Jordan Spieth made such an impressive run through the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2013 that he was selected as a captain’s pick for the Presidents Cup at age 20, the youngest American to ever compete in the matches.
That began a run of six straight U.S. teams, a streak that might come to an end.
Spieth, who hasn’t won since the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale, is No. 29 in the U.S. standings with only two events left for the top eight players to qualify. Even if he were to win The Northern Trust, he could move no higher than No. 15.
Presidents Cup points are double the value of FedEx Cup points, and playoff events are weighted the same as World Golf Championships.
Spieth isn’t alone in needing to make a move.
Phil Mickelson has played on every U.S. team dating to the 1994 Presidents Cup — the year after Spieth, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele were born. Mickelson, a captain’s pick in three of the last four teams (Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup), won at Pebble Beach in February but is only No. 14 in the standings.
Of the 12 players in France last year for the Ryder Cup, only five are among the top eight — Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Thomas, Webb Simpson and Bryson DeChambeau, who is at No. 7 with a 348-point lead over U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland.
Patrick Reed, who has played on the last five U.S. teams, is at No. 17.
U.S. captain Tiger Woods will make his wild-card selections after the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, which ends on Nov. 3, so there is still time for players to state their case as one of his four captain’s picks.
And what about Woods?
He figured to be a lock to be the first playing captain in the Presidents Cup since Hale Irwin in the inaugural event in 1994 when Woods won the Masters, but a sparse playing schedule — just four events since the Masters, missing the cut in two of them — have left him at No. 12 with two tournaments remaining.
The PGA Tour has been promoting big events every month, starting with The Players Championship in March, ending with the FedEx Cup in August, with four majors in between. It’s new for everyone, and Bryon DeChambeau has found one obstacle with so much big golf.
“I can’t really find time to work on the things that I would like to test and work on,” DeChambeau said Tuesday.
DeChambeau, who won the opening two playoff events last year, is constantly looking to improve on what appears to be working, whether it’s his swing or equipment or any of the science he applies to each.
He decided to skip last week to work on equipment in what he called “a little bit of a hard reset.”
“I felt like I wasn’t able to progress any further than what I was able to. I felt like I was working on my golf swing hard enough and I just wasn’t seeing results,” he said. “And so at that point in time, when you see that out of your game, it’s like, ‘OK, let’s go and see how we can make some clubs that can be more beneficial to me.’ And so that’s what we did last week.”
He said a lot of the work was on the driver and irons, but chose not to expand on what he found.
DeChambeau also wasn’t clear what he would do after the Tour Championship. He is No. 18 in the FedEx Cup, and likely will need at least a reasonable showing at Liberty National this week and Medinah next week to be sure of his return to East Lake.
He only played Las Vegas last year during the fall, and he won. So he’ll at least be there to defend.
Henrik Stenson is among four players who are not at The Northern Trust for the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs, and that will be the end of his season. At No. 85, he will not be among the top 70 who advance to Medinah.
That was by design.
In an Instagram post, Stenson said he chose to play the Scandinavian Invitation in Sweden, which is the same week as the Tour Championship.
“After a busy spring and summer, the choice was to play the FedEx Cup or the Scandinavian Invitation, and my decision now allows me to be in Sweden to practice and recharge my batteries looking ahead to the final part of this season,” he wrote.
Also missing is Sam Burns, who is No. 89 and has an injury that will end his season. Paul Casey is No. 8. He played the Wyndham Championship last week to try to help his position, purposely missing the opening playoff event so he can be fresh for the finale.
The other absentee from The Northern Trust is Rafa Cabrera Bello, whose wife is expecting. The Spaniard is No. 59, leaving him in danger of not being among the top 70 who advance to the BMW Championship.
Colin Montgomerie once explained why it was so difficult to win majors when he said Tiger Woods usually captured two of them, another went to Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els or Vijay Singh, and that left only one for everyone else.
He was exaggerating to make a point. History suggests there almost always at least one major a year for someone who had never won a major.
Gary Woodland at the U.S. Open and Shane Lowry at the British Open were the two newcomers to the major championship club, and that’s hardly an anomaly. First-time major winners have been shut out only four times dating to the creation of the Masters in 1934.
The most recent was in 2014 when Bubba Watson won his second Masters, Martin Kaymer won his second major and Rory McIlroy took the final two. In 2000, Tiger Woods won the last three majors and Vijay Singh won his second major at the Masters.
The other two years were in 1980 (Seve Ballesteros won the Masters, Tom Watson won the British Open and Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Open and PGA) and in 1972 (Nicklaus won the Masters and U.S. Open, Lee Trevino won the British Open and Gary Player won the PGA).
The U.S. Amateur champion no longer has to remain an amateur to use his exemption for the U.S. Open, a decision that could have helped Viktor Hovland this year. Hovland was low amateur at the Masters and U.S. Open, but he did not turn pro until after he used those exemptions.
The USGA says the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur champions, who receive spots in the respective Opens, can still use the exemption even if they turn pro. The U.S. Women’s Amateur is this week at Old Waverly. The U.S. Amateur is the following week at Pinehurst No. 2.
“We believe this change gives our champions an important option as they choose whether and when to embark on their professional careers,” said John Bodenhamer of the USGA. “Given the significant purses awarded at the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, we realize how important it is for players to make the most appropriate decision for his or her career.”
Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa won PGA Tour events without being full members. The last time two such players did that was in 2011 when Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open and Darren Clarke won the British Open. … Tiger Woods in 2007 and 2009 and Jordan Spieth in 2015 are the only players who started and finished the FedEx Cup playoffs at No. 1. Brooks Koepka starts at No. 1 this year, making it seven players to be the No. 1 seed in the last seven years. … Hinako Shibuno, who won the Women’s British Open in her first appearance at a major, is playing the Hokkaido Meiji Cup on the Japan LPGA Tour this week.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Martin Trainer and Jim Herman are the only players to win on the PGA Tour this year without qualifying for the FedEx Cup playoffs.
“I don’t have any complaints. I’ve just got to play a little bit better and hopefully earn my way out here.” — Viktor Hovland, who fell short of making enough FedEx Cup points to earn a PGA Tour card for next year. His next chance is to finish among the top 25 over four events in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals.