A 5-foot putt to qualify for next week.@MacHughesGolf's reaction says it all.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 30, 2020
When the coronavirus pandemic began ruining plans for the golf season back in March, a potentially dramatic turnaround by Mackenzie Hughes also seemed destined for the dustbin.
Hughes finished second by one shot to Sungjae Im at the Honda Classic two weeks before the PGA Tour season was interrupted for three months.
By the time the tour returned to play at the Charles Schwab Challenge in mid-June, many might have forgotten about Hughes putting up consecutive 66s on the weekend to at the Honda. If anyone did remember, could they possibly expect any momentum or confidence to carry over for that long?
Hughes has answered that question several times since play resumed, but never more emphatically than with a five-foot tester on his final putt of the BMW Championship on Sunday, one that would have ended Hughes’ season if he missed, or sent him to East Lake for this week’s Tour Championship.
When putts are dropping, champagne starts popping. It may be too early to start celebrating yet since Hughes has a nasty East Lake waiting for him and the rest of the top 30 in FedEx Cup standings this week.
Hughes ended up 28th in the standings and while he may be an underdog this week, that’s really nothing new in a season in which he’s completed a dramatic turnaround that will deserve a taste of the bubbly when all is said and done at East Lake later this week.
Nobody expected him to win his first event just five tournaments into his full-time PGA Tour career, that coming at the 2017 RSM Classic, so you know he’s capable of surprises, but it was hardly a similar start to this season, which he began ranked 264th in the world.
Hughes missed his first three cuts, tied for 55th at the Houston Open, missed another cut, then tied for 65th at the RSM Classic, where he won just a couple of years earlier.
Hughes missed five more consecutive cuts before arriving in Palm Beach Gardens for the Honda as the calendar flipped from February to March.
Hughes says he was missing cuts by only a shot or two, so when he got into the weekend at the Honda, it wasn’t as much a surprise as it was a relief.
“It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” said Hughes earlier this year.
Two weeks after his weekend 66s at the Honda seemingly turned around his season came word that the season was on hold indefinitely thanks to coronavirus.
Whether Hughes could continue what he started at the Honda was a question that had to wait three months before being answered and the initial impression wasn’t positive as he missed the cut at the Charles Schwab Challenge, then tied for 70th at the RBC Heritage with a bloated 78 in his final round.
If the weight on his shoulders was getting heavy this time, it didn’t show at the Travelers Championship. Just a few days after that 78 at the RBC Heritage, Hughes shot a first round 60 and eventually tied for third.
In his final four events before the playoffs, Hughes would get a T6 finish at the Memorial, before he opened the post season with a T13 at the Northern Trust.
Hughes, who at times was atop the leaderboard last week, conversely put himself in danger, as well. For example, he made the turn in the second round at one under, but on his final four holes, recorded two bogeys and a double to finish with a three over 73.
Then came the bogey on the 17th hole of the fourth round that made par necessary on the next for Hughes to move on to the Tour Championship this week. He rose to the challenge with a sweet up and down from a greenside bunker to seal that deal.
He’s demonstrated many times this season that he’s able to respond in such situations, a season that at one time looked as if Hughes might lose his tour status.
Now, at 65th, he’s the top ranked Canadian in the world rankings and the only one headed to the Tour Championship, an accomplishment that earns him entry into majors, WGC events and the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Oh, how things have changed since March.
What hasn’t changed is the fact that he’s a longshot coming in at 28th spot in the FedEx Cup standing against the likes of Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson on a tough golf course.
There will be plenty of pressure, but given what’s transpired this season, don’t be surprised if Hughes continues to respond well at an event he’s never played.