Sahith Theegala learns from close calls with a clutch run to East Lake

WILMINGTON, Del. – Sahith Theegala could still feel the sting of defeat from a couple of close calls this season, but the rookie was left floating on air after the final round of the BMW Championship.

After beginning the day with his hands shaking, he produced a clutch finish – a back-nine 33 for a 3-under 68 and a T15 finish – to secure a trip to the TOUR Championship and with it a chance to win the FedExCup. He’ll go in as the 28th seed.

“It felt really different,” Theegala said. “Like a tournament within the tournament.”

Theegala, 24, came to Wilmington Country Club as the 27th seed. He knew he would need to play well to hold his spot inside the top 30, but after a 1-over 72 opening round that included a four-putt from 56-feet he was already projected to miss advancing. In a season of solid and sometimes spectacular play, but also tough losses – a bogey on the 71st hole at the WM Phoenix Open, a double at the last at the Travelers Championship – this near miss would finally bring his maiden PGA TOUR campaign to an end.

And then he rallied. Instead of throwing in the towel, the former Pepperdine standout responded with rounds of 68-69 to head to Sunday outside the chase for the BMW trophy, but still with a chance of making it to the TOUR Championship. That would mean berths in three of the four majors next season, plus THE PLAYERS Championship and invitational events, and an outside chance at the FedExCup trophy next week. It was a lot to think about.

“I was really nervous this morning,” he said. “I had a little bit of the shakes warming up. I couldn’t hold my hands still. I felt great mindset-wise, but just body-wise I knew something big was on the line.”

After 11 holes on Sunday, Theegala was 1 over and projected outside the top 30. At this point it would have been easy to dwell on past mishaps. Theegala got bogged down in a fairway bunker and double-bogeyed 18 to lose to Xander Schauffele by two at the Travelers Championship. Theegala was the solo leader after the second and third rounds at the WM Phoenix Open before a rough bounce at the drivable 17th hole found the water hazard late Sunday. Scottie Scheffler took advantage and won.

This time, though, Theegala – who also competed at the Sanderson Farms Championship last fall, but shot a final-round 71 – was not to be denied. Drawing on those lessons and demonstrating the resolve we saw glimpses of at TPC Scottsdale and TPC River Highlands, he made three straight birdies on holes 12-14 at Wilmington Country Club.

The birdie burst catapulted him back towards the East Lake safe zone, and he brought it home despite battling nerves off the tee over the final three holes. The masterstroke: A 37-foot birdie putt on 17. His slicing approach from the right trees on 18 wasn’t bad, either.

In the end, Theegala advanced despite hitting just one fairway in the final round.

“That was a wild ride,” he said. “… I kept hitting it a foot in the rough, and then just from there this course is too firm, you can’t even go at pins. Felt like I was hitting it to 60 feet and two-putting all day.”

Theegala ranked last in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee with a dismal -5,901 for the week. It was over a stroke worse than the second worst player and more than 10 shots behind stat leader Rory McIlroy (5,536). But in the crunch time, Theegala thought back to his childhood days of slinging shots around trees he couldn’t clear at El Prado GC in Southern California. He manufactured shots. He found a way.

He played the 16th hole from the rough but got up and down for par.

He seemed to surprise himself in finding the fairway on the 17th, because he followed it up with an admittedly underwhelming wedge shot to 36-feet. Then he drained the birdie. Now he could taste it; his ticket to East Lake was tantalizingly close.

His swing on the 18th tee was a bad one, producing a block-slice into the right trees, but he managed to carve-slice an approach up to just short of the putting surface. From there, he once again got up and down to clinch a T15 finish and a TOUR Championship berth.

“I really left everything out there on the last six or seven holes,” Theegala said after making a crucial 7-foot par putt on 18. “Just happy how I handled myself for sure. (It’s) the validation of the season, it’s another step for me to feel like I really belong. It means the world to make the TOUR Championship and stand along 29 of the other best golfers in the world.

“… That putt on the last hole just felt so big,” he continued. “It really felt like some of the putts I had made coming down the stretch when I was near the lead. It feels a little better to get some closure today. I felt like I completely closed it. Didn’t leave any shots out there the last seven or eight holes, whereas the other times I felt like obviously I had. Just having that closure is cool.”

NOTES: Scottie Scheffler regained the top spot in the FedExCup standings with his T3 finish at the BMW. Scheffler had held the No. 1 spot since March but lost it when he missed the cut at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship. Will Zalatoris, who won the FedEx for his first TOUR title, supplanted Scheffler atop the standings. Zalatoris fell to No. 3 in the standings, however, after withdrawing from the BMW with a back injury. Patrick Cantlay, who is trying to become the first player to win back-to-back FedExCups, is No. 2 in the standings after winning the BMW for the second straight year. … Both Aaron Wise and Adam Scott had to make par on 18 out of bunkers to earn the final two spots in the TOUR Championship. Neither player had a shot to spare in his East Lake quest. Wise drove into a fairway bunker on 18 but hit his approach to 30 feet and two-putted for par. He finished 30th in the standings. Scott nearly drove into the sand, but was left with an awkward lie instead. With his ball sitting on the grass and his feet in the sand, he pulled his approach well left of the green, leaving himself a 34-yard bunker shot. He hit it to 2 feet and saved par to finish 29th in the standings. … Shane Lowry came up a stroke short of his first TOUR Championship, finishing 31st in the FedExCup after three-putting from 65 feet on the 71st hole. “It was so weird out there today,” said Lowry, winner of the 2019 Open Championship. “It was like trying to make a cut on a Sunday.” Lowry finished T12 in the BMW to jump from 37th to 31st in the FedExCup.

Here’s a look at the players who moved into the top 30 in the FedExCup standings at the BMW Championship to earn their spot in the TOUR Championship, and the players they bumped out.

MOVING IN

Scott Stallings (No. 46 to No. 12): He finished a shot short of his first PGA TOUR title since 2014, but his TOUR Championship debut in his 12th season is a nice consolation.

KH Lee (No. 33 to No. 26): He finished 31st in last year’s FedExCup after a 72nd-hole bogey at the BMW. This year, his Sunday 65 matched the low round of the day and led to a T5.

Adam Scott (No. 45 to 29): Started the Playoffs at No. 77 but is headed back to East Lake for the first time since 2019 after finishing T5 in the first two Playoffs events. Sand save on BMW’s last hole clinched his spot at the TOUR Championship.

Aaron Wise (No. 31 to No. 30): He’s back at East Lake for the first time since his Rookie of the Year season in 2018. Had to par his final two holes to make East Lake.

MOVING OUT

JJ Spaun (No. 30 to No. 33): Will rue his final round at the FedEx St. Jude where he shot a final-round 78 after starting Sunday with the lead. Finished T23 at BMW.

Joohyung Kim (No. 25 to No. 34): Thomas the Tank Engine ran out of steam, finishing T54 at BMW. Still, impressive to have a chance at the top 30 in just 11 starts. Wyndham winner is on to the Presidents Cup.

Davis Riley (No. 26 to No. 35): Solid rookie season, including playoff loss at Valspar and five other top-10s, comes to an end after T54 at BMW.

Kevin Kisner (No. 28 to No. 38): Finished 38th in FedExCup for second straight year after making TOUR Championship in five of last six seasons.


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