ATLANTA – Justin Thomas is the FedEx Cup champion, a surprise to no one who saw him power his way to scoring records, his first major at the PGA Championship and more PGA Tour victories than anyone this season.
Standing next to him at the trophy ceremony was Xander Schauffele, who never imagined being at the Tour Championship, much less winning it.
Both put on quite a show Sunday at East Lake.
Schauffele, a 23-year-old rookie from San Diego who was worried about keeping his card just over three months ago, capped off an amazing summer with four par saves on the back nine when he couldn’t afford to drop a shot. He closed out his 2-under 68 by swirling in a 3-foot birdie putt for a one-shot victory over Thomas.
“My hands were shaking so much,” Schauffele said. “I’m still kind of in shock.”
Thomas did his part, even with a runner-up finish.
Five shots behind to start the final round and needing to play well to have a shot at the FedEx Cup, he nearly won the Tour Championship with two late birdies, only for his 25-foot birdie on the 18th snap hard to the left in front of the cup. He shot a 66.
His repeat victory in Malaysia, his sweep of Hawaii – including a 59 and the lowest 72-hole score in PGA Tour history at the Sony Open – his first major and a bold finish at East Lake carried him to a FedEx Cup title and little doubt who was the best in golf this year.
Thomas won the $10 million bonus, along with second-place prize money of $945,000 that pushed him over $10 million for the year to win the money title.
“It’s huge,” he said. “It’s awesome just because I feel like I played so well this year. I was consistent. A lot of great weeks and great memories even – life-changing events that just ended with another life-changing thing for me. To just have my name on the trophy with the rest of those guys is pretty awesome.”
It was the first time in eight years that two players celebrated at East Lake. Tiger Woods won the FedEx Cup and Phil Mickelson won the Tour Championship in 2009.
The surprise guest to the party was Schauffele, the first PGA Tour rookie to win the Tour Championship since it began in 1987.
“It’s been a wild ride,” he said.
A year ago, he missed his PGA Tour card by $975 on the Web.com Tour, and then earned it in a four-tournament playoff series. Go back to the first week in June, and he was No. 134 in the FedEx Cup and just trying to keep his card when he qualified for the U.S. Open in a five-man playoff for two spots.
He tied for fifth at Erin Hills. He won the Greenbrier Classic a month later. A week ago at Conway Farms, his season was about to end until he played the final six holes at 6-under par to squeak into the Tour Championship.
“Five months ago, two months ago, three hours ago, I wasn’t expecting a lot,” Schauffele said. “I’ve hit every goal we’ve ever imagined.”
And he looked like he belonged all along while doing it. Starting on the par-3 11th hole, he one-putted four straight greens from outside 6 feet – one of them for birdie, the rest for pars, all of them clutch.
Schauffele saved par from right of the 17th green for the fourth time on the back nine, and then smashed a 347-yard tee shot on the 18th that left him an approach just short of the green. He putted that up to 3 feet and then nearly missed. The ball hit the left edge and swirled 270 degrees before dropping in the front.
But it was enough to finish at 12-under 268, a victory worth $3.75 million, $2 million of that for finishing third in the FedEx Cup. He also moved to No. 32 in the world.
Schauffele is another member of the high school class of 2011, and by far the most unheralded against the likes of Spieth, Thomas, Daniel Berger and others. Asked earlier in the week what he knew about Schauffele, Thomas replied, “Not much, except that he’s very good or he wouldn’t be here.”
Thomas won more than the FedEx Cup. He also wrapped up the PGA of America’s points-based award for player of the year. He’s a lock to get the players’ vote as PGA Tour player of the year, and he won the Arnold Palmer Award for claiming the money title.
Thomas wrapped up the FedEx Cup when Jordan Spieth, the No. 1 seed, couldn’t sustain momentum after holing out from the 10th fairway for eagle and nearly holing out again from the 13th fairway. Spieth closed with a 67 and tied for seventh, earning a $3 million bonus for finishing second in the FedEx Cup.
He won the Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average.
“J.T. obviously is very well deserving of winning the FedEx Cup,” Spieth said. “Not winning a playoff event, I almost cheated my way into winning the FedEx Cup when he really deserved it.”
Paul Casey, who now has gone 144 starts on the PGA Tour since his last victory in the 2009 Houston Open, lost a two-shot lead in five holes but was still in the game until he put his tee shot into the water on the par-3 15th. He played alongside Kevin Kisner, who also went into the water and lost his chance of winning at East Lake.
Kisner had a 70 and tied for third with Russell Henley, who shot a 65. Casey closed with a 73 and finished fifth.