This article is part of our Weekly PGA Recap series.
Sahith Theegala didn't get much consideration for the upcoming U.S. Ryder Cup team. But in two years? Watch out.
Following a number of close calls -- so-called learning experiences -- Theegala rolled to his first PGA Tour victory on Sunday at the Fortinet Championship, the first event in the newly-named FedExCup Fall. He defeated Cam Davis and S.H. Kim by only two strokes at Silverado's North Course in Napa, Calif., but that's misleading because there was a two-shot swing on the final hole.
The back nine amounted to an extended victory walk for Theegala, who was followed all week by a 40-person entourage of friends and family, including his parents.
"I've told my family and friends that I love their cheering and I acknowledge it," Theegala said. "But during the moment, if I make a birdie, I'm just trying to keep my heart rate down out there and not get too excited and just kind of keep playing, because I learned the hard way a couple times you just have to go and get it."
The 25-year-old Orange County, Calif., native and Pepperdine alum finished only 23rd in the final U.S. Team Rankings for the Ryder Cup and didn't generate significant consideration -- if any -- for a spot. Frankly, his 2022 was far better than his 2023. It featured runners-up at the Travelers and RSM Classic, a tie for third at Phoenix, where he really made his first dent to the masses, and a tie for sixth at the Fortinet. Theegala had a few top-10s early in 2023, but nothing since the RBC Heritage in April before now.
So, when the magnifying glass was focusing on Ryder Cup contenders, Theegala wasn't playing his best. He qualified for the TOUR Championship in 2022 but not this year.
Only six guys who reached the second playoff event last month were in this 156-man field. In other words, it was weak. Still, five of them -- Max Homa, Justin Thomas, etc. -- finished top-10 here. The top guys were on his heels. Theegala was able to handle that so much better than in past similar situations, notably last year at Phoenix when he held the 54-hole lead on the back nine before winding up T3.
"I remember at Waste Management," he said. "I remember thinking I've got a couple tough holes coming up, like I've just got to hold in there and stay around the lead. It was nice to be able to draw back on that. … I was so, so much calmer today. At Waste I was just kind of thrown in with all the top guys in the world and that might have been my 10th PGA TOUR start that year on a sponsor invite. … But just drawing off of that experience was big because I just remember how much that hurt. I'm such a competitor and that one really, really hurt."
It's easy to see how much Theegala has grown in the past year and a half. He's now ranked 29th in the world, slightly off his best of 23rd. In another two years, how good will his game be? Probably good enough for the 2025 Ryder Cup at Bethpage Black.
After a slow start to 2023, Davis really heated up down the stretch and into the playoffs, and he continued it this week despite almost a month-long layoff since the BMW. This was his fourth top-10 in his past five starts. Having already won a PGA Tour event, the 2021 Rocket Mortgage, the 28-year-old Aussie really looks primed to advance his career to the next level in 2024.
The co-runner-up was the 25-year-old rookie's best Tour finish and only his second top-10, the first being a T4 at the Shriners event almost a year ago. Kim missed the playoffs after finishing 83rd in the standings. While his 2024 Tour card was virtually secured before this week, he moved into 57th place, which would have great significance, as explained in the FedExCup Fall Standings section below.
The overwhelming favorite for Rookie of the Year further solidified his chances with a solo fourth. Having already finished top-50 in the standings, Cole is playing for cash and world rankings points -- and his first PGA Tour win.
Thomas and Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson had said the Fortinet was not a referendum on Thomas' controversial captain's pick. But finishing in solo fifth certainly lets them breathe a lot easier before the Cup starts in Italy in two weeks. It was Thomas' best finish since February -- a fourth-place result in Phoenix -- and came after a T12 at the Wyndham. Playing in the penultimate pairing, Sunday was his worst round. He bogeyed three of the first five holes and never contended.
Bidding for a Fortinet three-peat, Homa tied for seventh. He didn't do much on the weekend after a Friday 66, but he can be excused if he's thinking ahead to his first Ryder Cup.
The veteran made the first playoff event, but his run ended without qualifying for the BMW at 66th in the standings. His tie for seventh this week moved him up a couple notches. We should see more of Kuchar, maybe as soon as three weeks when the fall season resumes at the Sanderson Farms.
Merritt had the round of the day, a 7-under 65, to move into a tie for seventh. More importantly, he jumped from 133rd in the point to 118th. He had the second biggest move after Kim.
Walker has made the most of playing this season on his lone career-earnings exemption, but the 44-year-old will need to finish in the top 125 to keep full playing privileges for next year. He tied for 30th and inched ahead from 124th in the standings to 121st.
A tie for 62nd was the 39-year-old's first made cut in a stroke play event since THE PLAYERS way back in March. Kisner had an injury-plagued season. He's far back in the standings, but he's still excempt for one more season thanks to his wins at the 2019 WGC-Match Play and 2021 Wyndham.
The notables: Austin Eckroat, Akshay Bhatia, Zach Johnson, Taylor Montgomery, Andrew Putnam, Fred Biondi, Hayden Springer and Aaron Baddeley. … Eckroat had a great season going until missing his final two cuts to miss the playoffs, and now he's missed another. … Bhatia won the Barbasol recently and was ranked 100th entering this week, but better players have to make cuts in weak events. … Johnson may have the Ryder Cup captaincy upcoming, but he's also a golfer trying to keep his card for next year. He began the week ranked 154th in the point standings. … Montgomery finished third here last year as part of a terrific fall season, but he has fallen off sharply in recent months. … Of the six players in the field who qualified for the BMW Championship, Putnam was the only one not to finish in the top-10 at the Fortinet. … Biondi won the 2023 NCAA Division I individual championship and this was his first PGA Tour start as a pro. But he also has missed seven straight Korn Ferry cuts since turning pro … Springer had won two of the past three PGA Tour Canada events to graduate to the Korn Ferry Tour and get a sponsor invite here. … Baddeley was making his 500th career PGA Tour start.
FEDEXCUP FALL STANDINGS
The top 125 after The RSM Classic in November at the end of the seven-event FedExCup Fall Standings will keep their cards like in past years. The top 70 that made the playoffs are already set. The top 50 can't move up or down, but Nos. 51-70 can. At the end of the fall, Nos. 51 to 60 in the standings will qualify for two Signature Events at Pebble Beach and Riviera. There will be other ways for golfers to qualify for Signature Events throughout the 2024 season.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout withdrew from the Fortinet after a first-round 75, citing a wrist injury.
DP WORLD TOUR
The European Ryder Cup team got a full and fortuitous turnout this past week, in large part because the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth is the flagship event on the DP World Tour, akin to THE PLAYERS Championship on the PGA Tour.
So not only did Luke Donald's squad tune up, they tuned up well.
While Ryan Fox closed with a 5-under 67 to win in this elite field, seven of the 12 European Ryder Cuppers finished top-10, nine of them finished top-20 and all 12 of them made the cut. Tyrrell Hatton shared runner-up (with Aaron Rai), Jon Rahm was fourth, Viktor Hovland fifth and Tommy Fleetwood sixth, with Rory McIlroy tying for seventh and Ludvig Aberg and Sepp Straka tying for 10th. Aberg was the 54-hole leader looking for his second straight win, so his finish was a bit of a disappointment. Shane Lowry and Matt Fitzpatrick shared 18th place.
In sum, things could not have gone much better for the Europeans heading to Italy in two weeks.
As for Fox, the New Zealander was coming off a T3 at the Irish Open. He had zero previous top-10s all year, though many top-25s. He will move to 31st in the world, still off his career high of 23rd.