HARTFORD, Conn – Under the PGA Tour’s new scoring format for the season-ending Tour Championship, No. 1 seed Justin Thomas will have a two-stroke lead before a ball is even struck on Thursday.
Thomas will start the week at 10 under par by virtue of moving to No. 1 in the final FedExCup points standings thanks to his BMW Championship victory on Sunday. No. 2 Patrick Cantlay, who finished second Sunday, will be at 8 under, No. 3 Brooks Koepka at 7 under, No. 4 Patrick Reed at 6 under, No. 5 Rory McIlroy at 5 under, Nos. 6-10 at 4 under, Nos. 11-15 at 3 under, Nos. 16-20 at 2 under, No. 21-25 at 1 under and Nos. 26-30 at even par.
The bonus pool for the PGA Tour postseason doubles this year to $70 million in a revamped system that gives a head start to top players at the Tour Championship and pays $15 million to the FedEx Cup champion.
Tiger Woods will not defend because he failed to finish in the Top 30 in the final standings (he was 37th) after not being a solo 11th or better in the BMW Championship. But Woods said he will be watching because he’s captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup Team and has four choices to fill out his 12-man field that will face the International side Dec. 12-15 at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia.
Automatic U.S. qualifiers were No. 1-ranked Koepka, the 2018 PGA Tour Player of the Year who repeated in the PGA Championship and finished second in the Masters and U.S. Open this year, followed by Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar and Bryson DeChambeau. Kuchar is the most experienced with five appearances, while Cantlay, Schauffele and DeChambeau will be making their tournament debuts.
Kuchar, Simpson, and Johnson played on the 2011 U.S. team that won at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club, while Koepka, Johnson, Kuchar and Thomas were on the victorious U.S. Team in 2017 at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J. That victory gave the U.S. an 8-1-1 lead in the biennial competition.
International captain Ernie Els’ team is led by 2012 Travelers Championship winner Marc Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Abraham Ancer, Haotong Li, Cameron Smith and C.T. Pan. Leishman, Oosthuizen, Scott and Hideki Matsuyama have a combined 17 appearances in the Presidents Cup, while Ancer, Li, Smith and Pan will be newcomers to the event.
EMOTIONAL FIRST VICTORY
Doug Barron’s victory in the PGA Tour Champions Dick’s Sporting Goods Open Sunday at En-Joie Golf Club in Endicott, N.Y., was one of the best feel-good stories in quite a while. It was Barron’s first title in 377 starts on PGA Tour-sponsored circuits – PGA Tour, Champions Tour, Web.com Tour and its forerunners. Barron, who turned 50 on July 24 and was making his second Champions Tour start, shot a closing bogey-free 6-under 66 for a 17-under 199 total and a two-stroke victory over Fred Couples, who rallied into second with a 63, the low score in the final round.
It was understandable that Barron had difficulty doing a victory interview with The Golf Channel’s Billy Ray Brown, winner of the 1991 Canon Greater Hartford Open. He was the first Monday qualifier to lead wire-to-wire, and he accomplished that after lightning and lingering rain forced a two-hour suspension of play with Barron on the 15th hole. But in the end, an emotional and appreciative Barron won $307,000 and a year’s exempt on the tour after returning to competitive golf from a seven-year hiatus when he turned 50 thanks to encouragement from family and financial backers.
“I had a whirlwind of a week,” said Barron, from Germantown, Tenn. “The biggest emotion was, 1) I missed taking my son to college Saturday, I needed to justify that,” Barron said. “That’s a tough deal. Hope you don’t have to go through that. And 2) just all the people that believed in me over the last couple years.
“A lot of emotions ran through me. My 12-year-old’s never really seen me play. I haven’t been playing a lot since he’s been born or he was old enough to know. And then my wife, you know. Been married 23 years and her believing in me and saying, ‘Doug, we only live once, let’s go do this.’ That’s huge. Now I have a place to play and have to reset by goals.”
Barron might be best remembered in golf for having been the first player suspended under the PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Policy. In 2009, a random drug test revealed the presence of supplemental testosterone and a beta blocker. Barron claimed he was taking the medicine on the advice of doctors to address low testosterone and a heart murmur, but he was suspended for a year and filed a lawsuit against the PGA Tour. Barron and the PGA Tour reached an undisclosed settlement, and he was granted a therapeutic-use exemption to treat his low testosterone.
For the past seven years, Barron bounced around on mini-tours, waiting to turn 50, before he qualified for the Senior British Open last month in which he tied for fifth. With the victory, he earned a Champions Tour exemption through 2020 and was heartily congratulated by numerous fellow competitors after he finished.
Woody Austin, winner of the 2004 Buick Championship, finished third at 203, and Rhode Island native Billy Andrade tied for ninth at 206. University of Hartford grad Tim Petrovic tied for 13th at 207, 1998 Canon GHO winner Olin Browne tied for 32nd at 212, 1994 Canon GHO champion David Frost tied for 47th at 216 and Canon Sammy Davis Jr. GHO titlist Mark Brooks tied for 51st at 217.
WHALEYS AT LPGA QUALIFYING
Former Farmington resident Kelly Whaley will be among 361 starters in Stage 1 of the LPGA Tour and Symetra Tour qualifying school, which begins Thursday at the Dinah Shore and Palmer Courses in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and Shadow Ridge Golf Course in Palm Desert, Calif. The 72-hole event ends Sunday after a cut to an undetermined number of players after 54 holes. The final round will be played at the Dinah course.
Kelly’s caddie will be her mother and PGA of America president Suzy Whaley, who played on the LPGA Tour in 1990 and 1993 and became the first woman in 57 years to qualify for a PGA Tour event, the 2003 GHO, when she won the 2002 Connecticut Section PGA Championship.
Kelly, winner of the 2017 Hartford Women’s Open, is a recent grad of the University of North Carolina, her mother’s alma mater, where she started in every tournament for four years, had the two lowest scores in school history and was the only Tar Heel to shoot all three rounds in the 60s in winning the Briar’s Creek Invitational (68-67-69). She also was a three-time winner of the Connecticut Women’s Amateur, a CIAC champion and All-State and Player of the Year in her freshman year at Farmington High School. She then transferred to the IJGA Golf Academy in Hilton Head, S.C., where she was a member of the National Honor Society.
Kelly turned pro last month and earned $2,800 in her Symetra Tour debut, which was more than her mother made in 21 events during her two stints on the LPGA Tour.