There was drama. There were surprises. But most of all, there was clarity on Sunday at the Tour Championship. While Justin Thomas entered the final event of the 2017 PGA Tour season in second place in the FedEx Cup points race, most people would agree he was the appropriate winner of the season-long title. And that includes Jordan Spieth.
“I almost cheated my way into winning the FedEx Cup,” Spieth admitted after his Sunday round, knowing that he would have been the first FedEx winner not to have won a Playoff event if things broke just a little differently.
But Thomas made sure they didn’t, closing with a 66 that didn’t give him the Tour Championship, but clinched the bigger prize and its accompanying $10 million payday.
On an exciting Sunday in Atlanta, here’s a look at the winner and losers:
Winner: Justin Thomas
All week Thomas said he was focused solely on winning Tour Championship, not wanting talk about the FedEx Cup race to distract him from the real task at hand. And while the 24-year-old fell one stroke short of his "goal" at East Lake, things worked out just find as he locked up the season-long title with his four-under par 66. It was only appropriate that the five-time tour winner in 2017 (including his PGA Championship victory in August) was the one who came out on top. Thomas is now a lock for PGA Tour player of the year, and his 2016-'17 season will become a benchmark that he’ll be chasing for the rest of his career.
Winner: Xander Schauffele
The unassuming 23-year-old from Southern California made an interesting cameo appearance during the U.S. Open, and you thought that would be the highlight of his rookie season. But X-Man showed he wasn’t a one-hit wonder, winning the Greenbrier Classic in July and then becoming the underdog who wins the Tour Championship. His victory, with a closing 68, wasn’t enough to take the FedEx Cup title, but it certainly locked up the PGA Tour rookie-of-the-year honors. Oh, and then there is the $3.5 million he banked at East Lake for the win and his third-place finished in the FedEx Cup.
Loser: Paul Casey
The Englishman could have put to rest the comments about his inability to close out tournaments with a good Sunday showing at East Lake. But the Tour Championship’s 54-hole leader stumbled early in final round, making bogeys on three of the first nine holes. A bogey on the par-3 15th after hitting his tee shot in the water ended his hopes of taking the title at East Lake, and the FedEx Cup crown in the process. His fifth-place finish was disappointing in that he was the only top-10 finisher in the tournament with an over-par score on the last 18 holes.
Loser: Jordan Spieth
He needed to roll in a 14-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole Sunday at East Lake to put himself in position to win the FedEx Cup without winning any of the four playoff events. But for once, the putting maestro couldn’t get the must-maker to drop, failing to put the necessary heat on eventual FedEx Cup winner Justin Thomas. Spieth’s final-round 67 for a T-6 showing was a “nice” finish, but he will be lamenting his second-round 70 and third-round 69 when looking back on the missed opportunity for winning his second career FedEx Cup.
Winner: FedEx Cup volatility
It’s taken a while for the PGA Tour to figure out the right formula to create some intriguing final-round drama at East Lake, but it’s found it in the current setup. Come Sunday, the movement on the Tour Championship leader board created scenarios where Paul Casey, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas could all have taken the FedEx Cup title. For a few moments even, the math was looking like there could be the need for a playoff between Thomas and Spieth for the FedEx Cup crown. In the end Thomas narrowly missed out on becoming the eighth straight player to win both the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.
Winner: East Lake
Flipping the nines didn’t seem like that big a deal when the PGA Tour first announced it ahead of the 2016 Tour Championship, but for the second straight year, the new back nine close of the long par-3 15th, tricky par-4 16th and 17th and then the gettable par-5 18th created a level of excitement that the tournament lacked when it ended on the old par-3 18th.
Loser: Hideki Matsuyama
The Japanese star, ranked No. 2 in the World, had his fourth straight poor finish in a playoff event with a T-26 finish at East Lake after a MC, T-23 and T-47. His hopes for winning the FedEx Cup title were all but lost after his opening-round 75. It was a disappointing end to an otherwise solid season for Matsuyama, and bodes a little ominous for the International team this week at the Presidents Cup with its top player having lost his form.
Loser: U.S. Presidents Cup team
Sure, the American squad looks strong, led by the new FedEx Cup champion in Thomas. And who could have know that a long-shot rookie like Schauffele would win at East Lake. But you’ve got to wonder how Captain Steve Stricker feels that the winner of the Tour Championship won’t be playing for his squad this week at Liberty National.