Joy of Golf: Johnson and Day favourites for Tour Championship

Joy Chakravarty 06:53 22/09/2016
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Title rivals: Dustin Johnson and Jason Day.

This week’s Tour Championship stands out for two reasons – the smallest field in the sport (now that the NedBank Golf Challenge in Sun City has expanded to 72 players), and the possibility of winning the largest purse on Sunday (because the winner is almost 90 per cent assured of the $10 million FedEx Cup windfall).

After changing the format several times, the PGA Tour seem to be happy with what they now have. Unlike the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, which truly reflects consistency of a player throughout the season, the FedEx Cup is completely skewed towards the four tournaments that comprise the Playoffs, especially the Tour Championship.

Obviously, there is the added spice of the undecided American Ryder Cup wildcard, which will be handed over to one player after the dust settles at East Lake. So, who has the best chance to walk away with the combined cheque of $11.485 million on Sunday? And who will give the official American tailor a torrid time with urgent suit measurements for next week’s battle in Hazeltine?

Everything points to an exciting contest between Dustin Johnson, the hottest golfer on the planet in 2016, and Jason Day, the most consistent player over the period of the last two years.

World No. 1 Day has a bit of a question mark going into this tournament. He had to withdraw from the BMW Championship a couple of weeks ago with a back injury, but the Australian has time and again proven that he has the most amazing ability to bounce back from all kinds of physical problems.

Given the fact that good putters have always enjoyed an upper hand at East Lake – some of the previous winners include putting maestros like Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk, and Brandt Snedeker – it should play into the hands of Day, who is leading the overall putting stats this year on the PGA Tour.

And yet, it is difficult to ignore Johnson, who won the BMW Championship and has been phenomenal this year from tee to green. He has finished fifth in his last two visits to East Lake, so he clearly feels comfortable on the golf course as well.

Johnson is No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings and Day fourth, meaning both are in control of their destiny. If any of the top-five guys win the Tour Championship, they also win the FedEx Cup.

Patrick Reed, who lies second, and Paul Casey, in fifth, are also in good form, while No. 3 Adam Scott has lovely memories of East Lake, having won here in 2006.

As for the Ryder Cup wildcard, captain Davis Love III may havedropped a major hint when he invited four players, who are not in the team, to practice with the rest of the team members at Hazeltine earlier this week. These four are Bubba Watson, Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Jim Furyk. This has led many to believe that Love is restricting his thoughts to these four players.

With Furyk not in the field, the one who has the best finish in East Lake seems to have the best chance of getting the nod. But if none of them are in the top five, Thomas is expected to nick the 12th wildcard.

Flippin’ the nines

This year’s Tour Championship at East Lake will feel different. That’s because the PGA Tour has decided to use the front nine as the back nine and vice versa.

Until last year, East Lake was one of the very few courses in the world that had a par-3 as its closing hole. The 235-yard 18th had a novelty value, but very few tournaments were won here with a birdie on the final hole. This year, the hole that used to be ninth, the 600-yard par-5, will be the new 18th. It really makes for a more exciting finish.

I am a big believer in par-5s as the closing hole because there is so much risk and reward involved. I’d rather have a player taking home the $10 million cheque after making an eagle on the 72nd hole than someone finishing with a par.

Player of the Week

Fine form: Andrew Johnston.

Fine form: Andrew Johnston.

Andrew Johnston – who once again proved he has a lot of game going along with a fun personality that is winning friends and influencing people the world over.

The Englishman, nicknamed ‘Beef’, finished fourth in the Albertsons Boise Open, the second of the four Finals and that is enough to earn him a card for the new PGA Tour season.

Johnston already has exempt status in Europe for the next two years after winning the Spanish Open, and will join the league of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose plying their trade on both sides of the Atlantic.

Quote of the Week

“I love Jack Nicklaus beyond belief, but I have to put Tiger down as probably the greatest player ever to play.” – PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem when asked whom he considers the best golfer in the history of the sport.

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