OWINGS MILLS, Md. — At first, it seemed that Charley Hoffman's chief opponent on a humid Sunday at the BMW Championship was Patrick Reed … which was strange, because Patrick Reed was recently in the hospital with double pneumonia and isn't playing at Caves Valley this weekend. Nevertheless, Reed was the target: He had secured 1380.819 FedEx Cup points, and as Hoffman made the turn on Sunday, Reed's total was good for 30th place. The top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings earn a berth to next week's Tour Championship, with its various prizes—entry into the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship and other prestigious tournaments, plus lots of money—which meant that if Hoffman could exceed that total, he'd make the elite field.
Reed's absence was both good news and bad news. He couldn't rise any higher, but unlike everyone else around the bubble, he couldn't help Hoffman by dropping any lower. In the projected standings, Hoffman stood at 31st, down from 29th at the start of the week, and at 10 under for the tournament, he was stagnating while the field raced ahead on what had been a relatively easy course all week.
At two under for the day, already-sweat soaked, Hoffman made a massive mistake on the 12th hole, hitting his approach on the par 5 into the water. He managed to give himself a 15-foot par putt despite the mistake, but when he missed, his projected points dipped to 1,326 (he came into the week with 1,280). Hudson Swafford passed him on the projections, and now he was even further on the outside, stuck in 32nd place. There was time to make birdies, but very little time to waste. Yet in a performance that has been characteristic of pressure moments he's faced before—notably at the 2017 Masters—he went cold, leaving his approaches far from birdie range and failing to hit any long putts. He finally created a birdie opportunity on the par-5 16th, but unfathomably left his 13-foot putt short. He deflated visibly at that point, clearly believing his last chance had gone.
He was wrong—sort of. At that point, it was clear that Reed was no longer his target. Even with two straight birdies, he wouldn't be able to clear the 1,380 hurdle. Still, that didn't mean he was dead; because Hoffman had come into the week ranked 29th, it meant he had been leapfrogged by a few players. Three of them, Sergio Garcia, Erik Van Rooyen, and Hudson Swafford, were still on the course. Garcia and Van Rooyen had surged 17 places, and while that was impressive, it also meant they were near the top of the BMW Championship leader board, and that any mistake would be extremely costly, since the difference between, say, third place and 10th place is far more drastic (roughly 460 points) than the difference between 30th and 31st (roughly six). They were beating Hoffman for now, but there was a long way to fall.
Hoffman hit a solid tee shot on the par-3 17th and rolled in his 11-foot birdie putt, which upped his projected points marginally, from 1,326 to 1,339. He couldn't make another birdie on 18, hitting another limp effort from above the hole, but at that point it hardly mattered. Unlike Billy Horschel, who had shot a 67 to retain his spot in the top 30, Hoffman hadn't done enough to secure advancement on his own. A 70 is a mediocre score at Caves Valley, and that's charitable. However, it hadn't been such a complete disaster that he was beyond help. At 32nd in the projected standings, he still had a prayer.
(Not that he held out much hope—when asked after the round if he'd answer questions, he would only mumble, "no, not really," before walking off from the scoring area.)
In short, Hoffman needed two of three players above him—Swafford, Garcia, and Van Rooyen—to fall down. Most other spots were secured, but if they slipped, he'd sneak into 30th place.
With bogeys on 7 and 10, Swafford obliged almost immediately. Then Garcia hit into the woods on 10, and by the time he made his bogey putt, he had slipped to T-6. When the standings updated, he had slipped below Reed, but above Hoffman. To complicate things further, Alex Noren had caught fire, and with four straight birdies from 12 through 15, had vaulted past Hoffman. That was a nightmarish development, because now Swafford's fall didn't matter; Hoffman still stood in 32nd and needed help from Garcia and Van Rooyen both.
The news got worse from there. K.H. Lee, who had seemed buried down the leader board, birdied three straight holes of his own, and somehow darted ahead of Hoffman by eight points. Noren stayed hot, pushing Reed outside the top 30 for the first time all week, and Hoffman dropped to 33. Nobody gave him a break; Van Rooyen birdied 15, Garcia bogeyed 14 but birdied 16, and Lee made yet another birdie on 17.
And then, at the exact moment when all hope seemed lost, things began to happen. Noren made bogey on 18, missing a seven-foot putt, falling below Hoffman. Lee made a mess of 18 and needed a two-putt from 41 feet to just to save bogey. He, too, fell below Hoffman, and for the first time since the start of the back nine, Hoffman was back into 31st, just one spot away. Van Rooyen finished in style, hitting his approach on 18 to two feet, and finished inside the top 30. That left just Garcia, and when he drove the bunker on 18, and hit his approach into another bunker 40 feet from the hole, it seemed like a miracle could be imminent … until the moment Garcia dropped his bunker shot four inches from the hole.
That was the end for Hoffman, and to add insult to injury, Lee snuck ahead of him by a point on last-minute leader board changes.
There will be no Tour Championship for Hoffman, and the truth is that past all the math and the minute-to-minute fluctuations, he simply didn't do enough on the actual course to earn his place. The day belonged to the players who took advantage of their opportunity and made birdies on the bubble, which is probably as it should be. Hoffman learned a lesson he probably already knew, and that many others have learned before: If you don't seize your fate in the FedEx Cup playoffs, fate will seize you.