Atlanta, GA—It’s too bad Tom Watson had to make his Captain choices right after The Barclays event because it’s now becoming clear Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk are demonstrating the kind of sustained form that will likely be sorely missed when the heavy underdog American squad takes on Team Euro at Gleneagles in Scotland at the end of this month.
Horschel has been blazing hot—nearly winning the Deutsche Bank event and winning in solid fashion last week’s BMW event at Cherry Hills just outside of Denver. In his last ten rounds, Horschel is an incredible thirty-five-under-par. Mind boggling stuff indeed.
After a total mis-hit at the 72nd hole of the Deutsche Bank Championship, the 27-year-old from Grant, FL has been a nonstop force of stellar play. He has continued that form this week with the final event of the Fed-Ex Playoffs and leads a trio of players—Rory McIlroy, Chris Kirk and Jason Day by two shots after completing 36-holes at East Lake GC with consecutive rounds of four-under-par 66’s for a 132 cumulative total.
Now the interesting part starts this weekend with numerous questions that will be answered at the end of this event. Can Horschel sustain his form, knowing the world’s number player is hot on his heels. Can Kirk follow-up his win at Deutsche Bank with another top tier win? Can Jason Day finally string together solid play for all four rounds and show he’s on the cusp of being one of the five best players in the world?
This is the first time since the FedEx Playoffs started in ’07 that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are both not in the field but the excitement is building as the aforementioned four players have clearly shown they are primed for an exciting duel in Atlanta.
Both of Watson’s Captain choices—Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson—are struggling this week as they are tied for 25th. The total size of the field started with 29 players.
If either Horschel, McIlroy or Kirk wins they will also received the $10 million bonus that goes to the winner of the FedEx Playoffs. Day is also in the mix depending upon specific finishes of the top players.
The grind to get to Atlanta has prompted a number of players to question the wisdom in playing four consecutive weeks for the FedEx series of events. Nonetheless, the final 36-holes will clearly settle a few issues of note.
Neither Horschel nor Kirk have made any issues in being bypassed for Ryder Cup play but frankly Watson has to wonder if both men would have been worthy assets given the continuous nature of their solid play thus far. At the minimum the question arises how wise is it to pick Captain choices before the end of the FedEx playoffs?
For McIlroy, a win in Atlanta would cap his finest season as a professional. Having won the final two majors of the year, the 25-year-old Northern Irishman has exhibited a steady form and laser-like focus on his overall play. In the recent past McIlroy could produce a round of uneven play—often then derailing his opportunity for victory. Those instances are becoming fewer and fewer. Here in Atlanta his driver prowess has once again been on display. The key for Rory will be if the putter can cooperate enough for him to overtake those nearest to him in the standings.
Even with the stage set for a wild weekend of golf, the overall ratings of the event will once again be analyzed. Competing against college and professional football has placed golf further in the rear view mirror—save for the die-hard types who follow golf religiously.
Much has been made about the state of American golf—most especially once Woods and Mickelson have parted from the stage—which is not that far in the future. McIlroy alluded to that in his pre-tournament press conference—much to his chagrin given the social media chatter. Horschel and Kirk have shown the wherewithal to take on any and all comers. Kirk outplayed McIlroy over the final two rounds in Boston when paired together. Horschel held the overnight lead last week going into the final round and was more than ready to handle the challenge when the bright hot spotlight is squarely on you.
The PGA Tour brass wanted to have a conclusion to the golf season that kept everyone guessing on just how everything will turn out. This weekend will finally bring home the answer to that and so much more.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.