By TOM LaMARRE
Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler has collected six victories on the PGA Tour in the last two seasons, including the 2022 Masters and the 2023 Players Championship, but he’s also shown a disturbing habit of not being able to finish of a few other seemingly sure victories.
The latest came last Sunday, when fifth-ranked Viktor Hovland of Norway came from four strokes behind on the back nine to defeat Scheffler by two strokes in the BMW Championship, the second of three tournaments in the PGA Tour playoffs.
Scheffler still finished on top of the FedEx Cup point standings for the second straight season, and will start the Tour Championship at 10-under-par, but that that brings up another tournament that Scheffler let get away.
Last year, he started with that same 10-under-par, but Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland came from seven strokes behind to beat him by one shot and capture the FedEx Cup for a record third time. And this time, the second-ranked McIlroy will start only three shots back.
In addition, Scheffler tied for second in the 2022 U.S. Open and tied for second on the 2023 PGA Championship, after being at or near the top of the standings virtually all the way.
“I mean, I’m just a bit frustrated,” Scheffler said after his latest runner-up finish after giving up the lead. “I think that would be the way to describe it. I mean, Viktor went out and really just beat me today and played a fantastic round. I can hold my head high. I just did my best out there today and fought hard.
“… 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. I like being in contention and then finishing it off. It’s why I practice as hard as I do. On the flipside of it, it’s very draining, especially with this year. This is now the second year where I’ve really been in the spotlight a lot, and yeah, I’d say there definitely are challenges to it.
“You’re never fully satisfied with the results. Tiger Woods won I think 82 times, and if you asked him I’m sure he’s trying to think about getting No. 83. It’s never enough. … At this point in the year, I’m definitely very tired, and I’m looking forward to next week being done, but I want to finish strong.”
While Scheffler will start the Tour Championship at 10-under-par, Hovland is next at eight-under and they will be in the final twosome in the 30-player field.
McIlroy is next at seven-under, followed by third-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, who led the FedEx Cup standings much of the season, at six-under, and Lucas Glover, who won the Wyndham Championship and the FedEx St. Jude Championship recently, at five-under.
Fourth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA, seventh-ranked Max Homa of Valencia and Cal, eighth-ranked Matt Fitzpatrick of England, ninth-ranked Brian Harman, the 151st Open champion and 11th-ranked Wyndham Clark, the reigning U.S, Open champion, are next at four-under.
Sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, Tommy Fleetwood of England, Russell Henley, Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler of Murrieta follow at three-under, with Tony Finau, Tom Kim of South Korea, Corey Conners of Canada, Sungjae Im of South Korea and Si Woo Kim of South Korea next at two-under.
Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal, Jason Day of Australia, Taylor Moore, Nick Taylor of Canada and Adam Schenk will start at one-under, while rounding out the 30-player field at even par are Jordan Spieth, Sam Burns, Emiliano Grillo of Argentina, Tyrrell Hatton of England and Sepp Straka of Austria.
1. Scottie Scheffler, United States—The top-ranked Scheffler will enter the Tour Championship at 10-under-par again, but last year he had a seven-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and couldn’t hold him off, finishing one stroke back in a tie for second by closing with a 73. Last week, he couldn’t hold off Viktor Hovland and again tied for second with his 15th top-10 this season.
2. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland—After coming from seven strokes down to win the FedEx Cup for a record third time last year, the second-ranked McIlroy is only three shots behind at the start this time. He also claimed the FedEx Cup in 2016 and 2019. This season, he has won twice and posted 11 top-10 finishes, including the last nine in a row, including solo fourth in the BMW.
3. Viktor Hovland, Norway—The fifth-ranked Hovland rallied from four strokes down on the back nine to beat Scottie Scheffler and win the BMW Championship on Sunday, and will start the Tour Championship only two strokes behind Scheffler. He has nine top-10 finishes, including three wins this season, and his best result in the Tour Championship was a tie for fifth in 2021.
4. Jon Rahm, Spain—The FedEx Cup points leader until this week, the third-ranked Rahm has four victories including the Masters among 11 top-10 finishes this season, but has not broken into the top 30 in either of the first two events of the PGA Tour playoffs. He starts four strokes behind in the Tour Championship, which he led much of the way in 2021 before finishing second.
5. Patrick Cantlay, United States—The fourth-ranked Cantlay rallied in the final round to beat Jon Rahm by one stroke and win the 2021 Tour Championship, claim the FedEx Cup and was PGA Tour Player of the Year. He tied for seventh in his title defense and starts six shots back this time. Lost the FedEx St. Jude in a playoff among his eight finishes in the top 10 this season.
6. Max Homa, United States—Coming off a tie for fifth in the BMW Championship, the seventh-ranked Homa will start the Tour Championship six strokes behind Scottie Scheffler after five straight finishes in the top 25. He won the Fortinet Championship and the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this season among 10 top-10s. Tied for fifth in Tour Championship debut last year.
7. Xander Schauffele, United States—The sixth-ranked Schauffele hasn’t won this season after sustaining a back injury early, but he’s been close with 17 finishes in the top 25, including top-20s in all four major championships. He starts seven strokes behind in the Tour Championship, which he won in 2017 as a rookie, and he has never finished outside the top 10 in his six starts.
8. Matt Fitzpatrick, England—The 2021 U.S. Open champion added the RBC Heritage to his victory total this season, and he’s coming off a tie for second in the BMW Championship. The eighth-ranked Fitzpatrick, who starts the Tour Championship six shots back, has 11 finishes in the top 25 on the PGA Tour this season. Tied for 15th in his Tour Championship debut last year.
9. Brian Harman, United States—Winner of the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool tied for 31st in the FedEx St. Jude Championship, but got his game back with a tie foe fifth in the BMW Championship for his 11th top 25 this season, including three seconds. The ninth-ranked Harman will start the Tour Championship, in which he tied for 21st last year, six shots behind.
10. Wyndham Clark, United States—The reigning U.S. Openchampion, who claimed a one-stroke victory over Rory McIlroy at Los Angeles County Club, is making his first appearance in the Tour Championship and will start six shots back. The 11th-ranked Clark also claimed his first PGA Tour victory in the Wells Fargo Championship this year among his 13 finishes in the top 25.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Tommy Fleetwood, England; Rickie Fowler, United States; Tom Kim, South Korea; Corey Conners, Canada; Tony Finau, United States; Sungjae Im, South Korea; Jason Day, Australia; Collin Morikawa, United States; Nick Taylor, Canada; Jordan Spieth, United States; Emiliano Grillo, Argentina; Tyrrell Hatton, England.
There are no SLEEPERS this week.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard