Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka combined to shoot 14 under at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational on Saturday and will now play in the final pairing in the final round of the last WGC event of the season. McIlroy (62) and Koepka (64) shot two of the four best rounds of the day out of lunchtime tee times to assume control of the tournament through 54 holes.
McIlroy teed off first and went out in a stunning 30. He wandered a bit on the back before closing with three straight birdies on putts totaling 50 feet for the 8-under 62 to get to 12 under on the week. McIlroy led the field in putting on the day and is second on the week. You don’t need me to explain to you what this means for the rest of the field.
Koepka’s 64 was a bit stealthier — inasmuch as the No. 1 player in the world can be stealthy — as he went out in 31 and came home in a not-as-impressive-as-it-looked 33. He parred the last three holes from some quizzical spots but still earned his way into that final pairing (which we’re going to talk about in a minute).
Koepka hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation — hitting all 18 at TPC Southwind hadn’t been done in over 15 years — and is third in the field on the week in putting.
The final pairing on Sunday is reminiscent of this event last year (at Firestone Country Club) when Justin Thomas was paired with McIlroy and went on to win. Thomas had a three-shot lead going into that final round. This time, McIlroy leads Koepka by one. Still, it will have the same feel of those two against the rest of the field. Catching one of them seems doable, but both of them when they’re both two clear of all but one player? I don’t love the odds!
“Every time I tee it up I feel like I have a chance to make some history,” Koepka told CBS Sports’ Amanda Balionis. “It’s a neat place to be. I’m playing some incredible golf right now. It’s fun, I’m enjoying it while it lasts. Tomorrow is going to be difficult. Rory is going to come out firing, he’s playing well. You know he’s going to play a good one. I’m just going to have to take it deep.”
Here are four things to watch for on Sunday at TPC Southwind.
1. All of the money: The winner of this event gets close to $2 million, and the runner up gets over $1 million. However, there’s even more at stake for Koepka and McIlroy. They ranked No. 1 and No. 3 respectively in the FedEx Cup rankings coming into this week, and the FedEx leader at the end of the regular season (at the end of next week’s tournament) gets a $2 million bonus as part of the Wyndham Rewards. The runner up gets $1.5 million.
If one of these two wins on Sunday, they will also get the $2 million bonus because the rest of the golfers vying for first in the regular season FedEx Cup are skipping the Wyndham Championship next week. If this tournament ended after 54 holes, McIlroy would walk away with nearly $4 million, and Koepka would walk away with $2.5 million. Those numbers could flip depending on what happens on Sunday. Big money riding on a single 18-hole round.
2. Player of the Year? There’s even more! Right now, Koepka and McIlroy are probably your two favorites for PGA Tour Player of the Year. Koepka obviously has a major (PGA Championship) and one other event from way back at the beginning of the season (CJ Cup). McIlroy has the Players Championship and Canadian Open. McIlroy probably needs to pick off two more tournaments to overtake somebody with a major, but if he wins this one, it could get close. If Koepka wins on Sunday, that’s probably a wrap, and he’ll go back to back.
3. How they could wobble: If you’re looking for a non-McIlroy and non-Koepka storyline, there is still intrigue. Because those two are outpacing their normal putting performances, they could fall back to the field a bit on Sunday, and there have already been three 64s, a 63 and a pair of 62s this week. It’s not difficult to envision somebody like Justin Thomas (-7), Jon Rahm (-9) or Tommy Fleetwood (-7) getting in the house an hour or so ahead of the Koepka-McIlroy pairing at something like 14 under and winning (OK, it’s kind of hard to imagine, but not impossible).
4. Noren’s opportunity: It’s been a tough season for Alex Noren, who doesn’t have a top 10 anywhere in the world in 2019. He did finish T11 last week at the Open Championship and is currently T4 in Memphis, but he’s also outside the top 125 in the FedEx Cup (you have to be in the top 125 to retain your PGA Tour card). Losing his PGA Tour card for 2020 wouldn’t be the biggest deal in the world because of his European Tour roots (and ties), but it would be nice to go to the Wyndham next week and not have as much to worry about. If he stays where he’s at right now, he’ll end the week around No. 100 (up dozens of spots from where he started at No. 136).