There’s just one more week to go in the FedEx Cup playoffs and eight days left before U.S. Ryder Cup team captain Zach Johnson announces his six captain’s choices.
On Sunday, four more Americans joined world No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler and U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark on the team. Open Championship winner Brian Harman, Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa and Xander Schauffele round out the top six in Ryder Cup points and are automatic qualifiers.
PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka, who left the PGA Tour for the LIV Golf League last year, fell from fifth to seventh in points. The five-time major champion will have to hope that Johnson gives him one of his captain’s choices.
One thing that is certain: Norway’s Viktor Hovland will be competing for the Europeans when they take on the Americans on Sept. 29-Oct. 1 at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club outside Rome.
Hovland, 25, picked up the biggest victory of his career with a 2-shot win at the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields outside Chicago. He did it with the best round of his career.
Another golf prodigy, Alexa Pano, captured her first LPGA Tour win at the ISPS Handa World Invitational in Northern Ireland.
Here’s what happened in professional golf this weekend:
What happened on the PGA Tour
Winner: Viktor Hovland
How he won: Hovland made the turn 4 strokes behind the leaders and produced one of the greatest back nines in PGA Tour history. He was 7-under on the back nine, making birdies on all but two holes, and set the Olympia Fields course record with a 9-under 61 to beat Matt Fitzpatrick and Scheffler by 2 strokes.
Hovland’s 61 was the lowest final-round score by a winner of a FedEx Cup playoffs event. Jason Day and Charley Hoffman carded 62s at The Barclays in 2015 and the Deutsche Bank Championship in 2010, respectively.
Hovland’s 7-under 28 tied for the lowest back-nine score by a PGA Tour winner in the past 15 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Kevin Streelman (2014 Travelers Championship) and Stuart Appleby (2010 Greenbrier Classic) had previously posted 28s on the back nine while winning.
It was Hovland’s fifth career victory and his second this season. He also won The Memorial by outlasting Denny McCarthy in a playoff.
“I felt like in the ’21 to ’22 season, I putted it better than I have this year, but I putted it OK,” Hovland said. “My short game has gotten a lot better, and I think I’ve driven it the best I’ve ever driven it in any other season.
“Then my iron game has been, I would say, just OK for me compared to the other couple years. But it’s just putting all of that together, and then being clutch at the right times at Memorial and obviously this week and having a chance to contend in those major championships. I think I’ve taken a big step this year compared to other years.”
How good was Hovland’s back nine? He gained 6.48 strokes on the field on the final nine holes and carded birdies on three holes (Nos. 14, 17 and 18) that played over par in the final round, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The scoring average over the final nine holes was 34.47 on Sunday. The only winner over the past 20 years who was better on the back nine in scoring was Brandt Snedeker (+6.58) at the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open.
Hovland’s scorecard included 12 3s, five 4s and one 5. He had 10 birdies, seven pars and one bogey. He hit 12 of 14 fairways, 16 of 18 greens and needed only 25 putts. He hit seven of his back-nine approach shots inside 15 feet.
The moment that sealed the deal.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 20, 2023
“Normally, I hit a lot of fairways,” Hovland said. “I’m a good driver of the ball, so I’m going to have a lot of opportunities from the fairway. Whenever I kind of feel the shot with my irons and can aim left of the pin and swing as committed as I want to, I know it’s going to cut and I can almost feel how much it’s going to cut towards the pin. I just feel like if you put me in the fairway, I’m going to hit it somewhere close to the pin.
“When I do that and I get the putter rolling, I’m trusting my reads, I’ve got the speed dialed in, and it’s just one of those days that just everything seemed to flow and seemed to happen. I guess I just didn’t try to fight it. I just relied on my instincts and my intuition and worked out this time.”
On a day when the U.S. Ryder Cup team finalized half its roster, Hovland let the Americans know they face a tall task at Marco Simone Golf Club. The Americans are not only going to have to compete against Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy, but also one of the world’s budding superstars in Hovland.
“He’s had some great wins already this year,” McIlroy said. “Had a great chance at the PGA Championship. Didn’t quite get it done, but yeah, he’s a world-class player and looking forward to him being on my team for the Ryder Cup in a few weeks’ time.”
What happened on the LPGA Tour
ISPS Handa World Invitational
Winner: Alexa Pano
How she won: If you watched the film “The Short Game,” which documented a handful of junior golfers competing in the 2012 U.S. Kids Golf World Championship, you might remember Pano. Then 7 years old, Pano said she wanted to become the first woman to play in a tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, which she accomplished when she was the youngest competitor in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019.
Before that, she was the first three-time national finalist in the Drive, Chip and Putt competition and the youngest winner in American Junior Golf Association history at 12. In 2019, she also qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open.
She didn’t attend college and turned pro at age 17 in 2022. After earning her LPGA Tour card through Q-School last year, Pano hadn’t done much in her rookie season. She missed six cuts in her first 11 starts; her best finish was a tie for 17th at last month’s Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational.
On Sunday, her 19th birthday, she started the final round at Galgorm Castle Golf Club in Northern Ireland at 2 under, 4 strokes off the lead. American Ryann O’Toole had a 3-shot lead after carding an eagle on the par-5 10th hole, but she stumbled the rest of the way.
— Ladies European Tour (@LETgolf) August 20, 2023
Pano had nine birdies to post a 6-under 66 in the final round, including one on each of the par-5s. Her birdie on the 18th hole gave her the clubhouse lead at 8 under. Germany’s Esther Henseleit and England’s Gabriella Cowley matched her score to force a three-way playoff.
Pano and Cowley made birdies on the first playoff hole; Henseleit missed a 15-footer and was eliminated. Cowley missed a 4-foot birdie try on the second playoff hole, giving Pano new life. Pano made a birdie on the third playoff hole to claim her first LPGA victory.
“I mean, I’ve been dreaming of this for so long, even just putts on the practice green saying, ‘This is to win an LPGA event,'” Pano said. “To finally have that putt and have that opportunity, it just exceeded my expectations and it was so much fun.”
Pano is the youngest winner on the LPGA this season. Rose Zhang was 20 years old when she captured the Mizuho Americas Open in her first LPGA start as a pro.
“This is definitely the best birthday of all time,” Pano said. “I’m kind of a downer on my birthday usually, but this might change my mind.”
Tour Championship field set
With another runner-up finish, Scheffler moved to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup points standings and will start the first round of the Tour Championship at 10 under for the second straight season.
Scheffler is the first player to start atop the leaderboard at the Tour Championship in consecutive seasons. Last year, McIlroy chased him down to become FedEx Cup champion.
Since the staggered strokes format was first used in 2019, only two of the four winners entered the opening round in first place: Dustin Johnson in 2020 and Patrick Cantlay in 2021. McIlroy started in fifth place while winning in 2019; he was tied for sixth at the start last year.
The winner collects an $18 million bonus, runner-up gets $6.5 million and third place takes home $5 million. The 30th-place finisher gets $500,000.
Fitzpatrick was the only player who moved into the top 30 after the BMW Championship, jumping from 40th to 10th after his tie for second. The only player who fell out was Chris Kirk, who tied for 29th, and fell from 29th in points to 32nd. For a while Sunday, it seemed McCarthy and Sahith Theegala would make the top 30, but both faltered down the stretch.
One player moved into the top 30: Matt Fitzpatrick (T2, No. 40 to No. 10)
One player fell out of the top 30: Chris Kirk (T29, No. 29 to No. 32)
Here’s how the 30-player field will start Thursday:
10 under: Scheffler
8 under: Hovland
7 under: McIlroy
6 under: Rahm
5 under: Lucas Glover
4 under: Max Homa, Cantlay, Brian Harman, Wyndham Clark, Fitzpatrick
Ryder Cup stock watch
Half of the Americans’ 12-man squad is set after four more players qualified through points Sunday. U.S. team captain Zach Johnson will announce his six captain’s choices Aug. 29. The European team’s six automatic qualifiers — three off the European points list and three from the world points list — will be announced Sept. 3. Captain Luke Donald will follow with six captain’s picks as well.
Here’s who helped their chances of playing in the Ryder Cup — and those who didn’t — at the BMW Championship:
Up: Matt Fitzpatrick
The English golfer figures to be one of the Europeans’ leaders in Italy, but he had been bothered by a neck injury for much of the season. His tie for second at Olympia Fields was his first top-10 finish since early June.
Up: Russell Henley
Have we been sleeping on the four-time PGA Tour winner’s chances? He captured the World Wide Technology Championship in Mexico in November and picked up his third straight top-10 finish with a tie for eighth at the BMW Championship. He’s up to 18th in Ryder Cup points.
Down: Denny McCarthy
McCarthy needed a birdie on the 18th hole Sunday to move into the top 30 and advance to the Tour Championship. He didn’t get it and finished 33rd in points. He’s one of the best putters in the world but is still seeking his first PGA Tour victory.
Up: Sam Burns
Burns has been mired in a so-so season on tour, but his tie for 15th outside Chicago helped him stay at 12th in Ryder Cup points. He probably needs a great showing at East Lake to get a captain’s pick.
Up: Sepp Straka
The Austrian-born Straka carded a 4-under 66 on Sunday to tie for 37th at the BMW Championship. He finished 30th in FedEx Cup points and was the last man to make the field for the Tour Championship. He is No. 7 on the world points list and remains in contention for the European Ryder Cup team.
Down: Séamus Power The Irish golfer’s struggles continued as he finished 48th at Olympia Fields at 14 over. He tied for 66th at the FedEx St. Jude Championship last week.
Solheim Cup update
Two-thirds of Team Europe’s roster for the upcoming Solheim Cup is set. The Ladies European Tour announced Sunday that eight players have qualified for the team that will compete against the U.S. on Sept. 22-24 at Finca Cortesin in Andalucia, Spain.
Amundi Evian champion Celine Boutier (France) and Maja Stark (Sweden) qualified for the team via the Ladies European Tour points list. Six other players — England’s Georgia Hall and Charley Hull, Ireland’s Leona Maguire, Sweden’s Linn Grant and Anna Nordqvist and Spain’s Carlota Ciganda — made the squad via their position in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Ranking.
Congratulations to the eight players who have qualified for the 𝙀𝙐𝙍𝙊𝙋𝙀𝘼𝙉 𝙎𝙊𝙇𝙃𝙀𝙄𝙈 𝘾𝙐𝙋 𝙏𝙀𝘼𝙈 🌟🇪🇺
— Ladies European Tour (@LETgolf) August 20, 2023
Nordqvist grabbed the final spot through world ranking and will be a playing vice captain in Spain. She will be making her eighth straight appearance in the Solheim Cup.
European captain Suzann Pettersen will announce her four captain’s choices Tuesday. Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom, Scotland’s Gemma Dryburgh, England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff and others are believed to be under consideration.
The U.S. roster will be finalized after next week’s CPKC Women’s Open in Canada. Two-time major champion Lilia Vu, Nelly Korda, U.S. Open winner Allisen Corpuz and Megan Khang have already qualified for the roster on points.
The remaining top three players in the Solheim Cup points standings will also make the team, along with the top two players in world ranking not otherwise eligible. U.S. team captain Stacy Lewis will make three captain’s picks.