Shut out of Masters, Berger banks on long-shot appeal

Daniel Berger lets it rip off the tee on the fifth hole during the final round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Monday.  Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
Daniel Berger lets it rip off the tee on the fifth hole during the final round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Monday. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

With a closing 73, Daniel Berger finished in the middle of the pack, tied for 15th at the Tour Championship. This disjointed year has been very good to him. Since coming back from the coronavirus break in June, he has a win and three other top-three finishes in seven events back.

For all that, when the delayed Masters rolls around in November, the player currently ranked 13th in the world may be the best player not in the field.

The Masters cut off qualifications for this year’s tournament in March, per usual, even as the tournament was called off because of the coronavirus pandemic. Berger’s good work this summer will get him in the 2021 Masters, but doesn’t count toward the one two months from now.

ESPN reported that Berger’s agent, Mark Steinberg, has contacted the lords of Augusta National to argue for inclusion in November. Good luck with that.

As Berger told ESPN, “It’s not a yes, it’s not a no. It’s just wait-and-see. It’s definitely not out of the question, but I would say it’s highly unlikely.”

“Highly unlikely” is an understatement. In a year that has required so much bending of the norms, don’t count on the Masters to stretch any more than absolutely necessary.

At the time of the shutdown, Berger was ranked outside of the top 100 in the world. He fully understands and accepts the situation, he said.

Still, he told ESPN, “The Masters is such a great event – once you play it you never want to miss it. I missed it last year. I know I’m in for April, but I like where my game is at right now and want to play. If it happens, I’ll be so excited.”

Winners and losers this week: The biggest mover this week at the Tour Championship, in terms of money winnings, was rookie Scottie Scheffler. He came to East Lake in 17th place in the FedEx standings and the Tour Championship scoreboard (which, if he stayed there, would have paid $550,000 on Monday). He instead left in fifth place, good for $2.5 million. First-timer McKenzie Hughes moved up 14 spots, starting No. 28 (which paid $415,000) and finishing 14th ($620,000).

The biggest dive belonged to Bryson DeChambeau who started No. 8 (which paid $1.1 million), and, after shooting 1 over for the week, fell to No. 22 ($478,000).

We have your rookie of the year here: Scheffler looks like the winner of the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award after scoring a TKO over Viktor Hovland at the Tour Championship.

Scheffler finished with a 65, leaving him in fifth place. Scheffler’s final three rounds were 66-66-65, an impressive feat for a first-time visitor to East Lake. Hovland closed with a 70 and wound up tied for 20th.

The two were the only rookies in the field at the Tour Championship.

English finishes as low Bulldog: Steady Harris English finished the Tour Championship with a 67 and moved into a tie for 12th, leaving him as the low Georgia Bulldog for the week. It was a great comeback season for English, who began the season with limited status.

“A huge goal of mine starting the year,” English said. “I didn’t really know how many tournaments I was going to get into. To finish the year off at this place is awesome.”

Brendon Todd staggered home with a 74 and dropped 11 spots into a tie for 20th. Todd did not have a birdie Monday and shot 38 on the inward nine. Kevin Kisner shot 71 and finished 23rd.

This and that: When all the strokes from this abbreviated season were counted, Webb Simpson (68.866) won the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson Award for lowest adjusted scoring average. DeChambeau (69.097) was second. ... Defending FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy finished strong with a 67 and tied for eighth. McIlroy had his chance to repeat go out the window by shooting 1 over in the two middle rounds. ... Patrick Reed closed the week with a 65, the low score of the day and finished tied for eighth. Reed played a bogey-free round and played four rounds without a bogey on the front nine. Had it not been for a pedestrian first-round 71, Reed might have been among those chasing Dustin Johnson on Monday. ... Mackenzie Hughes, who got in the Tour Championship thanks to a surge at last week’s BMW, wound up 14th. He shot 66-67 on the weekend. Hughes made $620,000 this weekend, $420,000 more than he would have earned by missing the playoffs.