What’s on the line Sunday at BMW Championship? No. 1 seed, East Lake, Presidents Cup spots
WILMINGTON, Del. – Three tournaments are rolled up into one here at the BMW Championship.
Up for grabs, of course, is the overall tournament title at Wilmington Country Club. But the curiosity extends well beyond who is hoisting the trophy on Sunday night. Projections, points and standings will also be updated and finalized ahead of the final event of this PGA Tour season unlike any other.
Let’s take a look:
Defending champion Patrick Cantlay is once again in position to emerge as the top overall seed heading into the season finale. His third-round 65, keyed by a hole-out for eagle on the 14th hole, gave him a one-shot lead at the BMW over Xander Schauffele and Scott Stallings.
Cantlay and Schauffele have been side-by-side all week. They played a practice round together, eschewing their usual match-play game in order to learn the new BMW venue. Then they were grouped together, based on their FedExcup ranking, in the first two rounds. And then they were paired on Saturday, both players in fine form and combining to go 11 under on another unseasonably warm afternoon.
“It’s a very comfortable pairing,” Schauffele said.
It was at last year’s BMW that Cantlay put himself in position to claim his first career FedExCup trophy. In a wildly entertaining shootout at Caves Valley, Cantlay needed a marathon playoff to defeat Bryson DeChambeau and earn the top spot.
Now he could defend his playoff title.
“In the bigger tournaments it’s easier to narrow your focus,” Cantlay said, “and I’ve done a good job of staying in the moment and trying to get in the right frame of mind and good attitude.”
This is only the fourth year of the staggered-strokes system, but already the seeding has proved important. Top seeds Dustin Johnson (2020) and Cantlay (2021) went on to win the cup, while playoff No. 1 Justin Thomas still finished in a tie for third in 2019 despite playing the four rounds at East Lake in just 3 under. That year, Rory McIlroy roared from five shots back to capture the title.
“I’d be the first one to tell you if you’re not in prime position, you’re just not going to win next week,” said Schauffele, currently projected fourth. “I’ve kind of been around that.” Indeed, twice he has shot the lowest 72-hole total at East Lake (in 2017 and 2020) but didn’t walk away with the grand prize.
Through three rounds at the BMW, Cantlay is projected first in the standings, with Scottie Scheffler (now T-4) in the second position. Cantlay is looking to become the first player to win consecutive FedExCup titles.
“My head is not even there right now,” Cantlay said. “The best way to handle this playoff system is to focus on doing your best in the tournament that you’re in and not worry too much about the points.”
Will Zalatoris, who won the playoff opener last week for his first Tour title, is projected to drop from first to third after withdrawing Saturday because of a back injury. He is expected to play next week at East Lake, according to his agent, though he could start the week as many as three shots behind.
If Cantlay is pacing the group of Tour stars vying for the $18 million prize, Scott Stallings is occupying the role of East Lake party-crasher.
Stallings, whose last Tour title came in January 2014, sits only a shot back after a Saturday 66. Having started the week No. 47 in the FedExCup, he’s now projected to move all the way to 16th.
“Statistically, FedExCup, financially – this is definitely the best year of my career,” Stallings said. “I’m very cognizant of that.”
Also projected to jump inside the all-important top 30 is Adam Scott, now two shots back after holding the 36-hole lead. Scott wasn’t even qualified for the BMW until a tie for fifth in the playoff opener. Now, with another high finish, he could return to East Lake, where he has a victory and five other top-10s in 11 career appearances.
Scott will have little margin for error on Sunday, however – he’s currently solo fourth and projected at No. 27.
“It’s all for me to gain and nothing to lose,” he said. “I feel like it’s all a bonus for me. Playing with that kind of level of comfort is a nice thing.”
Stallings and Scott are two of the four players who are currently projected to play their way into the season-ending Tour Championship. Aaron Wise (T-5, No. 25) and Denny McCarthy (T-10, No. 29) are the others.
As a result, Tom Kim, Kevin Kisner, Davis Riley and J.J. Spaun are projected to drop out. Standout rookie Sahith Theegala, who is tied for 26th, is currently the top-30 bubble boy, by fewer than 50 points.
Those who qualify for the Tour Championship receive exemptions into three of the four majors in 2023.
“I know I need to have a good finish,” McCarthy said. “But winning is a pretty good finish, too.”
Typically a dominant storyline at the BMW, the automatic qualification period for this year’s Presidents Cup has largely been overshadowed.
And for good reason.
The U.S. team – whether the players qualify automatically or receive one of the six captain’s picks – seems all but set even before the deadline on Sunday. Barring something unforeseen, 11 spots would appear to be accounted for: Scheffler, Cantlay, Sam Burns, Schauffele, Justin Thomas, Tony Finau, Zalatoris, Jordan Spieth, Collin Morikawa, Max Homa and Cameron Young.
The only likely question mark is Billy Horschel, who is 11th in the standings but whose only top-20 since the beginning of April was his victory at the Memorial. He is tied for 38th here at the BMW.
Who could U.S. captain Davis Love III pick instead? The most inspired option is Theegala, a rookie who has had prime chances to win in Phoenix and the Travelers, but he hasn’t yet secured his spot for the Tour Championship. No other outside contender is red-hot and trending, as Horschel was, for instance, in 2014.
The makeup of the International squad is much messier.
Reigning Open champion Cam Smith is reportedly bolting for LIV Golf following the conclusion of the FedExCup, leaving the visitors with a massive hole at the top of the roster. Several other would-be team members have also been rumored to be making the jump, meaning captain Trevor Immelman will have to go even further down the standings with his four picks for the Sept. 22-25 matches.
If there’s reason for optimism, Scott, Joaquin Niemann, Sungjae Im and Corey Conners are all inside the top 10 at the BMW.
Both captains will finalize their respective teams following the Tour Championship.