As has been the case in all four rounds of the BMW Championship, Sunday was Jason Day’s day. He led the $8.25 million championship wire to wire, but his victory – Day’s fourth in his last six starts – had more meaning.
Not only did Day stay atop the FedEx Cup Playoff standings, he also took over the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings. Day went into the third tournament in the four-event series ranked No. 3 behind Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. Now Day is the third Australian to be ranked No. 1, following Greg Norman and Adam Scott.
The 19th player to achieve the coveted No. 1 ranking, Day opened the BMW Championship with a 61-63 start at Conway Farms in Lake Forest and nursed the lead through the weekend rounds in 69-69.
“This is all quite shocking,’’ said Day after achieving his `life-long dream.’ “Yesterday and today were the toughest rounds of my life, and the last two days were very emotional. It was hard to sleep at night.’’
Starting the final round with a six-stroke lead, Day took a conservative approach and that helped Daniel Berger, a 22-year old PGA Tour rookie, get within four shots with five holes left. That really didn’t create much suspense, but Day ended whatever there might have been with a 10-foot birdie putt from the fringe of the No. 16 green.
“This whole summer has been a whirlwind,’’ said Day. “It’s surreal right now, just to think about it. There was that belief in there somewhere that all the hard work was for a good reason, just to prepare myself for moments like this.’’
That birdie at No. 16 opened a five-shot lead and Day finished his business with a par and birdie, giving him a 22-under-par 262 for the 72 holes. Berger finished second, six shots back, and moved from 46th to ninth place in the FedEx standings. Only the top 30 qualified for next week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta, so the strong finish got Berger there.
“It was unbelievable,’’ said Berger. “Thousands and thousands of people, and I got into two marquee groups with Jason (Saturday) and Rory (Sunday). It was just a lot of fun.’’
While Day stayed clear of trouble, the other 68 players (Jim Furyk withdrew during the first round with a wrist injury) either wangled for a top-five spot in the playoff standings or for one of the other 29 spots available at Atlanta. The top five – still Day, Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson – could win the $10 million playoff bonus by winning at Atlanta regardless how the others perform there.
“That’s the ultimate goal throughout the playoffs, to be in the top five, to have a chance to win there and win it all,’’ said Fowler.
In addition to being assured another big payday, all 30 Atlanta qualifiers are assured spots in the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship next year. Nine from the BMW field made it to Atlanta for the first time including Harris English, who missed by a stroke the last two years and finished at No. 30 this time.
“It’s awesome,’’ said English, who needed a 15-foot birdie putt on the last hole to survive. “It’s a goal starting each year to make it because you get in all the majors, and that makes your schedule easier.’’
The other qualifiers included Zach Johnson, winner of the 2013 BMW Championship at Conway Farms and owner of Sunday’s best score. Johnson finished with five straight birdies and posted a 64 to finish in a tie for 13th place.
Those who missed a trip to Atlanta from the BMW field included Billy Horschel, last year’s BMW and FedEx Cup champion; Hunter Mahan, the only golfer to have qualified for all of the previous FedEx tournaments; Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter and Keegan Bradley.
They’ll miss the season-ending climax to another PGA Tour season — 30 players competing over 72 holes for another $8.25 plus the big bonus.
“It’s all for this setting, for Atlanta,’’ said Spieth. “There are a lot of exciting players in the mix, and that’s going to create quite a finish next week. The top 10 in the world are all on their game, and that’s what you want for the Tour Championship.’’