Dell Technologies Championship: Rainy Sunday, Special Monday

Sunday wasn’t exactly golf weather, but they got the round in anyway

While the Autumnal Equinox is still weeks away, we do consider Labor Day the unofficial start of the Fall, especially up north where the weather matches.

Sunday felt like Summer left early.

It was chilly, rainy, dark, and simply not the kind of weather one wants to spend a day outside enjoying.  Fans, reporters, broadcasters, and the players all had rain gear on from head to toe.  Many spectators spent the round under some kind of tent covering, either in clubs that allowed them entry or anywhere else with covering.

In short, it was the kind of day that reminds you why they call it “New England,” and not something that reminds you more of paradise.

Thoughts on Sunday’s round:

Justin Thomas answers questions after shooting a 63 in the third round of the Dell Technologies Championship (Tim Williams/Sports Talk Florida)

-The usual suspects have risen to the top of the leaderboard once again, and that means that yet again the leaderboard is chock full of tremendous, and young, talent.  Dustin Johnson rebounded from a 72 on Saturday to shoot a gutty 66, including going four under par on his last five holes.  He’s -9 and three back of the lead.

“[T]hree back going into the last day, it’s within reach, for sure.”  Johnson came from behind to win the Northern Trust, so he knows all about getting in position to surge ahead and win, and he’s going to have to use all of that to get past Thomas.

That lead is shared by Justin Thomas, who surged to a 63 on Sunday to go from the middle of the pack to the front of the tournament, and Marc Leishman, whose 65 took him into the final pairing.  Should Thomas win, he will be the third FedEx Cup points leader in as many weeks.  On Friday and Saturday, Thomas played the kind of tournament we’re used to seeing out of veterans with years of experience.  Coming into Sunday, he had made just one bogey all week.  Coming into Monday, he’s made just one bogey all week.  A stellar performance in the Great Woods for Justin Thomas so far, he’ll be extremely tough to beat on Monday.

Thomas said on Saturday that he “didn’t have his best stuff” early in the weekend, but he definitely did on Sunday, coming into the eighteenth with a chance to tie the course record of 61.  18 was “the hardest it rained all day,” Thomas said after his round Sunday.  “It’s 260 yards to carry that bunker and I hit a drive right on the screws and I didn’t carry it.”  Thomas also mentioned that going even on the par 5s didn’t sit right with him, proof that golfers are perfectionists even on the best of days.

“The round that J.T. shot was fantastic” was Jordan Spieth’s take on Thomas’ mastery, thrilled that his friend is doing so well.

Jordan Spieth had a big day as well, shaking off a tough finish to the Northern Trust by playing steady, not biting off more than he can chew, and taking opportunities when available.  He’s -10 after going -5 for the round on Sunday, putting himself in a great position to contend again even after such a tough tournament the week before.

“I thought four back starting the day, if I could cut that in half, then that would be a tremendous goal.  So goal achieved, maybe.”  Spieth simply didn’t see anyone going as low in the rain as Thomas, but nevertheless he’ll be in the second to last pairing with a shot at winning.

-Because of the rain, the greens were soft.  Because the greens were soft, players got aggressive early.  Nearly everyone in contention birdied the first, setting the tone for an aggressive round aiming to take advantage of wet conditions.  As the rain picked up in the last couple hours of the day, however, those low numbers started to taper off, and par became a good score.  The conditions made for an interesting, some would say unique, moving day.

-Phil Mickelson remains in the thick of things, much to the delight of the crowd.  His birdie on the first hole energized everybody who braved the rain on Sunday.  If anything, Mickelson had an opportunity to go lower, with a number of birdie putts that simply didn’t fall in the rainy conditions.  Still, at -8 he’s only four strokes back of the co-leaders and well within striking distance.  As the clear crowd favorite at TPC Boston, that will set people up for a raucous finish Labor Day afternoon.

What to watch on Monday:

-The Labor Day finish makes the Dell Technologies stand out.  If there weren’t something called the Tour Championship, I would advocate for this being the finish to the PGA Tour season, a sendoff right before the NFL jumps in to eat all television ratings everywhere and leave competitors for dead.

This is the last tournament final that doesn’t compete directly with football.  Even today’s third round was only up against a few college football games, none of them headliners.  With baseball just about to enter the home stretch, this is really an opportunity for golf to take center stage during a holiday weekend.

Golf fans can rejoice for this.  This is your day.  Football has Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.  Basketball has Christmas and also Easter.  Baseball has Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.  Golf has a major tournament that sometimes finishes on Easter, another that finishes on Father’s Day, but it doesn’t have a holiday where golf is really the central sport.  Labor Day gives the PGA Tour an opportunity to change that.  Whatever happens moving forward schedulewise, passing on that opportunity would come back to haunt the Tour.

-Many of the golfers with earlier tee times will be playing for their FedEx Cup lives.  Bubba Watson needs to make something happen to get into the top 70, he’d be just outside that line if the tournament ended right now.  Emiliano Grillo went from out of the next tournament to in after a big Sunday round, but he’ll need to keep that up to get to Chicago.  Rafa Cabrera Bello, Kevin Streelman, and Kevin Tway are all playing for their seasons to continue, with Tway on the outside looking in and Streelman one of the last spots left.  These might not be contenders this week, but on Monday they’ll have to play inspired golf just to come back to the BMW.

-The 12th hole could end up deciding the entire tournament.  Throughout the week, golfers have voiced their issues with the long par 4, which had been lengthened for this event as part of the course’s Gil Hanse re-design.  The revised hole has lived up to its billing as well, putting up the highest scoring average of any of TPC Boston’s par fours by a considerable margin.

The hole isn’t just long, it has a narrow fairway that features a bunker right in the center and a dropoff covered in overgrown rough just past that.  It’s the kind of hole that produces bogeys and other big numbers.

If anyone in one of the final groups birdies twelve, it’s going to make for a much more interesting tournament.

(Tim Williams/Sports Talk Florida)

-The 16th hole is the one that prompted Jordan Spieth to say the crowd was “definitely drunk out there.  It felt a little different than a golf tournament.”  16 is surrounded by places that serve alcohol, including four different clubs.  Combine that with a large stadium seating area, and it makes for a loud venue that allows Massachusetts sports fans to be Massachusetts sports fans.  If one of their favorites, such as Phil Mickelson or recently-revealed Red Sox fan Justin Thomas, is in the lead on 16 they will get a heroes’ welcome.

“The fans here are great,” Thomas said in his post-round interview, giving special recognition to a likely over-served patron who shouted “Boston loves you” in his direction over the weekend.  He also referred to the roar Dustin Johnson got for making a birdie putt on 16, which was substantial.

-The fourth hole is the only drivable par 4 on the golf course.  At under 300 yards, it is a tempting target, but eagles have been very hard to come by.  On Sunday, only Pat Perez managed a 2 on the hole, with plenty of players putting themselves in trouble trying to go big.  They’ll continue to target the hole on Monday in warmer weather, and anyone who gets the ball in close could gain an important stroke.