Four players have moved inside the Tour Championship bubble with only 18 holes to go
Adam Scott is projected to be in the top 30 of the FedEx Cup standings heading into Sunday's final round.
WILMINGTON, Del. — The vagaries of match play have nothing on the FedEx Cup.
Adam Scott, Aaron Wise and Scott Stallings are among a pack of six within three shots of the Patrick Cantlay’s lead at Wilmington Country Club, where a strong Sunday leads to a win and all the goodies that would come with it. Scott, Wise and Stallings are also part of a separate group, where a bad Sunday means their seasons come to an end, setting up a game within a game for the final day at the BMW Championship.
For a refresher, only the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings out of this week’s field of 68 advance to the season-finale Tour Championship. Aside from a Brinks truck worth of guaranteed money, a spot in the Tour Championship brings exemptions into the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship along with a number of invites into the tour’s more important events. In short, if you make it to Atlanta, your next year is made.
As Scott opined on Thursday, one of the beauties of the playoffs is its volatility. A so-so season can turn into something more with a handful of good weeks. That’s essentially the precipice the Aussie stands on with one round to go. Despite just two top-10s in stroke-play events this year, Scott made the postseason for the 16th straight year, and a T-5 in Memphis pushed him from 82nd to 46th in the FEC standings to advance him to the second leg of this rodeo. Leading through the first two rounds at the BMW, Scott lost his 36-hole advantage Saturday, yet a respectable 69 leaves him two back of the lead in in fourth place. Should he stay in that position, he’ll earn a trip to Atlanta. Although his eyes are elsewhere.
“I guess one takeaway for tomorrow I think would be to win,” Scott said. “I've just got to hit the putts with a lot of trust and hope it's my day, hope that hole gets in the way.”
Then there is Stallings, a three-time tour winner who has yet to earn an invite to East Lake. At 46th in the FEC standings at the beginning of the week Stallings needed to contend to keep his season alive and that’s what he’s done, backing up consecutive 68s with a Saturday 66 to sit just one back of Cantlay. At T-2 he’s currently projected to move up 30 spots into 16th, yet anything outside a top five finish likely ends his year.
“That was my number one goal to start the year,” Stallings said about reaching the Tour Championship. “I don't know, statistically, FedEx Cup, whatever, financially, this is definitely the best year of my career. Like I'm very cognizant of that.”
Two others outside the top 30 to begin the week are currently inside: Wise (from 31st to 25th), and Denny McCarthy (35th to 29th).
“I'm just coming out and trying to win a golf tournament,” McCarthy said after a Saturday 66 jumped him 23 spots up the BMW leaderboard. “I've been close for a while now. I think that mindset has worked well for me. I know I need to have a good finish. But winning is a pretty good finish, too.”
As for No. 30, that would be rookie Sahith Theegala, who entered the week at No. 27. Theegala opened with a 72 but bounced back with a 68 and 69. He’s eight shots behind Cantlay, standing in T-26, too far out to hold realistic ambitions of winning the BMW. But a solid Sunday will deliver something just as sweet.
Of course, there’s a flip side to that coin. Four moving in means four moving out. The four in need of work to do on Sunday: Davis Riley (26th to 31st), J.J. Spaun (30th to 32nd), Tom Kim (25th to 33rd) and Kevin Kisner (28th to 37th). Kisner and Kim enter the fourth in T-58; both are in need of special days along with some slip-ups. Riley, after an opening-round 77, has dug himself out with a 68 and 67, but will also need to make a jump from his T-44. Spaun, in T-26, is in the best position to strike.
To a player those in contention say their only goal on Sunday is to win and the rest will take care of itself. Still, it’s clear that playing another week is more than a consolation prize.
Of course, as Stallings put it, to even reach this juncture is a victory in itself.
“Man, I've done a lot of good things to get to this point, and the way I handled myself today in the situation of all the stuff we're dealing with … I feel like I handled myself,” Stallings said. “I don't have anything to prove.”