PHOENIX — Scott McCarron has had one hand firmly on the Charles Schwab Cup for virtually the entire season, but he isn’t quite ready to place it on his mantle just yet and start spending the $1 million annuity that comes with it.
Although McCarron has led the season points race since April, Jerry Kelly has closed the gap, and three others in the field of 34 players have a mathematical chance of passing him in the Cup championship, Thursday-Sunday at Phoenix Country Club.
“The way the playoffs are set up, no lead is really safe, so you have to play well in those events,” McCarron said on the driving range Tuesday. “I played well in the first one and was playing pretty decent in the next one until a poor round on Sunday.
“Jerry Kelly isn’t far behind and (Bernhard) Langer has moved up to striking distance, so there are some other guys who can still win it. It’s exciting and that’s the way the playoffs should be.”
McCarron and Kelly each have three victories this season, with McCarron leading the race by 170,150 points. A victory by either would be enough to lock up the Schwab Cup, which is the PGA Tour Champion’s version of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup. But players are awarded double points this week, which brings other possible champions into the mix.
Langer, who has won the Cup a record five times, Champions Tour rookie Retief Goosen and Colin Montgomerie, who is coming off a playoff victory over Langer last week in the Invesco QQQ Championship, also could claim the title. However, each would need to win and also would need McCarron and Kelly to falter with poor finishes.
McCarron, 54, has 14 top-10 finishes in 25 events this season and seven finishes of third or higher. He has been creeping up on the season championship each of the past three years, finishing fourth, third and second, and this year became the fourth player to lead the race at least 20 weeks of the season.
“There’s only one position left to go this year and that’s what we’re trying to do,” McCarron said. “I’m trending in the right direction.
“I’ve had some opportunities over the last couple years to get there, so I’m getting close. And it’s been fun playing well this year, a lot of top-10s, three wins, but again, I’ve got some work to do. I will need to stay aggressive because there are going to be some low scores out here this week.”
Kelly, a part-time Arizona resident, came on strong late in the season, winning the Ally Challenge in September and SAS Championship in October, and posted 13 top-10 finishes in 22 events.
“I’m going to get after it as hard as I can,” said Kelly, whose 2018 season was slowed by knee problems that required surgery the day after the season ended “It really doesn’t matter who’s up there ahead of me. I’m No. 2 and trying to get to No. 1 and that’s all there is to it.
“I’m feeling much healthier, that’s the big thing. That puts me in a better mental state so I’m able to go through an entire tournament with the same kind of swing thoughts. It puts me in a better mental state. This year I’ve been able to go through entire tournaments with the same swing thoughts. I haven’t been able to do that in awhile and it feels really good. This is the first time I’ve been able to play this course when I was feeling good, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Langer, who has won the season title four of the past five years, went to a playoff with Montgomerie last week, but his hopes of winning his 41st Champions Tour title were dashed when he needed four shots to get out of a bunker from an extremely difficult lie on the first playoff hole. Even though he has won the Schwab Cup five times, Langer has never won the season finale event.
Tommy Tolles could be another player to watch this week as he has made the biggest move in this year’s playoffs, climbing from 59th to 23rd with a pair of top-three finishes.
Past champions in the field are Kevin Sutherland (2017), Paul Goydos (2016,) Billy Andrade (2015) and Tom Lehman (2012), who will be the hometown favorite.
Among those absent from Phoenix CC is Vijay Singh, who won last year’s finale but didn’t qualify this year. Also missing are Steve Stricker and Fred Couples, who qualified but are not competing this week.
Singh fired a final-round 61 in this event last year to win the title. In the process he opened the door for Langer to claim the season championship for the fourth time in five years, as McCarron carded a 72 to end up second.
McCarron and Kelly are close friends, who dine together frequently when they travel on the tour.
Along with Schwab Cup points, they have ranked close statistically throughout the season. Kelly is third in scoring average (69.41) and McCarron is fourth (69.50), so this week should set up for an exciting finish.
There are several scenarios in which Kelly could surpass McCarron in points with a higher finish if neither wins the season finale.
“It should come down to the last event,” McCarron said. “In fact, it should come down to the last nine. So I think it’s going to be really exciting and it presents a great opportunity for me.
“Any time you’re leading you have to be happy. It’s certainly better than chasing. It’s been a good year, but my job is to still have a chance to win with nine holes to play. If I can do that, I will be taking care of my business.”
Charles Schwab Cup Championship
When: Nov. 7-10
Where: Phoenix Country Club, Phoenix, Ariz.
Golf Channel coverage
All times listed are ET.
Thursday, 3-7 p.m. (live); 8-10 p.m. (replay)
Friday, 3-7 p.m. (live); 8-10:30 p.m. (replay)
Saturday, 3:30-7 p.m. (live); 8-9:30 p.m. (replay)
Sunday, 3-6:30 p.m. (live); 7:30-11 p.m. (replay)