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Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler test new putters, expectations at St. Jude

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler, who finished first and second in last season’s FedEx Cup playoffs, arrived at this week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind with high expectations – and new putters.

Scheffler was the best player on the PGA Tour last season, winning his first major championship at the Masters and four times overall. He started the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta with a 2-stroke lead over the field under the tour’s staggered-scoring system for its season-long championship.

Scheffler couldn’t hold it, as McIlroy rallied from a 6-shot deficit to capture the FedEx Cup for the third time. McIlroy closed with a 4-under 66 to pass Scheffler, who made only one birdie in a final-round 73. Scheffler tied for second with Sungjae Im, 1 stroke behind McIlroy.

“I’m excited to get another crack at the playoffs,” Scheffler said Wednesday. “I’m obviously not ecstatic with the way last year finished. I feel like last year was a year in which I should have won the FedEx Cup and I didn’t, and this year is a year where we’ve had a lot of guys having really good seasons. Jon [Rahm] had a great run at the beginning of the year, and I’ve been consistent most of the year, and Rory has popped up on leaderboards here and there and won a few times.

“We’ve got a lot of guys out here that are playing well, and it should be an exciting finish to the year.”

Scheffler won twice more this season, at the WM Phoenix Open in February and The Players in March. He has 15 top-10 and 19 top-25 finishes in 20 starts this season.

Scheffler and Rahm, who won the Masters and three other tournaments on tour this season, are the only players to earn more than 3,000 points in the FedEx Cup race. Rahm (3,320) has a 174-point lead over Scheffler (3,146) heading into the first leg of the playoffs this week.

The top 50 players in points after the St. Jude FedEx Championship will advance to next week’s BMW Championship at Olympia Fields, Illinois. The top 30 qualify for the Tour Championship on Aug. 24-27.

“I think what I learned last year at East Lake was it is hard to play with a lead,” Scheffler said. “It’s something that I’ve had success with, and I failed at it once. It’s definitely frustrating when you fail, but I felt like I learned a lot about myself, and it’s definitely not an experience I hope to have again in the future.”

McIlroy enters the playoffs third in points, 1,016 behind Rahm. He has won twice this season, most notably at last months’ Genesis Scottish Open, and has 10 top-10s in 15 starts on tour. Last year, he missed the cut at the FedEx St. Jude Championship and tied for eighth at the BMW Championship before winning the Tour Championship.

“I sort of treat it like a 12-round tournament,” McIlroy said. “You’ve got 12 rounds to play, and you’re trying to go out there and get the best out of yourself for those 12 days.If you’re up there in the standings, at least you know you’ve got a little bit of wiggle room.

“But yeah, every week you want to go out there and play well. I think at the end of the day, going into the Tour Championship, if you’re sort of within four of the lead starting on Thursday, I think you’re in a really good spot.”

Both McIlroy and Scheffler have new putters in their bags this week. Despite being two of the best players in the world, both have struggled mightily on the greens this season. McIlroy ranks 86th on tour in strokes gained: putting (.077), while Scheffler is 140th (-.192).

McIlroy was practicing with a Scotty Cameron Phantom X T5.5 Tour Prototype mallet, after using a TaylorMade Spider X for much of the past few seasons.

“Honestly, I just wanted a different look, just wanted to freshen it up,” McIlroy said. “I’ve got my Spider with me this week if that putter isn’t doing what I want it to do over the first couple days. I may go back.”

According to Golf.com, Scheffler was practicing with three different TaylorMade Spider mallets and a Scotty Cameron Newport blade this week. Scheffler said he has been working with TaylorMade reps to develop a new one. He wants a putter that has more weight in the front, so it has “the feel of a blade putter that I like” but the look on “top where it’s easier for me to line up.”

“It feels like at times this year I’ve hit a lot of good putts that have gone right up to the edge and not gone in,” Scheffler said. “Maybe it could be my alignment. If your alignment is a half inch off, the ball lips out instead of going in the middle or lips out instead of lips in. The margins in this game are so close, so it’s something that I feel really comfortable with where the balance point is on this putter, and I’m excited to try it out this week.”

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