Billy Horschel started his PGA Tour season with a whimper, missing the cut at the Frys.com Open last October, but he ended it with a bang Sunday, winning the Tour Championship and the $10 million FedEx Cup at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
Starting the final round tied with Rory McIlroy, Horschel shot 68 Sunday to win the Tour Championship by three shots over McIlroy and Jim Furyk. The win also guaranteed he would win the FedEx Cup playoffs. All combined, Horschel won $11. 4 million Sunday, $10 million for the FedEx Cup and $1.4 million for the Tour Championship.
“The playoffs are the biggest, besides the majors, are the four biggest events we have on the PGA Tour and that's when the light shines the brightest, and I was able to rise to the occasion and get the job done,” Horschel said. “And it just gives me so much confidence, so much thrill to accomplish something like this, especially with the guys I was going up against.
Known for his intensity and his sartorial flair, Horschel didn’t’ disappoint on either count Sunday. He showed up at East Lake in pastel plaid pants that would have made a festive tablecloth, and when he drained a 30-foot putt to save par on the 16th hole and preserve his lead over Furyk, he celebrated with a series of fiery fist pumps.
“I said, ‘I'm due to make one of these, I haven't really made a long one, and obviously I've been fortunate to make a few this week, so just give it your best stroke and see what happens,’” Horschel said of the putt on 16. “It came off and got up on top of that ridge, and I said, this looks good, and it went in, and it was huge. I knew Jim was nipping at my heels and everything, and that was a big, big putt.”
Horschel started the playoffs slowly, missing the cut at the Barclays. The following week at the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston, Horschel was in position to catch or even beat Chris Kirk on the final hole but chunked his approach into the hazard and finished second. He bounced back the following week, winning the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills moving into second in the FedEx Cup standings behind Kirk going into the Tour Championship.
“I'm not afraid of what people say -- you know, it doesn't bother me,” Horschel said of critical comments on social media after his disappointing finish in Boston. “If anything, you know, it maybe gives me a little chip, a little added motivation that I can prove them wrong.”
Despite the two consecutive wins, Horschel will not be joining the American team in Scotland for the Ryder Cup later this month. Horschel did not qualify for the team on points and Tom Watson selected Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson with his three captain’s picks on Sept. 2, the week before Horschel’s win at Cherry Hills.
“I didn't play well enough to be picked so I'm not upset at all,” Horschel said. “You know, should they change the process, you know, and pick later? I don't know. That's not my decision.”
McIlroy made a reference to Horschel and other hot-handed Americans not being on the Ryder Cup team after his round on Sunday.
“There's a few guys I'm glad I'm not going to see at Gleneagles: him, Ryan Palmer, Chris Kirk,” McIlroy said.
The top five in the FedEx Cup standings – Kirk, Horschel, McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Barclays winner Hunter Mahan –- all would have won the FedEx Cup with a win at the Tour Championship.
Playing with Horschel, McIlroy got off to a decent start with a birdie on the 4th hole but then hit his tee shot into the water on the par-3 6th and made double-bogey. He then bogeyed the 9th, 10th and 11th holes to end his chances of victory before rallying with birdies on Nos. 15, 16, and 17 to finish T2 with Furyk at 8-under, three shots behind Horschel.
“I just got really frustrated and just couldn't muster the energy to try and get something going again,” McIlroy said of his three-straight bogeys. “And even when I was hitting good shots, I was hitting bad putts.”
From the beginning of the playoffs, McIlroy had talked about how winging the FedEx Cup would be a great ending to a season in which he won two majors, the British Open and the PGA Championship.
“I really wanted to cap this year off well, even though it's still been a great year,” McIlroy said. “You know, I was coming in here with really high hopes and expectations, and I haven't quite been able to play the golf to live up to those. But it's still been a great season for me, and there's still a little bit of golf left.”
That little bit of golf left for McIlroy is the Ryder Cup, in which he has been a member of the winning European team in 2010 at Celtic Manor and 2012 at Medinah.
For Horschel, the 2014 season is over, but he’s got something to look forward to as well. His wife, Brittany, is due to have the couple’s first child in two weeks.
“From what I've heard, kids are very expensive, so the more money I can make, the better,” Horschel joked after winning the FedEx Cup.” But I love her to death, and I'm sure she's going crazy and hopefully she's not going into labor right now, but you know, it's just unbelievable, everything that's happened the last two weeks, and especially having a kid on the way. I'm not sure life can be better than this.”