LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) – – Marc Leishman put the finishing touches on his best year in golf and already was looking ahead to make it even better.
With his wire-to-wire, five-shot victory in the BMW Championship — his first tournament after losing a two-shot lead on the back nine at the TPC Boston — Leishman now is in range to capture the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus this week at East Lake in the Tour Championship.
All he has to do is win.
Leishman not only won for the second time this year, he has the No. 4 seed this week for the FedEx Cup finale. While everyone in the 30-man field has a mathematical chance of claiming golf’s richest prize, the top five seeds only have to win to capture the cup.
The way Leishman has been playing, it doesn’t seem out of reach.
At his side were two trophies — one from the BMW Championship, the other from the Western Golf Association, which has run this tournament since 1899.
“I had my sights set high for the FedEx Cup and trying to get into the top 5 and with these sitting here,” he said, pausing to glance at the silver trophies, “if I have another good week, who knows what might happen?”
So after 46 tournaments, the FedEx Cup comes down to one week.
British Open champion Jordan Spieth, PGA champion Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Leishman and Jon Rahm of Spain are the top five seeds.
For some players, they were just happy to be there.
Xander Schauffele started the year by missing six of 11 cuts and finishing inside the top 25 just once — he tied for 24th at the Wells Fargo Championship in early May. Back then, he was only thinking about keeping his card in his rookie season.
He tied for fifth at the U.S. Open. He won The Greenbrier Classic. He was in position to achieve a lofty goal — East Lake — at No. 32 in the FedEx Cup until he began the final round with 10 pars and two bogeys.
“I told my caddie, ‘I really don’t want the year to end, we’re having so much fun,'” he said.
And then golf got really fun. Schauffele birdied the next two holes, drove the 15th green and made a 30-foot eagle putt , birdied the 16th and then added a final birdie on the 18th for a 4-under 67 that moved him into the top 30.
“Once you reach goals, you make new ones,” he said. “And I’ve been making a lot of new ones.”
Patrick Cantlay, another PGA Tour rookie, had been out of golf for three years with a back injury he feared might end his career, along with the emotional scars of seeing his best friend and caddie, Chris Roth, struck and killed by a car as they walked to dinner.
He picked a light schedule this year to ease his way back into golf, and to cope with an ankle injury from so much play. In just 11 tournaments, he made it to the Tour Championship, and it wasn’t easy. Cantlay was outside the top 30 coming to the par-5 18th and needed a birdie when he reached the green in two. But his 50-foot eagle putt came up 10 feet short. He calmly rolled that in to barely moved into the top 30.
Along with playing the Tour Championship, Cantlay is assured a spot in the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and most likely the PGA Championship.
“I figured a birdie would be close,” he said. “I didn’t know it would for sure get me in, but I knew it was really close and I definitely needed it.”
Tony Finau was behind the 18th green in three, and if he failed to get up-and-down, he would fall out of the top 30 after one of his best rounds of the year. He chipped in for birdie and is on his way to East Lake for the first time.
The fourth player to move into the top 30 was Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who injected more drama into the final hole than was necessary.
He thought he needed a par to get into the top 30 when a bogey would have worked. His second shot was on the rocks in the stream, and his plan was to bounce it off the flat side of a rock. That allowed him a drop because the grandstands are on top of a hazard. He smacked it over the green into the grandstand, got more relief, and then got up-and-down for his par. The whole process took 30 minutes, but he was relieved.
Thirteen players from the 30-man field last year made it back.
That doesn’t include Rory McIlroy, who ended his injury-filled season in America at No. 58 in the FedEx Cup, extending a strange trend. Only two FedEx Cup champions, Spieth and Brandt Snedeker, made it back to the Tour Championship.
Also missing is Phil Mickelson, though it wasn’t from a lack of effort or excitement. Mickelson needed eagle on the 18th to get into the top 30. His pitch-and-run hit the back of the cup, though it was going so fast that it hopped in the air and kept rolling.
“I missed by a shot,” Mickelson said. “It’s disappointing, but I like the fact that I’m starting to play well.”