ATLANTA — It’s not unusual for the PGA Tour post-season, particularly who wins the FedEx Cup, to go a long way toward who gets voted player of the year.
That’s particularly true this season with only one major championship in the books.
The leading candidates for the Jack Nicklaus Award are the top five in the FedEx Cup standings going into East Lake: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson and Collin Morikawa. Each has won at least twice against strong fields. Morikawa won the only major at the PGA Championship.
“Dustin has been playing really hot as of late. Jon caught fire mid and late, and then J.T. started off very hot,” Xander Schauffele said. “I think depending on how well everyone plays where could affect where the vote goes.”
Thomas has three victories this season, the most of anyone, at the CJ Cup in South Korea in October, the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January and a World Golf Championship in August.
So it was no surprised when Thomas was asked his vote going into East Lake.
“Me,” he said.
Johnson’s two victories were at the Travelers Championship and The Northern Trust. He also was a runner-up at the PGA Championship and the BMW Championship. Morikawa’s other victory was at the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield Village in a playoff over Thomas. He also lost in a playoff at Colonial.
Simpson won at Hilton Head and the Phoenix Open.
The other multiple winner is Brendon Todd. His victories were last year against weaker fields, including an opposite-field event. But a FedEx Cup title might go a long way.
“I think it comes down to who gets that elusive third win,” Rahm said. “Hopefully, it’s me.”
The FedEx Cup champion has been voted PGA Tour player of the year three of the last five seasons.
Jon Rahm didn’t think it was worth going home to Arizona after the BMW Championship and needing to turn around and fly to Atlanta. So he took a scouting report to Winged Foot on Tuesday, site of the U.S. Open in two weeks.
His wife, Kelly, was his caddie. Rahm figured it would help to at least get a feel for the routing.
It was wet from rain, making the opening eight holes feel even longer. It was also softer than what he expects.
“All I can say is it’s a heck of a golf course,” Rahm said. “The greens kind of gave me an Oakmont vibe — extremely difficult, extremely undulated.”
His main takeaway was that it’s very hard and anything around par will be good, if not a winning score. Geoff Ogilvy in in 2006 at 5-over 285.
“I’m not shocked that the winning score last time was 5-over par, and if it gets firm like some of the USGA guys told me they want it to be, I don’t see how any of us shoot under par,” Rahm said. “Or if we shoot under par it would be somebody winning by a lot.”
Webb Simpson was headed in the right direction with top 10s in the Wyndham Championship and The Northern Trust. He was No. 3 in the FedEx Cup. And then he decided to skip the BMW Championship.
At home, his daughter had just had her tonsils removed. Mainly, he was flat tired with a big week ahead of him. Starting with a World Golf Championship, he had played four weeks in a row.
Two weeks after the Tour Championship is the U.S. Open.
“It’s a hard decision,” Simpson said. “Last week, Monday and Tuesday was very difficult for me because I was very tired. I played four in a row, knowing I’m coming to East Lake, knowing that the U.S. Open is coming up. So we’re kind of dealing with that as players all year of when to rest, when to play.”
It didn’t cost him too much. Simpson could have dropped as low as No. 9 in the FedEx Cup depending on how the BMW Championship played out. Instead, he dropped only one spot. That means he starts Friday four shots behind.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
Dustin Johnson made a 45-foot birdie putt in regulation. He had the upper hand in a playoff until Jon Rahm made a similar putt from 65 feet and won the BMW Championship.
In some respects, Justin Thomas felt as though he had seen this before.
He felt like a winner at Muirfield Village when he made a 50-foot birdie putt in a playoff at the Workday Charity Open. Collin Morikawa made birdie from 25 feet, and eventually won the playoff.
“Luckily for me, he made his putt on top of me and I still had a chance,” Thomas said. “Whereas DJ missed his and then the tournament was over just like that when he was looking like he was in better shape.”
Thomas also thought back to the 15th when Rahm hit a tee shot that was going into a hazard, hit the trees and came out. If it goes in, he most likely doesn’t win. Thomas hit a tee shot at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational that he hooked off a cart path and over a bridge, a key break in his victory.
“That stuff happens when you win,” Thomas said. “You make putts like that in that playoff when you win. It’s crazy and it’s hard to swallow sometimes, but DJ has won enough to know that weird stuff happens.”