The Northern Trust will never be mistaken for the Korn Ferry Tour season finale, which, as always, was a wildly emotional affair on Sunday. Those at Liberty National weren't playing for their PGA Tour lives, and players not moving on to the BMW Championship aren't losing any sleep (look no further than this tweet from Tyrrell Hatton as an example).
That said, there was still a lot on the line for some. FedEx Cup points, money, a chance to make the Tour Championship with another good week at BMW, etc. Who had the most productive (and least productive) day of work on Sunday at Liberty National Golf Club? Here are the winners and losers.
Entering the week at 67th, all Abraham Ancer needed to do was make the cut and finish inside the top 50 to advance to the BMW Championship. So after rounds of 67, 65 and 68, which put him in the final pairing with Patrick Reed, as long as Ancer didn't shoot 81 on Sunday he'd safely move on to Medinah. But, as he displayed with his final birdie putt, Ancer was there to win, and he nearly did, playing his final three holes in two under par and making a huge par save on the 18th to lock up solo second. That vaulted him all the way to eighth in the FedEx Cup standings, a 59-spot jump that essentially locks up his spot in the Tour Championship and earns him a Masters invitation two firsts in his career.
Harold Varner III
Nobody won bigger this week than HV3, who began the Northern Trust 102nd (!) in the FedEx Cup standings and climbed all the way to 29th with his T-3, the best finish of his career. His final-round 68 at Liberty National, which featured a double bogey on the ninth hole that he recovered from with a back-nine 32, earned him 650 points. Had he shot even par and tied for 10th, he'd still have advanced to the BMW, but his Tour Championship chances would be much slimmer, as he'd be 62nd on the points list. Had he gone backward and dropped outside the top 10, Varner would have been right on the bubble. In other words, it was a good day to have a good day at the office.
Merritt came into the Northern Trust 72nd on the points list and held the lead for much of Thursday and Friday at Liberty National, allowing him to breathe easy on the weekend. That was until he shot 72 on Saturday and then began his final round four over on his first seven holes, dropping him to five under for the week and outside the top 30 on the leader board. Five under or worse would have moved Merritt outside the top 32, a spot where he had to be to earn enough points to advance to the BMW. But Merritt got things right after a triple bogey at the fifth hole, playing his final 11 holes in five under to climb to 10 under overall and a tie for 12th. He jumped from 72nd to 59th on the points list, which gets him to the second leg of the playoffs for the third time in his career.
After a final-round 69, Clark didn't think he did enough to crack the top 70, as he began the week at 90th and needed to finish T-21 or better to advance. As he conducted a series of post-round interviews, Clark mentioned at each stop he wasn't sure if he was booking a flight to Chicago or back home. When the final putts dropped, Clark was Chi-Town bound, as his round was good enough to tie for 18th and pick up 188 points, vaulting him from 90th to 68th. The PGA Tour rookie now has a chance to get to the Tour Championship, though he'll need a special week at Medinah to advance.
Niemann likely began his final round with no dreams of advancing to the BMW. He was one under for the week, 13 back of the lead and at 74th on the FedEx Cup points list. It would have taken something special for him to even get on the bubble and then wait it out to see his fate. Perhaps that allowed him to freewheel it, especially early on in his round, as the young Chilean made four birdies on his first six holes and then played two under the rest of the way to post one of the rounds of the day, a five-under 66. It was enough to tie for 30th, which earned him 92.5 points, giving 658.6 on the year and getting him the final spot in the BMW. Adam Schenk, who finished the week 71st on the points list, was 1.7 points behind Niemann, who is headed to the second leg of the playoffs for the first time in his still career.
Calling Wolff a loser is simply unfair given his fast start. The fact he was even in the Northern Trust field was an incredible feat, and advancing to the BMW and potentially the Tour Championship would have been gravy. Wolff will be in the BMW and the Tour Championship for years to come, just not this year. His final-round 73 dropped him into a tie for 71st, also dropping him from 70th to 74th on the points list. Sorry, golf fans, but you'll have to wait a bit to see Wolff and his funky swing in action again.
Willet's resurgent season almost got a worthy ending at the Northern Trust, where the 2016 Masters champ shot a third-round 66 to climb into contention. At 110th on the points list entering the week, a top-13 finish would have gotten Willett to Medinah. That seemed like a foregone conclusion after his third round with the Englishman just three off the lead, but a Sunday 75 gave him a T-24 finish, earning only enough points to jump to 85th on the points list.
As mentioned, Hatton is not too upset over not making the BMW. Before his final round, Hatton tweeted out "In a win win situation now!! Play well tomorrow I get into the next FedEx event. ... if not I get 5 weeks off!!!" Hatton was playing well at first, going two under over his first five holes. A few more birdies the rest of the way and he'd be off to Chicago, but Hatton went backward, eventually shooting a 72. Five-week vacation it is!
Through three rounds Danny Lee was one under and inside the top 65 on the leader board. At 66th on the points list at the start of the week, a finish of 64th or better would have been all Lee needed to reach the second week of the playoffs for a sixth straight season. Lee wound up shooting a six-over 77, dropping him out of the top 70. Ouch.