WILMINGTON, Del. — Sahith Theegala could still feel the sting of defeat after a few close calls this season, but the rookie was left hanging after the final round of the BMW Championship.
After starting the day with his hands shaking, he produced a clutch finish – a back-nine 33 for a 3-under 68 and a T15 finish – to secure a trip to the TOUR championship and with it a chance to win the FedExCup. He will enter as the 28th seed.
“It was really different,” Theegala said. “Like a tournament within the tournament.”
Theegala, 24, came to Wilmington Country Club as the 27th seed. He knew he would need to play well to retain his top-30 spot, but after a 1-of-72 opening round that included a 56-foot putt, he was already projected not to advance. In a season of solid and at times spectacular play, but also heavy losses – a bogey on the 71st hole at the WM Phoenix Open, a brace on the last at the Travelers Championship – this near miss would finally complete his first PGA TOUR campaign. end.
And then he rallied. Instead of throwing in the towel, the former Pepperdine standout responded with rounds of 68-69 to head into Sunday out of the BMW Trophy race, but still with a shot at qualifying for the TOUR Championship. . That would mean berths in three of the four major tournaments next season, plus THE PLAYERS Championship and invitational events, and an outside shot at the FedExCup Trophy next week. It was a lot to think about.
“I was really nervous this morning,” he said. “I had a bit of a tremor that warmed up. I couldn’t hold my hands anymore. I felt good mentally, but just body-wise, I knew something big was at play.”
After 11 holes on Sunday, Theegala was 1 over and thrown outside the top 30. At this point, it would have been easy to dwell on past mishaps. Theegala got bogged down in a fairway bunker and double-bogey 18 to lose to Xander Schauffele by two at the Travelers Championship. Theegala was the solo leader after the second and third rounds of the WM Phoenix Open before a hard rebound on the fairable 17th hole found the water hazard on Sunday night. Scottie Scheffler took advantage and won.
This time, however, Theegala – who also contested the Sanderson Farms Championship last fall, but shot 71 in the final – was not to be denied. Building on those lessons and showing the determination we saw glimpses of at TPC Scottsdale and TPC River Highlands, he birdied three straight on holes 12-14 at Wilmington Country Club.
The birdie burst catapulted him to the safe zone of East Lake, and he drove it home despite his nerves off the tee over the last three holes. The masterstroke: A 37-foot birdie putt on the 17th. His edged approach to the right trees on the 18th wasn’t bad either.
In the end, Theegala advanced despite only hitting one fairway in the final round.
“It was a wild ride,” he said. “…I kept hitting a foot in the rough, and then just from there this course is too firm, you can’t even go bowling. I felt like I was hitting it from 60 feet and making two putts all day.
Theegala placed last in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee with a dismal -5.901 for the week. That was more than a shot worse than the second-worst player and more than 10 shots behind stats leader Rory McIlroy (5.536). But at the critical moment, Theegala thought back to his childhood throwing shots around the trees he couldn’t clear in El Prado GC in Southern California. He was making shots. He found a way.
He played the 16th hole from the rough but got up and down for par.
He seemed to surprise himself when he found the fairway on the 17th, because he followed with an admittedly disappointing corner kick from 36 feet. Then he emptied the birdie. Now he could taste it; his ticket to East Lake was awfully close.
His momentum on the 18th tee was poor, producing a boulder slice in the right trees, but he managed to carve an approach to just short of the putting surface. From there he again climbed and descended to clinch a T15 finish and a place in the TOUR championship.
“I really left it all there on the last six or seven holes,” Theegala said after hitting a crucial 7-of-18 putt. “I’m just happy with how well I did. ( It’s) the validation of the season, it’s one more step for me to really feel like I belong It means the world is part of the TOUR Championship and standing alongside 29 of the other best golfers in the world .
“…That putt on the last hole felt so big to me,” he continued. “It really felt like some of the putts I had made coming down the stretch when I was near the lead. It’s a little better to wrap up today. I felt like I had completely shut it down. I didn’t leave a hit on the last seven or eight holes, while the other times I felt like I did. Just having this closure is cool.
REMARKS: Scottie Scheffler regained the top spot in the FedExCup standings with his arrival in T3 at BMW. Scheffler had held the top spot since March, but lost it when he missed the cut at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship. Will Zalatoris, who won the FedEx for his first TOUR title, supplanted Scheffler at the top of the standings. However, Zalatoris fell to No. 3 in the rankings after withdrawing from BMW due to a back injury. Patrick Cantlay, who is trying to become the first player to win back-to-back FedExCups, is No. 2 in the standings after winning the BMW for the second straight year. …Aaron Wise and Adam Scott both had to par on 18 from the bunkers to earn the final two spots in the TOUR Championship. Neither player had a shot to lose in their quest for East Lake. Wise ducked into a fairway bunker on the 18th but hit his approach 30 feet out and hit two putts for par. He finished 30th in the standings. Scott nearly rolled in the sand, but ended up with an awkward lie instead. With his ball resting on the grass and his feet in the sand, he shot his approach well left of the green, leaving himself a bunker shot from 34 yards out. He hit it from 2 feet and saved par to finish 29th in the standings. … Shane Lowry missed a shot of his first TOUR championship, finishing 31st in the FedExCup after three putts from 65 feet on the 71st hole. “It was so weird today,” said 2019 Open Championship winner Lowry. “It was like trying to make a cut on a Sunday.” Lowry finished T12 in the BMW to move from 37th to 31st in the FedExCup.
Here’s a look at the players who entered the top 30 of the FedExCup BMW Championship leaderboard to earn their spot in the TOUR Championship, and the players they eliminated.
Scott Stallings (No. 46 to No. 12): He finished within a stroke of his first PGA TOUR title since 2014, but his TOUR Championship debut in his 12th season is a nice consolation.
KH Lee (No. 33 to No. 26): He finished 31st in the FedExCup last year after a bogey on the 72nd hole at the BMW. This year, his Sunday 65 tied the day’s low round and led to a T5.
Adam Scott (No. 45 to 29): Started the playoffs at No. 77 but returns to East Lake for the first time since 2019 after finishing T5 in the first two playoff events. BMW’s sand stop on the final hole secured his spot in the TOUR Championship.
Aaron Wise (#31 to #30): He’s back at East Lake for the first time since his Rookie of the Year season in 2018. He had to even his last two holes to make East Lake.
JJ Spaun (No. 30 to No. 33): Will will regret his last round at FedEx St. Jude where he shot a final 78 after starting Sunday in the lead. Finished T23 at BMW.
Joohyung Kim (#25 to #34): Thomas the Tank Engine ran out of steam, finishing T54 at BMW. Still, impressive to have a shot at a top-30 finish in just 11 starts. Wyndham’s winner is on the Presidents Cup.
Davis Riley (#26 to #35): A solid rookie season, including a playoff loss at Valspar and five more top-10 finishes, comes to an end after T54 at BMW.
Kevin Kisner (#28 to #38): Finished 38th in the FedExCup for the second straight year after winning the TOUR Championship in five of the last six seasons.
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