Shooting a nice round when Tiger Woods is firing the day’s best just may be the world’s quietest accomplishment. In the cyclone, who’s going to hear the rustle of a single leaf?
England’s Paul Casey accepted that reality with grace Saturday, when his 66 barely registered.
Casey recorded his first eagle of the tournament on the par-5 sixth hole and just about picked up another on No. 18 when his 58-foot putt hit the hole at high speed and bounded out.
The round left Casey tied for sixth, but so far back that some of his post-match remarks sounded like concession speech. Not that he was complaining.
“I’ve heard the roars (for Woods) all day, and it’s been phenomenal,” he said. “What an atmosphere it is out here this week.
“For me, it’s a case of probably I’ve not got a shot at winning this thing, given how well (those in front of him) are playing. But I’ve got a good record around here. I’d love to throw in some birdies early on. I’ve had a 64 in the past in a final round, which would be really handy.”
Ryders on the storm: Three of Rory McIlroy’s four previous Tour Championship appearances have fallen on Ryder Cup years, and those have been his three best finishes here (T10, T2, Win).
It is not a coincidence, he said, that he has gone on from the glad tidings at East Lake to some individual success the following week at the Ryder Cup. His record in the 2012, ’14 and ’16 Cups: 8-5-2.
If form holds, the fact that he is playing well here again this year will carry over to suburban Paris. Beware U.S.
“I was on such a high a couple years ago going into Hazeltine after winning the whole thing (2016 Tour Championship and FedEx Cup). I felt great about my game that week and played well,” McIlroy said.
“I guess it doesn’t matter whether it’s a match-play event or whatever. If you’re playing well and you’ve played well the week before, I think most people can carry it into the next week.”
If what happens at East Lake affects Ryder Cup performance, there is cause for some concern on the U.S. side. Entering the weekend at the Tour Championship, five U.S. Ryder Cup team members were outside the top 20 of the 30-man event. Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka all were playing some middling golf.
Who might right himself over the final two rounds?
DeChambeau (66) and Koepka (67) put together some invigorating rounds Saturday and might start feeling good about themselves once more.
But Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk may want to be a little worried about the other three. In fact, Watson (5 over), Reed (8 over) and Mickelson made up the bottom three on the Tour Championship leaderboard at day’s end Saturday.
Getting back on the right side of par: A little-followed but nonetheless impressive streak came to an end Friday when Tony Finau shot a 1-over 71. So ended his run of 16 consecutive sub-par rounds, dating to the PGA Championship.
But, Saturday on the strength of a 4 under on his back nine, Finau put up a 67. He’s much more at home down there.
A right proper finishing hole: When the flipped the nines at East Lake a couple of years ago, it was to swap out a long, difficult par-3 finishing hole for a far more volatile par 5. Makes for a far more exciting finish, you know.
The numbers this week further underscore a good idea. On Saturday, the 235-yard ninth hole played as the most difficult at East Lake, to an average score of 3.3. Meanwhile the 590-yard par five played as the second most favorable hole on the property (a stroke average of around 4.6).
Almost nobody’s perfect: Through Saturday, there have been 90 rounds of golf played by the best players in the world. And only one of them have been bogey-free (Hideki Matsuyama’s Friday 66). Gary Woodland seemed headed in that direction before bogeying the par 5 18th on Saturday, a feat only four others have managed this week.
Until Woods went silly low Saturday, East Lake was holding up pretty well as a tough test compared with the other three courses this year on the FedEx Cup playoff circuit. The winning score last week at the BMW was 20 under; 16 under the week before at the Dell Technologies; 18 under at the Northern Trust. Such low scores appeared out of reach here – until Saturday.
Woods, however, is unlikely the reach the 72-hole record here, the 23 under that he set in 2007.