hosted several top-tier events including the 2002 U.S. Senior Open and the 2017 Senior Players Championship. The BMW Championship is the final opportunity for players to earn a spot in the playoffs’ finale, the 30-man Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Last year, Rahm captured his 11th career Tour title on the first playoff hole by draining a 66-foot birdie putt to beat Johnson, who had rolled in a double-breaking, 43-foot bomb of his own on the 72nd hole to force sudden death.
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