Monday Finish: Berger moves closer to Presidents Cup berth
In the final round of the 2017 FedEx St. Jude Classic, Daniel Berger escapes from a sticky situation with a chip-in for par at the first hole, then fires his second straight 66 to complete a successful title defense at TPC Southwind. Welcome to the Monday Finish, where as many as nine players were tied for the lead before Berger seized control with a four-birdie, no-bogey masterpiece. FIVE OBSERVATIONS 1. Berger and the high school Class of 2011 are so talented that to try and stand out amidst that crop of overachievers can feel like trying to stand out on the Golden State Warriors. But Berger is undaunted. One of the game’s hardest workers, he could be found last week on the TPC Southwind driving range, and at the short game area, when he wasn’t obliging his media obligations as defending champ. “We hear a lot about the young guns and about the Justin Thomases and the Jordan Spieths,” he said. “But I feel like I kind of get forgotten a little bit. I’m pretty good, so I’m just going to try and keep doing my thing and see if I can’t get a few more.” The 2015 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, Berger aims to improve on his best FedExCup finish of 11th two years ago. (He was 26th last season.) And he’s looking good to be on captain Steve Stricker’s U.S. Presidents Cup team after vaulting from 11th to fifth on the qualification table. “It's extremely exciting,” Berger said. “I try to downplay it as much as possible because it's such a big goal of mine and I feel like if I can just keep the expectations low, that would make it easier for me. But in the back of my mind, every single week, always constantly looking at the standings and seeing where I'm at.” 2. Billy Horschel was coming off a recent victory at the AT&T Byron Nelson. He also had a stellar record at TPC Southwind, with three top-10 finishes in three consecutive starts from 2013 to 2015. (He didn’t play there last year.) Still, no one was paying much attention to him—until he birdied his last four holes Sunday for a final-round 64 that got him to 8 under par (T4). Afterward, he spoke highly of TPC Southwind’s small greens and premium on accuracy. “It’s a great test to get ready for the U.S. Open,” Horschel said. “I’ve finished top 10 the last four years I’ve played it, so I like the course a little bit.” He also likes his form going into the U.S. Open. “I missed the cut, unfortunately, at (the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide at) Muirfield Village, but it was a blessing in disguise as I was able to go up Sunday and check out Erin Hills,” Horschel said. “I think the layout is really cool. The property it’s on is fantastic. It’s not the usual U.S. Open course with the tight fairways. The fairways are pretty wide. It’s a little bit different, but the way my game is right now, I like my chances.” 3. Phil Mickelson has struggled to keep the big number off his scorecard at the U.S. Open, but as everyone knows by now, the six-time U.S. Open runner-up Mickelson won’t be at Erin Hills this week. So maybe it was fitting that his frustrating performance at the FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind was positively (and negatively) U.S. Open-like. He closed his round Friday with a water ball and a double-bogey 6 at the ninth hole. He closed his round Saturday with a water ball and a double-bogey 6 at the 18th. Then came his disastrous triple-bogey 7 at the 12th hole Sunday, after he realized he was tied for the lead. Afterward, the 42-time PGA TOUR winner called himself mentally weak, and said he’d even played like a rookie, getting thrown by the sight of his name at the top of the board as he chased his first TOUR win since the 2013 Open Championship. His U.S. Open-like gaffes at the FedEx St. Jude were still fresh as Mickelson addressed whether he would watch the action from Erin Hills. “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said. “I look forward to it. Some of the things that are going to happen to some of the guys where balls will roll off the green, down slopes and into thick heavy rough and you've got nothing. Go from a 20-foot putt to having no shot. “That's much more fun to watch than it is to play.” 4. The story of Stewart Cink’s resurgence has often been told in conjunction with his wife Lisa’s recovery from breast cancer. Cink is asked about it any time he steps up to a microphone these days, and he speaks with sincerity and gratitude, often with tears in his eyes. “I’ll never get rid of that,” he says of Lisa’s journey to sustained remission. “That will be something I’ll always carry with me.” In golf terms, though, Cink is simply putting better. Last season, he ranked an abysmal 169th in strokes gained: putting. This season, coming into the FedEx St. Jude Classic, he had made big strides on the greens, moving up to 35th. And although he shot a final-round 73 to go from a tie for the lead to a T10 finish in Memphis, he finished the week ranked fifth in the field in strokes gained: putting (+7.412). From 169th to fifth—that’s a big difference. Cink cited his work with putting coach Craig Welty (the two began working together almost a year ago), which has meant a new practice routine and a new emphasis on video. He had 12 one-putts Sunday, tied with Harris English (65, T10) for best in the field. 5. On courses like TPC Southwind, which can sometimes seem to be made up of about 75 percent water, much like the earth itself, it’s important to play the golf equivalent of good defense. Translation: You’ve got to minimize the damage when you make mistakes. Winner Berger did just that Sunday, getting up and down six times in six chances, just as he did it all week. Of the top nine finishers at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, only two players scored no worse than bogey on any single hole: Berger and amateur sensation Braden Thornberry, who finished T4, two back. FIVE INSIGHTS 1. Daniel Berger’s statistics from his back-to-back FedEx St. Jude Classic victories at TPC Southwind were remarkably similar. He led the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green both times, at +3.404 last year and +3.047 this year. He also ranked in the top 10 both years in average proximity to the hole, which, oddly, calculated to 28 feet, 11 inches for each victory. 2. Berger was the seventh different player under 25 to win on TOUR this season, earning the 10th title by players under 25 in 30 events. (Justin Thomas (3), Hideki Matsuyama (2), Si Woo Kim, Cameron Smith, Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth are the others.) 3. Billy Horschel, whose putting took a positive turn as he won the AT&T Byron Nelson, is still putting exceptionally well. He was 12th in strokes gained: putting (+1.125) at TPC Southwind, and had Sunday’s longest made putt (51 feet, 3 inches at the par-3 eighth hole). He also tied Ben Martin and J.B. Holmes for most fairways hit Sunday (11). 4. Whee Kim, a third-year TOUR pro whose T2 finish was his best in 69 starts, was third in the field in strokes gained: putting (+2.064). He had previously finished T3 at both the 2016 John Deere Classic and the 2015 Barbasol Championship. 5. Phil Mickelson’s triple-bogey 7 at the 12th hole—the third hardest hole all week (4.203), after the fifth (4.242) and 17th (4.214)—was the only triple made among 71 players Sunday. TOP THREE VIDEOS 1. It appeared that Daniel Berger's final round would be off to a rocky start ... then he did this. 2. When you're in the running for the best finish of your career, shots like this don't hurt. 3. What's a fidget spinner? We introduced them to several TOUR pros at TPC Southwind.
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