Young gun Xander Schauffele and PGA Champ Justin Thomas both entered the record books at the Tour Championship.
The 23-year-old Schauffele became the first rookie to win the season-ending event since its inception in 1987, while Thomas is the first player since Tiger Woods in 2009 to win the season long FedEx Cup without claiming the final tournament of the PGA Tour schedule.
Englishman Paul Casey began the final round at 12 under par leading Kevin Kisner by two but neither managed to get going in the final round with yet another big tournament providing a stage for two young superstars of the PGA Tour to battle it out.
Schauffele was tied with Kisner to start the fourth round and made the turn in even par, while Thomas’ two-under front nine put the likely Player of the Year recipient in the conversation for the tournament and the huge FedEx Cup bonus prize.
“I knew if I won, finished second, maybe tied second I probably had a good chance depending on what Jordan did today, but I truly didn't know,” Thomas said of the potential FedEx Cup implications.
Once his good friend, and the number one seed, Jordan Spieth failed to kick on from his hole-out eagle at the 10th hole, it became clear that Thomas could afford not to win the tournament and still walk away with the $10 million bonus, after both players were tied on projected standings at one stage during the final round with a mouth-watering playoff for $10million in the offing.
Thomas birdied the 16th and 17th holes to pull away from Spieth and put the pressure on fellow American Schauffele, who one putted four consecutive holes – all from beyond six feet – beginning at the par-3 11th hole. Those three par-savers and a lone birdie put him in a tie for the lead with Thomas.
“I mean, the putter was pretty quiet the first two days and yesterday it kind of woke up a little bit, but I left myself a lot of kind of … sketchy I would call them … par putts today and I pretty much knocked all of them in but one, I think,” Schauffele said.
Having already won five times during the wrap-around season, including two weeks ago in Boston, 24-year-old Thomas was full of confidence standing on the 18th tee but a poor drive forced a lay-up at the par-5. After finding the putting surface with his third shot Thomas hit what looked to be a perfect putt from 24-feet before it broke hard left in the final few rolls to miss on the low side. A tap-in 5 had him signing for a four under 66.
“I was excited to birdie 16 and 17, felt like I had a great chance to birdie 18 again and kind of post and get in the clubhouse and give Xander something to look at,” Thomas said. “But it just wasn't meant to be, wasn't my week this week in terms of winning the golf tournament, but it definitely came with a nice consolation prize.”
Schauffele arrived at the final hole tied with Thomas at 11-under having saved par at the penultimate hole after missing the fairway left and the green right. The rookie then showed the nerves of a steely veteran unloading a 346-yard drive down the final fairway before hitting his second just short of the green. Schauffele appeared to have put the tournament to bed when he lagged his eagle try to within three feet before a nervous birdie putt nearly missed on the same side as Thomas, eventually rolling around the back of the cup and dropping in for his third birdie of the day and a two under 68.
“I thought it missed, that's why I couldn't even react to celebrate because I thought I just missed a two-footer to win,” the rookie said of his final stroke of the season.
With his win, Schauffele climbed to third on the FedEx Cup standings securing a $3.75 million payday, while Spieth finished second overall after tying for seventh at East Lake with an unusually balky putter to blame.
“I got on the greens and this was the most uncomfortable I've been with the putter in my hands maybe in my career. It was probably the worst putting event that I had this entire year,” Spieth said after the final round.
Jason Day’s four over 74 final round dropped him out of contention having started the day inside the top-10. He tied for 17th in the Championship and 18th in the FedEx Cup, while the only other Australian in the 30-man field, Marc Leishman, struggled all week. He failed to replicate his heroics from the BMW Championship win last week, only breaking par once in his T24 that was still good enough to finish sixth in the FedEx Cup.