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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – This has been a quiet week in the City of the Blues, with the WGC-FexEx St. Jude Invitational sandwiched among an Olympics played halfway around the world, then a Tour-status pressure-cooker in North Carolina next week, followed by the big-money FexExCup playoffs.
Forty-eight of the top 50 players in the world have assembled here, the best of the best, and even though no one’s life will change with the $1.89 million first-place check, the proceedings will take on an added importance come Sunday.
Here’s why – and in particular, for whom:
The leader at 18-under 192, is two shots clear of Bryson DeChambeau as he guns for his third victory of the season, and his first WGC title. His resurgence has been nothing short of remarkable: After beginning the early part of 2020 with only conditional status, he’s now knocking on the doorstep of the top 10 in the world while proving to be a serious contender in all of the game’s biggest events.
But for the mild-mannered and unhurried Georgia boy, English has a tad more urgency here at TPC Southwind: He’s ninth in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings, and there are four more events, including this one, for those hoping to automatically qualify among the top 6. English, who hasn’t played for the U.S. in a team competition since the 2011 Walker Cup, doesn’t want to rely on a pick from captain Steve Stricker. He wants to take care of it himself, and a victory here will vault him to No. 6, that final automatic spot – ahead of the Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele.
“It’s definitely something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and it’s the pinnacle of our sport and I would love to be on that team,” English said.
BRYSON DECHAMBEAU (2 BACK)
Yes, it’s been another interesting week in a year full of them – but here represents yet another opportunity for him to shift the narrative.
Earlier this week DeChambeau received considerable blowback for his comments about COVID-19, specifically that he wouldn’t receive the vaccine because he’s healthy and didn’t want to take away a dose from someone who might need it (The CDC has said there is not a vaccine shortage in the U.S.) In the wake of those comments, DeChambeau has spoken only to the PGA Tour’s media partners, either on the television or radio side, and he has not been asked any follow-up questions.
At least there was plenty to discuss Saturday about his play, which was sensational during a third-round 63 in which he birdied five of his last seven holes. Scaled back with his driver at TPC Southwind, conserving energy after his bout with COVID caused him to lose 10 pounds, he vaulted into the mix and now enters the final round just two back of English.
For all of the attention DeChambeau has gotten over the past few months, it’s rarely been about his performance – he has just a single top-10 since March. A victory here would return the focus back to his game, if only temporarily. Also, consider this: Wins at a major (2020 U.S. Open), an invitational (Bay Hill) and potentially a WGC could make DeChambeau, improbably, the frontrunner for Player of the Year.
“No doubt I’m looking forward to that opportunity,” he said in one of his post-round stops. “If I just stay patient, relaxed and enjoy the moment, I think I’ll give myself a good opportunity tomorrow.”
ABE ANCER (4 BACK)/SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER (5 BACK)
The combination of sizzling heat, flat greens and virtually no wind has led to low scoring this week, and it’s unlikely English or DeChambeau will back up to the field.
Both Ancer and Scheffler are still looking for their first Tour wins, and it’s always easier to chase than to protect.
Ancer was still stinging after bogeying his last two holes to fall four back instead of just two. Prior to those dropped shots, he had a run of 37 consecutive bogey-free holes.
“Rough way to finish, but I’m happy the way I’m striking the ball, the way I’m playing,” said Ancer, who at No. 18 in the FedExCup is the highest-ranked player without a Tour win. “Got to take it low tomorrow now.”
Scheffler could make a strong case that he’s equally due: With 15 top-10 finishes since the start of last season, he has the most of any player on Tour without a win.
IAN POULTER (5 BACK)
The Englishman likely ended his chances of adding a second WGC title when he got lapped Saturday despite shooting a third-round 67, but there remains plenty for him to play for.
If English is trying to impress Captain Stricker, then Poulter is making sure he has the full attention of European skipper Padraig Harrington. Unless he puts together a scintillating final month, Poulter will be one of the top European players who would require a wildcard pick to make the team for Whistling Straits. That wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention – Harrington all but guaranteed that Poulter and Sergio Garcia will be picked, barring injury – but Poulter still isn’t taking any chances.
“I would love not to be a pick, and obviously right now it’s in my hands and I would like to somehow take it out of his hands and play my way onto the team,” he said. “I need to do that to help him out.”