Sunday was a good day on the PGA Tour for golfers from Macon and Augusta.
Macon’s Russell Henley enjoyed his best round of the season, closing with a 10-under 61 in the John Deere Classic to vault from a tie for 25thafter 54 holes to solo second, securing his exempt status for 2019-20.
Augusta natives Charles Howell and Vaughn Taylor both tied for sixth in the John Deere, with both collecting paychecks of almost $200,000 but not appreciably altering their positions on the FedExCup points list.
A total of 16 golfers with Georgia ties made the cut in the John Deere, with several of them making important moves up the points standings. Savannah native Brian Harman actually dropped a spot in the standings (from 101 to 102), but got a last minute spot in this week’s British Open as Howell elected not to make the trip to Royal Portrush.
The big winner among the Georgia contingent in the John Deere was Henley, who was suffering through the poorest of his seven seasons on the PGA Tour. Henley, who has never finished outside the top 90 in the regular season FedExCup standings and has twice qualified for the Tour Championship, came into the John Deere a distant 165thon the points list.
A tie for 15thin Phoenix was Henley’s best finish of the season prior to last week, and he came into the John Deere having missed more cuts (12) than he’d made (9) in 2018-19. Henley was among the leaders in the John Deere after scores of 64-68 the first two rounds, but seemingly fell out of contention after a 72 on Saturday that included a pair of double bogeys.
Beginning the final round in a tie for 25th, seven shots off the lead, Henley birdied his first two holes and added eight more birdies on his last 13 holes. Henley, known as one of the streakiest putters on the PGA Tour, rolled in birdie putts of 15, 25 and 45 feet, but half of his birdies came from inside five feet, as his ball striking was also on Sunday.
Henley’s 61 could have been a 59, but he missed birdie attempts from 8 and 10 feet, the latter on the par-5 17th. Henley teed off more than two hours ahead of the leaders, who were still on the front nine as he concluded his round. He took the lead outright with a birdie on the difficult par-4 18th, and remaining in front until eventual winner Dylan Frittelli birdie the 10thand 11thholes to move one shot in front.
No one else could catch Henley, a three-time PGA Tour winner, who settled for second place and a nice check of $648,000, while moving up 82 spots in the FedExCup standings to 83rd. Coming into the tournament, his earnings for the year were just under $370,000.
Howell started 2018-19 with top 10s in four of his first nine starts, but his tie for sixth in the John Deere was his first top 10 since Los Angeles in February. Howell inched up from 15thto 13thon the points list, and is in very strong position to qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake, which would also earn him a spot in the 2020 Masters in his home town.
With his tie for sixth in the John Deere, Howell inche up from 55 to 54 in the World Golf Rankings, but needed to move into the top 50 to earn a spot in the WGC event that will be played in Memphis the week after the British Open. Howell shot back-to-back 65s in the final two rounds at TPC Deere Run, but decided to take a few weeks off rather than make the trip to Northern Ireland.
Taylor, a lifelong Augusta resident, had a pretty quiet final round, beginning and ending his day with birdies with 16 straight pars in between. Taylor’s tie for sixth was his fourth top 10 of 2019 and was his second strong finish in his last three starts. He tied for fourth recently in Hartford, his best finish of the season.
Among the handful of events remaining on the 2018-19 regular season schedule is the annual stop in Reno, Nev., where Taylor scored his first two PGA victories in back-to-back years in 2004 and ’05. Those were his only wins on tour prior to his surprise victory in 2016 at Pebble Beach, where he rallied in the final round to edge out Phil Mickelson.
Sunday’s final round of the John Deere was not an especially memorable one for former Georgia Tech golfer Cameron Tringale, who began the day in a tie for the lead. But after making just five bogeys over his first 54 holes, Tringale had five bogeys on his scorecard Sunday and shot 2-over 73, falling into a tie for 16th. Tringale still improved from 105 to 97 on the points list and has locked up his PGA Tour card for 2019-20 after having to regain it for this season in the 2018 Web.com Finals. Tringale has three strong showings in his last five starts including a tie for fifth in the first year event in Detroit.
Tying for 18thwas former UGA golfer Brendon Todd, who is playing on his past champion’s status and was making just his ninth start of the season. His finish matched his showing this spring in Charlotte as his best finish of 2018-19. Todd won the Byron Nelson Classic in 2014, but has struggled since the conclusion of the 2015 season and has not played a full schedule since 2016. Todd moved up from 197 to 188 in the standings and has all but assured himself a spot in the Korn Ferry Finals, the new title sponsor for what has been the Web.com Tour. The top 25 finishers from that 3-tournament series will earn PGA Tour cards for 2019-20.
Two other players who made small but vital moves in the FedExCup standings were Roberto Castro andSepp Straka, who tied for 26th. Castro, who grew up in Alpharetta before starring at Georgia Tech, improved 10 spots from 144 to 134, moving him closer to the top 125 and just about guaranteeing him at least partial PGA Tour status for next season. The tie for 26thwas the best finish in an individual tournament for Castro since the Honda Classic in early March. He and Tringale tied for fifth in the team event in New Orleans.
Straka, a recent member of the UGA golf team who attended high school in Valdosta, also tied for 26thto move up from 146 to 138 on the points list. Straka has played the best golf of his rookie season of late, posting a pair of rounds in the 60s and placing among the top 30 in the U.S. Open, and recording a season-best finish of T11 in the recent tournament in Detroit.
Five Georgia Tech golfers, four of whom were recent teammates, made the cut in the John Deere but did not have the high finish they needed to move up in the FedExCup standings.
Third-year PGA Tour pro Ollie Schniederjans tied for 47thto snap a streak of six straight missed cuts, but remains 174 in the standings. Other than a tie for 16thin the Players, it’s been a really rough season for the former Georgia Tech All-American. Teammate Richy Werenski also tied for 47thand slipped from 119 to 122 in the standings. He was even lower in the standings at this point in each of his first two seasons, but tied for second once each year in the two late-season, opposite-field events that will be played the next two weeks.
Rookies Anders Albertson and Seth Reeves, Georgia Tech teammates of Schniederjans and Werenski, both made the 36-hole cut in the John Deere but not the 54-hole cut. Albertson is 171 on the points list and Reeves 184, with both gradually dropping in the standings after promising starts to their PGA Tour careers. Both also appeared headed to the Korn Ferry Finals.
Veteran Stewart Cink,like Schniederjans, Albertson and Reeves, a former Yellow jacket living in the Atlanta area, is 183 after returning from a two-month absence due to a bad back, making the cut in his last two starts. Cink’s veteran status will keep him on the tour next season if he finishes outside the top 150, but this has not been a productive year for him after respectable showings the previous two seasons.