Round One of the FedExCup Playoffs gave us Dustin Johnson versus Jordan Spieth in a 19-hole Sunday classic, one of the best Goliath versus Goliath duels in recent memory.
It may not be physically possible to beat, but the Dell Technologies Championship can do nothing but try.
One thing this second round tournament has in its favor: an elite field comprised of the 100 best golfers from the 41 weeks of PGA Tour events this year.
It is a major championship caliber group at one of Arnold Palmer’s gems, TPC Boston, fighting for validation for a long, exhausting season, and a mammoth, too-good-to-be-true $10 million prize.
While 100 players will enter Boston, only 70 will survive and move on to Chicago.
We do not know exactly who will be fortunate enough to pass onto round three, but what we do know without a doubt: they will have earned it.
While many of the tournaments held this late in the season have long, illustrious histories, the Dell Technologies Championship comparatively is in its infancy, having first teed off in 2003. What it lacks in tradition, however, it more than makes up for in quality.
The tournament was held four times before being assimilated into the FedExCup playoffs in 2007, holding an impressive list of winners in that short time: Adam Scott, Vijay Singh, Olin Browne, and Tiger Woods. Singh would later win it again, making he and Rory McIlroy the only two-time event champions.
The Dell Technologies Championship has been defined by the puzzling difficulty players have found in closing it out. The past seven winners came from behind on the final day, and since it became a part of the playoffs, the only 54-hole winner to hold on for the victory was Steve Stricker in 2009.
Each edition has been held at TPC Boston, an Arnold Palmer design that was built in 2003, but took on a significant redesign from Gil Hanse and Brad Faxon before being used as a FedExCup event.
Name: TPC Boston
Where: Norton, Massachusetts
Distance: 7342 yards, par 71
Architect: Arnold Palmer
Winning Share: $1,575,000
FedExCup Points: 2,000
The defending champion of the Dell Technologies Championship is Rory McIlroy.
Six strokes beind 54-hole leader Paul Casey to start the final round, McIlroy made up the entire deficit on the front nine with a 5-under 31 to Casey’s 1 over 37.
A long birdie putt on 12 put Rory in the lead for good, as he finished Sunday with a 6-under 65 to reach 15-under for the tournament, two strokes ahead of Casey, and three ahead of Jimmy Walker.
McIlroy went on to win the FedExCup.
2016: Rory McIlroy
2015: Rickie Fowler
2014: Chris Kirk
2013: Henrik Stenson
2012: Rory McIlroy
2011: Webb Simpson
Lowest Final Score: 262 (-22)
(Vijay Singh 2008, Charley Hoffman 2010, and Henrik Stenson 2013)
Low Round: 61
(Vijay Singh, Mike Weir)
TV & ONLINE COVERAGE
Round 1: 2:30-6:30pm (Golf Channel)
Round 2: 3:00-6:30pm (Golf Channel)
Round 3: 1:00-3:00pm (Golf Channel), 3:00-6:00pm (NBC)
Round 4: 11:30a-1:30p (Golf Channel), 1:30-6:00pm (NBC)
Online: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram
(Note: Tournament is held Fri-Mon)
STORYLINE 1: JOCKEYING FOR POSITION
The Northern Trust eliminated 25 of the 125 players who made the FedExCup playoffs. Notables who said goodbye to their seasons included Luke Donald, Geoff Ogilvy, Jimmy Walker, Steve Stricker, and Nick Watney.
Surprisingly, only three players who came into the playoffs in the 101-125 range moved onto the Dell Technologies Championship: Bubba Watson, David Lingmerth, and Harold Varner III.
Those three replaced Byeong Hun An, Robert Garrigus and Seung Yol-Noh in the top 100.
TPC Boston will whittle the field down even further, as only the top 70 upon the completion of this week’s tournament will move onto the BMW Championship, which is being held at Conway Farms Golf Club.
As a result, those currently in the 71-100 range are under pressure to, at the very least, make the cut in Norton. Here are some of the more notable players in that range:
71- Rod Pampling
72- Bubba Watson
73- Adam Scott
76- Chad Campbell
78- Chris Stroud
80- Rafa Cabrera-Bello
81- Stewart Cink
88- J.B. Holmes
89- Camilo Villegas
95- Chris Kirk
99- Branden Grace
On average, just over six per year jump inside the top 70 at this event, which has the players just on the other side of the bubble nervous too.
Right now Grayson Murray holds the No. 70 position. No. 68 Brandt Snedeker will not be playing, as a rib injury shut his season down, meaning he is virtunone guaranteed to be among those who drop out of the Top 70.
Adam Scott had originally announced that he would forego this tournament, as he and his wife were waiting on the birth of their second child, but with the child being born last Wednesday, Scott flipped his plans, and now will be at TPC Boston.
At No. 73 in the rankings, Scott would have been eliminated completely otherwise.
It is not just those around and below the top 70 that are motivated to improve their standing either. The Tour Championship only invites the top 30 in the standings after the BMW.
Some are already guaranteed a spot at East Lake, but those who haven’t greatly increase their margin of error in Chicago if they place well in Boston, not to mention that those who are in the top five going into East Lake are guaranteed to win the FedExCup if they win the Tour Championship.
Those five positions are current as follows:
1- Dustin Johnson
2- Jordan Spieth
3- Justin Thomas
4- Hideki Matsuyama
5- Jon Rahm
If those five are serious about winning the FedExCup and its $10 million prize, and there is no good reason they would not be, they are best served by continuing their great play into this week. This is not a week off for anyone.
STORYLINE 2: IS DUSTIN JOHNSON BACK?
After winning the other Dell event on the schedule: the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in March, his third consecutive start with a victory, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson first moved into pole position on the FedExCup standings.
Johnson went on to hold that top position for three months, dropping out when Jordan Spieth jumped him after winning the Travelers Championship in late June.
The 33-year old recaptured it last Sunday with his win at The Northern Trust. Now people are wondering: is DJ “back”?
For a time early in the year the Tour became, “Dustin Johnson and everyone else”. He was that good in his 3, 1, 1, 1 stretch from early February to late March. Not that winning was something new for Johnson, he had 12 of them in his career coming into 2017, but in that stretch, he was showing a different level of dominance, and having finally got the major monkey off his back at the 2016 U.S. Open, the heliosphere seemed to be the limit.
Unfortunately for DJ, one uncoordinated step on the stairs of his Augusta rental home, reduced him back to a mortal. He missed the cut at both the U.S. Open and Open Championship, and the rest of his May-July starts were in the “good, but not great” category.
He had shown some signs coming into the playoffs, as he was on a T8, T17, T13 streak, but even in that T8, he was playing against a comparatively weak field at the RBC Canadian Open and couldn’t make a move in round four until he was already out of the mix. His final round 67 was more cosmetic than anything else.
But now, it is round two of the playoffs, and Johnson just took down Jordan Spieth in a playoff. He said after his round that he feels like he is back to where he was before the incident at The Masters. Is he really? This week should tell a lot. If he plays like that again, it becomes a trend.
STORYLINE 3: RORY UNDER THE RADAR
Someone who might want to ask Dustin Johnson about getting back into form following injury is four-time major winner Rory McIlroy. In addition to being the defending champion of the Dell Technologies Championship, which he did by making up a six-stroke 54-hole deficit in just nine holes last year, McIlroy is also the defending FedExCup Champion.
However, Rory has looked like himself very little this year, with no victories on the season, a slump mostly imputed to a lingering rib injury that he initially suffered back in January. After a disappointing T22 at the PGA Championship he was favored to win, the 28-year-old came into the playoffs at 44th in the FedExCup standings, and did not impress at Glen Oaks, finishing 2-over in a T34 effort.
It could be considered a victory that Rory is even playing right now. After the PGA Championship, he strongly considered shutting it down for the year, but after being convinced that his rib would not get injured further, made the decision to move forward as planned with the playoffs.
All that being said, Rory clearly likes this course, and used the event as a springboard for the FedExCup last year, despite ranking 36th in the standings, just a little better than where he sits now (43rd). If the rib is does not interfere too much with his swing, he is not the worst bet to make another run.
STORYLINE 5: SPIETH’S PSYCHE
Going into last week, Jordan Spieth was 5-for-5 at converting 54-hole leads of two strokes or better into wins. One week later, Spieth is now 5-for-6.
After a third-round 64, Spieth, who has three wins in 2017, led the Northern Trust field by three strokes, and then increased that lead to five strokes after five holes, but Dustin Johnson was able to catch him on the back nine, and then win in a thrilling playoff.
Spieth is now No. 2 in the FedExCup standings, but will his final round failures hurt his mental game this week? Spieth did not really squander the lead as much as DJ took it (although Spieth hitting his tee-shot into the water on 6 certainly helped Johnson’s cause).
With the resiliency Spieth has shown throughout his career, it is difficult to see him getting too down over what happened at Glen Oaks, but it is something to watch for nonetheless.
STORYLINE 4: CAN CASEY CLOSE?
Over the past 12 months, Paul Casey has shown an affinity for the FedExCup Playoffs. Consider these results:
2016 Playoffs: T31, 2, 2, 4
2017 Playoffs (so far): 5
While it’s odd that the entire field seems adverse to tying Casey, the main point to draw from those results is that Casey appears to be very comfortable in this format. While that may be true to an extent, a deeper look reveals a troubling difficulty with closing.
Casey was the 54-hole leader at last year’s Dell Technologies Championship, only to shoot a final-round 73 and lose to a man (Rory McIlroy) who started the day six strokes behind him.
At last week’s Northern Trust he was tied for third place going into the final round, but knocked himself out of contention with four bogeys over his first five holes. Those were in addition to other missed opportunity close calls. He also self-destructed on the weekend at the U.S. Open this year after holding the 36-hole co-lead.
Casey has consistently posted good results this year, with 15 top 25 finishes in 21 events, but he has not closed the deal since the 2009 Shell Houston Open, his only win in 217 career events, and until he does it again, questions will persist.
FIVE OTHER NOTABLES IN BOSTON
1. Hideki Matsuyama
The 25-year-old Matsuyama entered the playoffs at No. 1 in the standings, but fell to No. 4 after surprisingly missing the cut at Glen Oaks, fueled primarily by a birdie-free opening round of 74.
Minor hip soreness might be a worry, although Matsuyama himself has not sounded especially concerned. With three wins and three runner-ups this season, few have been better.
2. Justin Thomas
The PGA Champion played respectably at The Northern Trust, his first start as a major champion, following an opening-round 68 with three consecutive 69s for a T6.
His four victories on the season co-leads with Dustin Johnson, and he is the only player on Tour who has reached double-digits in top 10 finishes (10).
At No. 3 in the FedExCup standings, Thomas is a lock for East Lake, but he will need at least one high finish over the next two weeks to make it there with a coveted top-five position.
3. Jon Rahm
A T3 finish at The Northern Trust was the first top-10 in the U.S. for Rahm in three months. Playing his first full season on Tour, the 22-year-old Spainard is competing in his first FedExCup playoff, but inexperience has not held him back much this year.
Rahm has been especially strong with his driver, as he ranks third on Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee.
4. Rickie Fowler
The 2015 Dell Technologies Championship winner was a 36-hole co-leader at The Northern Trust last week, but a nightmare start to his third round, where he carded bogeys on five of his first six holes, proved too much to overcome as he finished T20.
Fowler has just one victory in 2017, the Honda Classic in February, but has nine top 10s, and ranks second on Tour in scoring average.
5. Jhonattan Vegas
The 33-year-old from Venezuela looked helpless from April to July, missing seven cuts in an eight-event stretch, and failed to make the weekend at all four majors, but has been reinvigorated lately, winning the RBC Canadian Open.
Vegas shot two rounds of 65 at The Northern Trust, leading to a T3 finish that vaulted the three-time Tour winner from 29th in the FedExCup Standings to 10th. Vegas struggled on Saturday’s front nine at Glen Oaks, but combined for just two bogeys in his other 3.5 rounds.