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Horschel Catches ‘Lightning in a Bottle’ — Wins FedEx Cup

By: Paul Prendergast

Billy Horschel

Billy Horschel

27-year-old Billy Horschel iced the cake of an unprecedented run in FedEx Cup history to scoop the pool, denying world number one Rory McIlroy at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta to capture the PGA Tour season-ending Tour Championship and the $10 million bounty as FedEx Cup champion.

Horschel qualified for Playoff Series in 69th place and actually missed the cut at the opening event, the Barclays Championship in New Jersey. Since then, he has gone on

a streak — a runner-up finish at the Deutsche Bank in Boston, winning the BMW Championship in Denver and beating all comers in Atlanta.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Horschel. “But at the same time, I knew my game was in the right shape and I just needed to get out of my own way, allow my golf game to show and it has showed in the last three weeks.”

Horschel’s four-year PGA Tour career had netted him close to $4.5 million but his week’s work at Atlanta swell the coffers by a further $11.4 million and also earned him the added peace of mind of a five-year exemption on Tour.

His climb from no.69 in the FedEx rankings to winning it all also set some new PGA Tour records, as no other FedEx Cup champion dating back to its 2007 inception had won from lower than 19th position.

McIlroy started the final round tied at nine-under par with Horschel setting up the prospect of a salivating duel between the world’s most dominant player and the current hottest hand on tour.

However, the four-time Major Champion stuttered early, compounded his problems further by finding water on the 6th hole for a double bogey and bogeying the 9th. By contrast, the confident Horschel opened up a four stroke lead with birdies at the 4th and 5th.

Horschel dropped his only shot of the round at the 10th and maintained the margin with solid play and a continuation of the hot putting he had shown over the past month.

McIlroy salvaged something from the wreck with three late birdies from the 15th for a final round 71, good enough for a tie for second with Jim Furyk (69), who had bogied the difficult 18th hole.

The family decision Horschel and wife Brittany made the previous week — to continue playing and try to win the FedEx Cup despite Brittany being due to give birth at any time — paid off in droves with a final round 68 for an 11-under total good enough for a three-stroke win over Furyk and McIlroy, with Jason Day, Justin Rose and Chris Kirk tied for fourth at 7-under.

The vanquished McIlroy was full of praise for Horschel despite missing the opportunity to cap off his brilliant year by winning his first FedEx Cup.

“He deserved it,” McIlroy said. “He played the best golf this week. In the end, it was a little too late when I birdied three in a row near the end and finish as best as I could.”

“But on a positive side it has been an incredible year winning two more Major Championships and my first WGC title, and to give it a really good run in these FedEx Cup Play-Off events makes me really proud.”

“So they’ve been good performances at this late stage of the season when we are all a little tired.”

McIlroy’s comment about his general fatigue after a gruelling Playoff schedule on the back of a run of major tournaments from The Open Championship in July again mirrored concerns from past years by several of the game’s biggest names.

Phil Mickelson withdrew from the BMW Championship mid-tournament to rest and prepare for the Ryder Cup in late September and it seems the PGA Tour are listening and have changes to the schedule earmarked for 2015.

“Four in a row doesn’t really work,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said. “We understand that. We didn’t like it this year and we’re not going to do it going forward.”

“We think in the Playoffs there should be a break week,” Finchem said. “We didn’t do that this year for some unusual reasons. I can tell you right now it’s not going to happen in the next few years.”

“We already know the basic schedule and there will be a break week.”

The FedEx Cup series commences at the start of the PGA Tour season on October, awarding points for each tournament with the top 125 players qualifying for the first of a four-tournament Playoff Series. Depending on the outcome at the end of each Playoff event, the field for the following week is culled to the Top 100, then Top 70 followed by the Top 30 players at the Tour Championship.

Points in the Playoff Series are quintuple those awarded in regular season events, greatly advancing good performances over the four-week stretch and helping to explain the rapid rise of Horschel from no.69 to top dog.

The points system certainly rewarded Horschel who caught lightning in a bottle at the right time of the year but personally, I struggle to come to grips with a format that awarded the three players who tied second at the Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship — both limited field events — with almost as many points (1,083) as Rory McIlroy earned (1,200) combined for winning The Open and PGA Championship.

The major championships are the pinnacle of our game and the primary aspiration of every player who swings a club in anger. In terms of the FedEx Cup race, surely success in the Majors needs to at least commensurate with the points on offer during the Playoff Series?

Next year is another matter however, and nothing should detract from Horschel’s exploits. He took on all comers over the past month and soundly defeated them and there’s nothing more you can do in sport than beat everyone who turns up.

For him, the format as it stands has been a life changer and underlines his maturation as a player from his days as a self-confessed firebrand on the course. The birth of his first child, just two days after his epic win, provided the perfect end to a perfect month for the Horschel family.

“The last few weeks have been a whirlwind but being able to share this win with Brittany was the biggest win of my life.” Horschel said following the birth of their daughter — Skylar Lillian — at home in Jacksonville, Fla.

“I’m so happy I was here, surrounded by the people I care about, as we welcome Skylar into the world.”

About Paul Prendergast

Paul is a freelance golf and leisure writer based on the Gold Coast in Australia. His work and the images of his colleagues at Golfplus Media have appeared in publications in over a dozen countries, including many in the Asian region.

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