The 5 most surprising players who qualified for the Tour Championship
This time last year, Lucas Glover was headed back to the Web.com (now Korn Ferry Tour) finals to try to get his card back. Now, (despite a 71st-hole double-bogey stumble at the BMW) he’s headed back to the Tour Championship for the first time in a decade.
“It means a lot, you know,” Glover said after his round. “So, pretty excited and, from what I understand, I get to go to Augusta next year. Hadn’t been there in a long time. Pretty excited about that. And yeah, I’m proud of my season.”
The last time Lucas Glover qualified for the Tour Championship was 2009, the year he won the U.S. Open. His current world rank of 63 is his best since 2011. A career renaissance indeed — borne from a T2 at last year’s Web.com Tour Championship.
Among this year’s debut class at the Tour Championship is Corey Conners, who came from nowhere to win the Valero Texas Open the week before this year’s Masters. Well, not technically nowhere — he actually came from the Monday qualifier. Conners became the first player on Tour since Arjun Atwal in 2010 to Monday qualify and then win that event.
Talk about making the most of an opportunity. Conners didn’t notch a single in the top-30 finish in his nine ensuing starts after the win, but no matter: he’s improved each of the last four weeks, going T27-T22-T21 before a clutch T7 showing at the BMW to punch his ticket back to Augusta and just about every other tournament, too. After his win, Conners made one thing clear: ”No more Monday qualifying!”
On Sunday, Jason Kokrak arrived at the 72nd hole needing birdie to have a chance at a trip to East Lake and all that comes with it. “141, wind off the left. I hit a little three-quarter pitching wedge,” he said. He stuck that wedge shot to four feet and rolled in the putt (“a little jittery,” he added) for a clutch birdie.
Afterwards, with his spot in the top 30 still uncertain, Kokrak thought aloud about the opportunity. “You know, it would mean the world,” he said. “I’ve never played the Masters. That would definitely mean I’m in all the biggest events.”
Kokrak’s spot in the Tour Championship is a testament to his consistency in a season where he missed just a single cut in 22 starts. Despite no wins in his career and just a single top-five finish this season (a T2 at the Valspar), Kokrak’s moving on in that No. 30 slot.
(As for unlucky No. 31? That belonged to Kevin Tway, who birdied 14-15-16-17 but needed one more shot to advance.)
While Lucas Glover is breaking the longest Tour Championship drought, Chez Reavie isn’t far behind. The 37-year-old grinder is riding four top finishes to East Lake: a T3 at the Sony Open, a T4 in Phoenix, a T3 at the U.S. Open, and a runaway victory a week later at the Travelers.
In contrast to Kokrak, Reavie didn’t exactly finish with a flourish: his 74-76 weekend was the worst in the field. But he’s in the midst of his best year on Tour, and it shows: Reavie has climbed to World No. 29 and to No. 25 in the FedEx Cup — with big money and big opportunity ahead.
Nobody following the trajectory of Sungjae Im’s pro career should be surprised at his charge up the FedEx Cup rankings — but the manner in which he qualified for the Tour Championship bears noticing. When Im tees it up at East Lake, it will be his 34th PGA Tour start this year, the most of anybody on Tour. Im essentially skipped only one week where he was qualified to play: The Puerto Rico Open in February.
Im is the only rookie to qualify for the season finale, which should cement his Rookie of the Year honors despite a handful of other newbies bagging their first Tour wins this season. Im was also one of seven players to make it to East Lake without a win. One big question remains: Now that Im can set his own schedule all next year, will he take any weeks off?!