By Mark Lamport-Stokes
Billy Horschel felt “surreal” after producing the best three weeks of his golfing career just when he need to, capping an astonishing playoff run with a three-shot victory at the Tour Championship on Sunday.
With his PGA Tour season hanging in the balance after a missed cut at last month’s Barclays tournament, he gave himself a timely wake-up call and proceeded to finish second, first and first to secure FedExCup honours and the $10 million jackpot.
Horschel’s performance in the season-ending event at East Lake Golf Club was hugely impressive as he extended his run of scores in the sixties to 12, the longest on Tour, and outshot world number one Rory McIlroy in the final round to triumph.
“It’s surreal, it really is,” a beaming Horschel told reporters after closing with a two-under-par 68 in damp, overcast conditions to finish three ahead of fellow American Jim Furyk and McIlroy. “I’m on cloud nine, it’s unbelievable.”
“I warmed up pretty well and got off to a pretty solid start, had some good looks on the first three holes, and just kept playing solid. Maybe the back nine could have been a little bit cleaner, but it was good enough to get the job done.
“I’m thrilled to be the FedExCup champion and the Tour Championship champion, especially with the year I’ve had.”
Horschel was ranked 69th entering the four-event playoffs and dropped to 82nd after missing the Barclays cut, knowing he had to stay in the top 70 at the following week’s Deutsche Bank Championship to advance to the BMW Championship.
All this after he had recorded just two top-10s and seven missed cuts in 24 starts on the 2013-14 PGA Tour.
“I remember flying home and I talked to my wife, and she’s like, ‘you’ll probably just wait until the season is over, start a new season.’ I was sort of was,” said Horschel who, at 27, became the youngest FedExCup champion.
“But at the same time I knew my game was in the right shape, and I just needed to get out of my own way, needed to allow my golf game to show, and did it show the last three weeks.”
Horschel was an invigorated man over those next three weeks, putting superbly as he rose to second in the FedExCup points list after finishing runner-up at the Deutsche Bank Championship and then winning last week’s BMW Championship outside Denver.
At East Lake this week, he held at least a share of the lead after every round and said he felt relaxed for most of Sunday as he kept his closest challengers at bay over the final holes.
The most pivotal moment came when Horschel was just one stroke ahead of Furyk and somehow sank a par-saving putt from 30 feet at the par-four 16th, where his tee shot had sailed right into trees.
“The putt was huge on 16,” said Horschel, whose wife, Brittany, is scheduled to give birth to their first child in two weeks.
“I put the best stroke on it I could and got up to the top of that ridge, and I’m like, ‘man, this looks like it’s going into the hole.’ Had a little bit of steam to it and it went in there dead center. That was just a great feeling.
“I knew where Jim stood. I knew where everyone else stood and I didn’t want to give a shot back coming in.”
Horschel, who earns a combined $11.44 million for his week as the Tour Championship purse amounts to $1.44 million, will be a notable absentee from the Ryder Cup.
Despite being the hottest player in the game, Horschel produced his brilliant form a little too late to qualify automatically for Tom Watson’s United States team or to become one of three wildcard picks.
“Even with this extra win, I still don’t feel like I deserve to be on the team,” said Horschel.
“I haven’t played good enough this year. I haven’t played good enough over a two-year period to be on the team, and I understand that.
“I’m not upset with that. I’m over it. I’ve been over it since the picks were made at Deutsche Bank, and I’m fully supportive of the US team and everyone else.”