A mere one stroke kept Justin Thomas from having a really good day. As it was, Thomas’ Sunday in Atlanta, Georgia, wasn’t too shabby.
At the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club, Thomas finished second to rising star Xander Schauffele, who won his second tournament of the season in what has turned into an improbable late-year year run. Meanwhile, Thomas had plenty of reasons to smile. His runner-up performance was still enough to earn him the FedExCup and the US $10 million bonus that goes with the silver cup.
As it was, Thomas almost pulled off the daily double, coming oh-so close to winning the TOUR championship, too. On the par-5 18th hole at East Lake, after making birdies at Nos. 16 and 17, Thomas faced a 24 1/2-foot putt for birdie that would have broken him from a tie with Schauffele, who was playing in the group behind. Thomas read the big-breaking, right-to-left putt well, with the ball tracking toward the hole all the way before just sliding underneath the cup. As he putted for birdie, he already had locked up the FedExCup. A birdie at 18 would have been frosting.
On the 18th hole, knowing a birdie would win him the tournament, Schauffele hit his second shot into the par 5 to the front of the green. He chipped to 2 1/2 feet with that distance left for birdie. When his putt caught the left side of the hole, circled around and finally dropped, he had win No. 2 of the year—to go with The Greenbrier Classic title he won in July. Schauffele’s strong performance in Atlanta also moved him to third in the FedExCup behind only Thomas and Jordan Spieth. As an addition to his resume, Schauffele, whose mother is from Chinese Taipei and his father from Germany, can boast that he’s the only rookie to ever win the Tour Championship, a victory that will likely lead to him winning the Tour’s Rookie of the Year Award.
Thomas certainly couldn’t walk away from East Lake dejected. One of the favorites to win the Jack Nicklaus Award presented to the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year, Thomas has seemingly done it all in 2016-17, winning outside the U.S. (CIMB Classic in Malaysia), taking both Hawaii tournaments (SBS Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in Hawaii), becoming only the eighth player in PGA TOUR history to shoot a sub-60 round (in the first round at the Sony Open in Hawaii), earned his first major championship (PGA Championship) and his first World Golf Championships title (Dell Technologies Championship). Now, he’ll have the FedExCup in his trophy case.
It’s been quite the year for the 24-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, who played his college golf at the University of Alabama and noted the magnitude of winning the FedExCup.
“It’s awesome just because I feel like I played so well this year. I was consistent—a lot of great weeks and great memories even,” Thomas said. “To just have my name on the trophy with the rest of those guys is pretty awesome.”
“The rest of those guys” include Tiger Woods (twice), Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk, among others.
Thomas’ haul from the Tour Championship was the $945,000 second-place check along with the $10 million bonus, not bad for a Sunday payday. All told, his 2016-17 prize-money haul on the PGA Tour was $19,921,560.
Schauffele entered the final round two shots off Paul Casey’s 54-hole lead, and his 2-under 70 Sunday was enough to push him ahead of everybody else, the putt at No. 18 the most pressure-packed putt he’d ever faced.
“I thought it missed,” admitted Schauffele as he watched what turned out to be his final stroke of the season roll toward the hole. “That’s why I couldn’t even react to celebrate because I thought I just missed a two-footer to win. [I’m] still kind of in shock.”
Only one Australian made it to the Tour Championship. Marc Leishman had the highest FedExCup finish, checking in at No. 6. He tied for 24th in Atlanta. The next-highest Aussie on the points list was Jason Day, at No. 18. Both players will be in action this week at the Presidents Cup in New Jersey.