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OWINGS MILLS, Md. – The scene right outside of scoring Sunday afternoon at Caves Valley Golf Club was filled with elation.
There were hugs.
There were high-fives, and claps of joy.
Heck, there were already beers.
No, Erik van Rooyen and Sergio Garcia didn’t win the BMW Championship, but they did keep their seasons alive for one last tournament. Both players moved inside the top 30 on the FedExCup points list this week at Caves Valley to qualify for the Tour Championship.
“It’s a fantastic place to be,” said van Rooyen of next week’s stop, East Lake. He was grinning, ear to ear, after making birdie on the final hole to shoot 7-under 65, finish solo fifth and jump 18 spots to No. 27 in points.
“Obviously, it’s my first full year on the PGA Tour, and it was a goal of mine to get there. … Six weeks ago, or so, I wasn’t even sniffing it.”
Van Rooyen had missed six of eight cuts – and made the embarrassing kind of headlines for destroying a tee marker at the PGA Championship – when he showed up at the Barracuda Championship earlier this month. At the time, van Rooyen wasn’t just outside the top 30; he wasn’t even inside the top 125.
But a victory in Reno, followed by a seventh-place showing at The Northern Trust last week, was enough to turn van Rooyen’s rookie season around. He went his final 69 holes around Caves without a bogey, and after watching his playing competitor, K.H. Lee, run into trouble in the creek right of the last green and squandering his chance to jump inside the coveted number, van Rooyen calmly rolled in a 3-foot putt that meant the world.
By advancing to the Tour Championship, van Rooyen is into next year’s U.S. Open, Open Championship and the Masters, which he hasn’t played since withdrawing with a back injury after 18 holes of his debut last fall.
“[Before Barracuda, I was] a player knowing what he’s capable of but struggling to find his feet and searching for a little bit of confidence,” said van Rooyen, who also became a first-time father in July. “Now, it’s almost completely flipped. I’m absolutely cruising and I’m playing some of the best golf I’ve ever played consistently.”
Garcia, the other half of the duo that knocked Charley Hoffman and Max Homa out of East Lake, flipped his switch this week following a missed cut at Liberty National. (Patrick Reed ended up in the 30th and final spot despite not playing this week after being hospitalized with double pneumonia; Alex Noren’s missed 6-footer for par at the last knocked him back to T-9 and three spots behind of Reed.)
It was a wild final round for the Spaniard, one that included an eagle, five birdies, two bogeys and double at the fifth hole, where Garcia left three shots in a greenside bunker. But in the end, Garcia’s closing 69 (solidified by clutch up-and-downs at Nos. 16 and 18) and T-6 finish (his first top 10 since March) was enough to extend his season.
“It’s very exciting,” said Garcia, who hadn’t been to East Lake since 2017. “Obviously, after last week, I put myself in a difficult spot but showed a lot of guts this week.”
Now, Garcia has one final chance to show European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington that he deserves a captain’s pick. The nine-time Ryder Cupper, who will not travel to England in two weeks for the BMW PGA, has been on six winning teams and hasn’t missed the biennial matches since 2010.
“I know he’s been watching,” Garcia said. “He knows where I stand. I know where he stands. We’re excited, and just go out there next week, have another good week, and hopefully we’ll be there.”
As Garcia wrapped up his post-round interview, Rory McIlroy stood within earshot, leaning against a metal railing.
“He doesn’t need to pitch anything,” McIlroy chimed in.
After Garcia was done, he and McIlroy shared a brief moment of congratulations, and then Garcia was off to enjoy the moment with a few members of his team, which had already poured the beers. Meanwhile, van Rooyen was probably already deep into the brandy and Coke.
There was plenty to celebrate, for both of them.