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Viktor Hovland put together one of the most memorable rounds of golf – and maybe one of the best back nines ever – to win the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields. To say the young Norwegian was feeling it would be an understatement, he was a man possessed Sunday.
Unfortunately for Scottie Scheffler, his ice-cold putter showed up again during the final round, and we’re still somehow looking for him to find the winner’s circle for the first time since March. He’ll start this week’s Tour Championship atop the leaderboard at 10-under par though, so he has that going for him.
Outside of Hovland doing otherworldly things on Sunday, the biggest story of the day was Brooks Koepka being bounced out of the Top Six in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings and now having to rely on a captain’s pick to get a spot for Rome. It’s a no-brainer to take him, despite what most in the media is saying. Plenty of Ryder Cup thoughts to come in this week’s Par Talk and leading up to next month’s event.
The FedEx Cup Playoffs conclude in Atlanta on Sunday. Hopefully there is some drama over the weekend, but it doesn’t feel like there will be.
Viktor Hovland, Take A Bow Young Man
Viktor Hovland put himself within shouting distance of the leaders by shooting 2-under on the front nine Sunday a few groups ahead of the final pairing of Scottie Scheffler and Matt Fitzpatrick. It was no secret that it would take a very special back nine for him to actually climb to the top of the leaderboard, and good grief did the Norwegian deliver.
Hovland shot a 7-under 28 on the back nine to card a course-record 61 on the day to win the BMW Championship by two shots and made a U.S. Open-style golf course look like a municipal pitch-and-putt.
Here’s a rundown of Hovland’s approach shots on each of his seven birdie holes on the back nine: 3 feet, 12 feet, 4 feet, 2 feet, 8 feet, 8 feet, 6 feet. That is an average of just over 6 feet from the pin on seven of nine holes on the back nine. Oh, and he did all this while chasing down the No. 1 player in the world. Truly unconscionable.
While Hovland’s entire round Sunday was a masterpiece, his finest work came on the Par 4 14th. After pulling his tee shot left into the nasty rough at Olympia Fields, Hovland choked down a bit on an eight-iron from just 162 yards and ran his approach shot to within 2 feet. This is the moment the thoughts of ‘hey, this guy may actually win’ crept in the minds of everyone.
(The PGA Tour’s tweet is wrong, this shot was on the 14th hole)
While you could argue that Scheffler gave away the tournament by missing a few putts inside 7 feet and a couple of below-average wedges down the stretch, it’s tough for anyone to defend against a guy who posts 7-under on the back nine alone.
Hovland now has two wins on the season to go along with six other Top 10 finishes. He’s also made the cut in each of his 22 starts this year, which is quite the feat by itself. Scheffler has managed to make 22 of 22 cuts as well, for what it’s worth.
Serious Intrigue Among The Auto Qualifiers For U.S. Ryder Cup Team
Six of the 12 spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team became official on Sunday afternoon with Scottie Scheffler, Wyndham Clark, Brian Harman, Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa, and Xander Schauffele all having punched their ticket to Rome.
At the start of 2023, very few people had Clark and Harman as players to potentially earn an auto-pick for the team, but here we are, and both are undoubtedly the most-intriguing names among the Top Six.
Harman has had a fantastic back half of the season with his Open Championship win and four other Top 12 finishes. Given his demeanor, plus the fact that he’s 36, he’ll be perceived as a veteran on the team despite the fact that this will be the first time he’s ever played in a Ryder Cup. He’s also never played in the Presidents Cup, so seeing him in this team setting should be interesting.
Clark will also be making his U.S. team debut, and his résume is almost the exact opposite of Harman’s. He earned a win at the Well Fargo Championship in May then won the U.S. Open in June, but has cooled off a bit down the stretch with one Top 15 finish in his last five starts of the season.
At the end of the day, Clark and Harman earned the No. 2 and No. 3 spots, respectively, thanks to their consistent play. Seeing them try and carry that over into the most unique setting in golf will be awesome to watch unfold.
Brooks Koepka Making – Or Not Making – The Ryder Cup Team Shouldn’t Even Be A Discussion
Brooks Koepka began the week in the No. 5 spot in the U.S. team standings, but was bounced to No. 7 thanks to Xander Schauffele and Max Homa putting together strong weeks in the BMW Championship.
With Koepka now reliant on Zach Johnson making him a captain’s pick it’s gifted plenty in the media an opportunity to bash LIV Golf and present this idea that Koepka shouldn’t be a part of the team because he and the tour he plays for would be a distraction.
Koepka being a potential distraction is a lazy take.
We’re talking about professional athletes representing their country, not a youth baseball team worried about the number of at-bats they get during a game. While the media would overhype the LIV aspect of it, the 12 players and U.S. staff would surely be able to ignore that noise and realize the bigger picture here, which is the Americans winning their first Ryder Cup on European soil since 1993.
Koepka missed out on the last automatic qualifier spot by a whopping 29 points despite having just four tournaments to actually earn qualifying points. Schauffele got the No. 6 spot despite not winning a tournament this year.
Koepka’s PGA Championship win this year carries weight not only on face value but bigger picture as well.
The PGA Championship is governed by the PGA of America, which is the American governing body for the Ryder Cup.
The PGA of America not having the winner of its major championship at the Ryder Cup would be nothing but a political move. In my opinion, that’s a bigger black-eye story than having a LIV player represent the United States when that player gives the team the best chance of winning.
My six captain’s picks would be, in order, Jordan Spieth, Collin Morikawa, Rickie Fowler, Luca Glover, Brooks Koepka, and Keegan Bradley.
The Tour Championship Entertainment Ceiling Is So Low
Here we are, yet again, where we have to somehow find the brain power to care about the first three days of the Tour Championship that starts with the leader at 10-under par.
The staggered leaderboard is bad, the entire golf world agrees on that, and with how great Scheffler is hitting the ball and how overdue he is for a dominant win, spotting him two shots over the rest of the filled just feels like a recipe for 72 holes of very boring golf.
But that’s the risk the Tour signed up for when they introduced this format. The easy fix here is to have a match play event to decide the FedEx Cup and give the top players in the standings byes into the second round. Maybe one day we’ll see that come to fruition, but not this week.
I’ll go ahead and very bravely stick my neck out there and say Scheffler wins by at least three shots this weekend in Atlanta. Bold, I know.
Follow Mark Harris on Twitter @ItIsMarkHarris