for all the marbles
Wild final round on tap at BMW, with clustered leaderboard and Tour Championship implications
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — A late burst of crazy piled on top of some exceptional golf on a windy Saturday at Olympia Fields Country Club contributed to a leaderboard top heavy with players who own PGA Tour victories this season.
World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, who last year saw his FedEx Cup title hopes slip away to Rory McIlroy on the final day of the Tour Championship, appears poised to return to East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta as the top seed after grabbing a share of the 54-hole lead in the BMW Championship. Scheffler’s six-under 64 on the North Course propelled the Texan to 11-under 199, tied with Matt Fitzpatrick who shot a 66 that included a bizarre bogey on the par-4 home hole.
Fitzpatrick pulled his second shot from a right fairway bunker across into the left rough near the gallery where a marshal allegedly moved Fitzpatrick’s ball by stepping near it or slightly on it, which adversely affected the lie.
“Like [he] didn't fully stand on it, but definitely brushed it because you could see the grass was completely moved,” said Fitzpatrick, who chopped his ball out short of the green and got up and down for bogey. “It definitely sat further down than when I got there. They didn't see it, and they can't confirm that, so I wasn't going to be like … I wasn't going to fight for it, really.”
The fight comes Sunday, with a posse in pursuit that includes British Open winner Brian Harman just one stroke back after a 67. Second-round leader Max Homa recovered from a triple bogey on the seventh hole to shoot 71 to come in at 201. His day included the conversion of a five-foot birdie putt at the 17th while a fan shouted at him to “pull it” as he was in the midst of his stroke.
“There was a probably drunk, I hope for his case, or else he's just the biggest loser there is," Homa said, “but he was cheering and yelling at Chris [Kirk] for missing his putt short, and he kept yelling that he had … one of them had $3 for me to make mine, and I got to the back of my backstroke, and he yelled, ‘pull it’ pretty loud, and I made it right in the middle.”
Homa and his caddie, Joe Greiner, yelled back at the man as they exited the green.
McIlroy, ranked second in the world and three-time winner of the FedEx Cup, and Viktor Hovland, who is fifth in the world, are tied at 202 after 67 and 65, respectively. Sam Burns leads a large group at seven-under 203 after tying Homa’s day-old course record with a 62.
Scheffler, who has two wins this season, including the Players in March, has been on the cusp of a monster season in which he has finished in the top five 12 times. From his first win of the year at the WM Phoenix Open until his T-23 at the British Open, Scheffler didn’t finish worse than T-12. He has already earned a PGA Tour record $19.2 million for the season and stands to make another $3.6 million with a win on Sunday.
The ball-striking maven, who leads the field in strokes gained/off the tee, tee to green and approach the green, finally got an assist from his putter, building confidence from one-putting the first five greens.
“It's definitely been fun,” Scheffler, 27, said of his consistency. “I like being in contention.
"It's why I practice as hard as I do. On the flipside of it, yeah, it's very draining, especially with this year, I felt like I've … this is now the second year where I've really been in the spotlight a lot, and yeah, I'd say there's definitely challenges to it.”
And disappointments. Scheffler, who could become the first player to enter the Tour Championship first in the FedEx Cup standings two years in a row, knows he hasn’t capitalized on his extraordinary tee-to-green performance this year.
“I'm going to look back on my career and I'm going to think I could have nabbed way more tournaments than I'll end up with. It doesn't matter if I won eight times this year or if I won twice or none. There's always more out there,” he said. “You're never fully satisfied with the results. Tiger Woods won I think 83 times [82 actually], and if you asked him, I'm sure he's trying to think about getting No. 84. It's never enough.”
Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, has been disappointed in his season a bit, too, after beating Jordan Spieth in a playoff to win the RBC Heritage in April. He entered the second FedEx Cup playoff event 40th in the points standings and needs a strong showing to qualify for the Tour Championship. So far, so good for East Lake and maybe salvaging his year.
“Pretty high, yeah. Pretty high, definitely,” Fitzpatrick said of his frustration level this season, especially with a driver that has been holding him back. “After winning Harbour Town, I felt I kind of got a lot more out of my irons all of a sudden in two weeks at Augusta and Harbour Town. They just felt so much better than they had been probably since the U.S. Open. I felt I could really kick on then.
“I'd probably say it wouldn't match where my expectations of myself can be.”
At the lower end of the battle for the top 30 and a berth in the Tour Championship, Denny McCarthy, after a 65, clings to the last spot. He is one of three players to move from outside the qualifying number to a potential date at East Lake in Atlanta along with Fitzpatrick and Justin Rose, who shot 68 on Saturday and has moved up six places to 26th.
Jordan Spieth, Emiliano Grillo and Sepp Straka occupy places 31-33, respectively, to fall outside the top 30 with 18 holes potentially left of their season.