Cantlay outduels DeChambeau for top Tour Championship spot

As the two runaway leaders at Sunday’s BMW Championship binged on birdies like they were pigs in a blanket, so much rested on the outcome.

ExploreField of 30 set for Tour Championship

For Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau, the winner would take over the FedEx Cup points lead and assume the pole position for this week’s Tour Championship, the season-ending, playoff finale at East Lake.

And for that esteemed Atlanta event, to be determined was its very personality. Given the staggered scoring system format, the points leader enters the Tour Championship with the scoreboard lead as well (10 under before the first shot is hit, with No. 2 starting at 8 under, and descending from there). Who would set the tone? Would that be the steady, stoic, best-player-nobody-talks about Cantlay? Or his diametric opposite, the swing-with-abandon, ringmaster of his own circus, DeChambeau?

Score one for the quiet practitioner. It wasn’t enough that the two played 72 holes in 27 under. They had to go and play six extra holes to prove a point, before Cantlay canned one last 21-foot birdie putt to win in sextuple overtime.

The quiet guy will be the one pursued when play begins Thursday at East Lake. And Cantlay, the Tour’s only three-time winner this year, won’t be easy to run down.

Losing the playoff cast DeChambeau to the No. 3 spot entering the Tour Championship. Second in points belongs to Tony Finau, winner of the first playoff event two weeks ago. Rounding out the top five are Jon Rahm and Cameron Smith.

Credit: Julio Cortez

Credit: Julio Cortez

Still, DeChambeau’s presence as a strong contender in the playoff finale is sure to shake up Bobby Jones’ old crib. It’s going to be a little bit louder this week at East Lake given the combination of a polarizing player and liberal alcohol sales.

But Sunday was occasion for the spokesman of calm and control to assume the stage. With apologies to Atlanta’s own NFL quarterback Matty Ice, here comes “Paddy Ice” to town to try to win affections of the locals.

“The chants of Paddy or Paddy Ice, I was hearting it all week,” Cantlay said as part of his Sunday celebration. And so a new nickname was born, one that he’s sure to hear again next week. For it is so apt.

“That’s the first time I’ve heard it. But I got it all week,” Cantlay said. “I think there was maybe one or two guys that followed me around maybe all four days, and they just every hole, screaming it.”

And if you want great shows of emotion, take in play. Cantlay is certain to be one self-contained golfer next week, as well. “I’m just as focused as I can be,” he said. “If I look the way I do, it’s because I am locked in and focused, and I felt like that today.”

While Sunday swirled around those two going impossibly low, there were other subplots that served to shape this week’s field at East Lake:

Biggest Movers: With the aid of two clutch up and downs at the close Sunday, Sergio Garcia seized the next-to-last spot at East Lake, shooting 20 under at the BMW. He seemed a man on a mission all week in Maryland, and his reward is a return to Atlanta after three-year absence.

“I showed a lot of guts this week, played some great golf,” said a proud Garcia.

The most unlikely player in the field is 31-year-old PGA Tour rookie Erik Van Rooyen. The South African came out of nowhere, finishing 7th at the first playoff event and shooting 65 Sunday to finish 5th at the BMW, climbing from 45th in points to 27th in one week.

“Six weeks ago or so I wasn’t even sniffing it. Just really proud of myself. It’s probably the best of the best that make it to Atlanta, and I’m really happy to be part of the group,” Van Rooyen said.

Welcome back, Jordan: Notable for his absence the last three years, 2015 Tour Championship winner Jordan Spieth has returned. Doing all his good work in advance of the playoffs — one win and top-3 finishesat the Masters and British Open — Spieth has not exactly lit it up in the playoffs. He finished 73rd at the Northern Trust two weeks ago, and came in at T34 at the BMW (11 under). That still left him 9th in FedEx Cup points, within reach to perhaps make a move this week.

Credit: Julio Cortez

Credit: Julio Cortez

Whither Patrick Reed?: Despite missing the previous two playoff events — the first with an ankle injury the second after being hospitalized with double pneumonia — the 2018 Masters champion remains eligible for the Tour Championship. Just barely, at the 30th and final spot.

The PGA Tour has not received word yet whether Reed, who has been recovering at his home in Houston since Thursday, would try to play in Atlanta. If he is unable, the Tour Championship would proceed with 29 players. There are no alternates.

If Reed is able to play, then all 20 of the world’s top 20-ranked players will be in this field. Only the best invited to this party, as it should be with $15 million at stake.

Cink to make himself at home: Stewart Cink finished the playoff semifinal at 10 under, a pretty score under most circumstances but just another red number at the BMW Championship. This time, 10 under got him lapped and cost him four spots in the FedEx Cup standings, starting the week at 19th and now coming to East Lake at No. 23.

He’ll not quibble over a where he stands, so long as he’s standing on the first tee Thursday at East Lake, returning to the Tour Championship and his hometown course for the first time since 2009, with son Reagan on the bag.