When FedEx St. Jude Championship (previously the Northern Trust) comes around you know that it’s time for things to get serious in the race for the FedEx Cup. It is the first tournament of the FedEx Cup playoffs and therefore has a limited field including the 125 top players in the current season’s PGA Tour rankings. They entertain the rowdy crowds who turn up at whichever of the top class courses from New York or Massachusetts is hosting.
The quality of the field and the importance of this tournament means it is no surprise that the list of St. Jude Championship winners is of extremely high calibre. Indeed, the only players to win this multiple times – Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed – are all major champions.
|2022||TPC Southwind||Will Zalatoris|
|2021||Liberty National||Tony Finau|
|2020||TPC Boston||Dustin Johnson|
|2019||Liberty National||Patrick Reed|
|2018||The Ridgewood Country Club||Bryson DeChambeau|
|2017||Glen Oaks Club||Dustin Johnson|
2022: Will Zalatoris
“What are they going to say now?!” That was the roar from Will Zalatoris when he holed the winning putt of his first PGA Tour win at the 2022 FedEx St Jude Championship. Before the week, Zalatoris had a reputation as player who could hang tough in the most challenging golf tournaments but his inability to turn that fighting spirit and quality into any top-level victories was a worry – at least according to the media. Well, Zalatoris and his team need worry no more, if they ever did in the first place.
Typically, Zalatoris had to work very hard for this win. The top of the leaderboard on the Saturday of the first FedEx Cup playoff event wasn’t exactly flush with superstar golfers but such is the depth of talent on the PGA Tour that Zalatoris knew he needed some of his best golf to go on and win. He found that best golf on Sunday and yet was still unable to shake off Sepp Straka after 72 holes.
Twice he and Straka went back down the 18th hole, sharing both playoff holes in four, before a return to the 11th finally broke the deadlock. Such was the pressure that neither man played the par three well, with San Francisco native confirming his win courtesy of a bogey four. He cared not a jot and was immediately overcome with joy and relief.
2021: Tony Finau
Almost immediately after winning the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, golf fans and pundits starting asking when Tony Finau would win again on the PGA Tour. A whole host of near misses have followed in the five and a half years since. With every loss, Finau’s legion of fans only grew and there were a lot of people heavily invested in his remarkable finish at The Northern Trust. Some may have labelled him a bottler, or someone happy to pick up a big cheque, but his many fans just saw a laidback guy who had gotten a little unlucky at the worst times. It will be interesting to see how his game develops now he has landed another win and a big one at that.
The effects of Storm Henri meant that the final day of the first FedEx Cup playoff event had to be pushed back to a Monday finish. That gave Finau a whole day to plan what he had to do to overcome the two shot deficit between himself and joint leaders Cameron Smith and Spanish world number one Jon Rahm. Going through the front nine in just one under par left Finau’s fans with a sense of déjà vu but he turned it on in tremendous style on the back nine, making three birdies and an eagle to get himself into a playoff alongside the in-form Cameron Smith.
Nerves were obviously playing a part as Finau and Smith went head to head for what would have been the biggest win of either’s career. It was Smith who would cave under the pressure, hitting his drive out of bounds which allowed Finau to make a par for the win. That ended a run of 142 events without a tournament success, a sequence which included 10 runner up finishes including three playoff defeats, so he was understandably delighted as were the galleries.
2020: Dustin Johnson
The Northern Trust has been played at some pretty challenging golf courses in recent years. It’s fair to say that TPC Boston is not one of them. Birdies and eagles were flying in all over the Massachusetts venue with nobody making more of them than Dustin Johnson.
The only thing that stopped Johnson’s routing of TPC Boston was a thunderstorm on Sunday. The thunder and lightning felt like a relief for the course. Johnson’s four rounds were completed in 67, 60, 64 and 63 shots respectively. That adds up to a winning score of -30, fully 11 shots better than runner up Harris English.
Johnson is famously laid back but seemed surprised by the quality of his own play. “My ball striking was unbelievable,” he said after completing the win that put him in pole position to win the FedEx Cup for the first time. Incredibly, his aggregate score of 254 and -30 total each fell one short of the PGA Tour record but that was of no consequence to Johnson who fittingly moved back to number one in the world. He also did a lot to silence the critics who were chirping about Johnson’s supposed choke at the recent PGA Championship.
2019: Patrick Reed
Second place at The Northern Trust in 2019 paid out just under $1 million. That is a good week’s work in anybody’s book but Abraham Ancer still had cause to leave Liberty National disappointed that he could not save the single shot that would have taken him into a playoff with Patrick Reed. Reed, who spoke candidly about his struggles with golf earlier in the season, was in inspired form in New York and his new approach to the game was rewarded with a first PGA Tour win for 16 months.
Reed credited a newfound clarity for the win that put him squarely in contention to win the FedEx Cup. Taking a 10-day break from golf in May was like pressing a reset button and the rest was also important for his body as has added clubhead speed in the latter part of the season. That extra power certainly came in handy at this very challenging golf course while the competitive juices flowed in a final-round pairing with Ancer which felt more than a little like a Presidents Cup match.
Reed drew on the energy of the crowd as well as we’ve seen before. He fist-pumped his way around the course every time he made an important putt to remind Ancer just how tough he is to beat in this sort of scenario. Ancer is not the first opponent of Reed to leave the golf course deflated and he won’t be the last.
2018: Bryson DeChambeau
Bryson DeChambeau may have only be in the early stages of his career but he has played enough tournament golf to know the value of hanging on. He did not have his best stuff on the final day of the 2018 Northern Trust but stuck at his task impressively to ensure that his brilliance from the three previous days was not undone. Rounds of 68, 66 and 63 had given DeChambeau a five-shot lead after 54 holes and a round of 69 – nobody in the top 10 took more shots than that – was enough to earn his third PGA Tour win by four shots from Tony Finau.
It was DeChambeau’s putter that made all the difference on his best rounds at The Ridgewood Country Club. His game from tee to green was right out of the top drawer across all four rounds but on Saturday he was able to convert more of the plentiful chances that he created for himself.
That relentless brilliance off the tee and into the greens seemed to sap the fight out of the chasing pack who never felt as though DeChambeau was going to make a mistake. Finau summed it up, saying, “he was tough to catch today.” That will be true at many more tournaments in what is sure to be a glittering career.
2017: Dustin Johnson
Glen Oaks Club had never hosted a PGA Tour event before the 2017 Northern Trust. After such a thrilling finish it won’t be long before the world’s best players return to this part of New York. When Jordan Spieth extended his lead at the top of the leaderboard to five shots after the first five holes of his closing round, nobody would have predicted that he would find himself in a playoff with Dustin Johnson. However, he dropped three shots before reaching the back nine and even two subsequent birdies were not enough to finish ahead of Johnson who was in full control as he made four birdies and no bogeys on Sunday.
As a FedEx Cup playoff event, there was a great deal on the line at the newly named The Northern Trust. Johnson and Spieth have vast experience of the biggest events though so they were able to put the size of the prize to one side and enjoy themselves. “We were having fun,” Johnson said after moving to the top of the FedEx Cup rankings, adding, “Obviously I had a little bit more fun at the end of the day after I won the playoff.”
The atmosphere of a typically engaged and noisy New York crowd added to the sense of occasion at Glen Oaks. Spieth’s fightback on the back nine gave this a feel of a lengthy playoff but when it came to it only one extra hole was required as Johnson smashed an almighty drive almost 350 yards and duly converted for a winning birdie.