After nine months of grueling golf, the PGA Tour season has come down to this: The Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, GA. So many storylines have been introduced this year and they all seem to be wrapping up at the exact same time, at the exact same tournament. The PGA Tour Regular season wraps up this weekend with someone winning the FedEx Cup, $10 Million dollars.
Here’s how the FedEx Cup Playoffs work for those who are unfamiliar with the format. There are four tournaments in which the field gets progressively smaller after each event. They start with 125, and then go down to 100, then 70, and then the biggest jump is down to 30 based on a points system. Points are accumulated throughout the year and the playoffs. This weekend is the final stop for the players at the Tour Championship. Now, the top five players in the FedEx Cup standings control their own destiny with wins this weekend. If they win at East Lake, they win the FedEx Cup. The top five right now are Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker. There are so many different scenarios in which guys who are in the 14th spot can win, with loses from the top 5 or second place finishes of what have you, but those seem unlikely, as unlikely as the Bills going to the playoffs this year. There are some dark horses out there who can come close and who have all played extremely solid golf over the past 5 weeks that really anything can happen.
The obvious story this year has been the comeback of the greatest golfer alive, Tiger Woods. He has three victories under his belt, and has been “a part of the conversation” in three of the year’s four majors. Woods seems poised to take the FedEx Cup this year with how well he has been playing but now, at the precipice of becoming the number one golfer in the world again, there is one man who stands in his way, his “frienemy” Rory McIlroy. McIlroy is the other feel good story of the year and for good reason. He’s maintained the world number one ranking even though many competitors were nipping at his heels, and after a dismal year last year, he has four victories; one of them being the PGA Championship last month and is currently riding a two tournament win streak. This weekend also has some huge implications as to who will win Player of the Year honors. It seems like a toss-up between McIlroy and Woods, both having multiple wins, McIlroy with the Major. But If Tiger Wins the Tour Championship and the ultimately the FedEx Cup, I think he’ll be the leader to gain the Player of the Year Honors; If not, McIlroy wins it in a landslide. To the untrained eye, McIlroy seems like the clear-cut favorite to win this weekend, but don’t think that there aren’t others ready to have their name engraved on the FedEx Cup and have their moment of immortality.
Phil Mickleson has made a huge charge up the leaderboard since the Deutsche Bank Championship and finds himself in prime position to take the FedEx Cup. He played unbelievably at the BMW Championship two weeks ago to almost come back and win, but McIlroy was that much better. Phil’s attitude and his new and improved short game and putting grip are proving to be the difference maker in his success. Since winning the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach early in the year, Phil has had an up and down type year. He was there at The Masters, and then after that didn’t really perform well enough to be in anyone’s mind heading into a Sunday. But the past few weeks, he’s really turned it on as far as his quality of play and has every right to be in the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Nick Watney has been a quality consistent golfer throughtout the entire year. Everyone has always been saying that “they are waiting for his breakout moment”, his “major victory.” And those moments and wins will come in time for the American, but not this weekend. He showed tenacity and a never say die attitude when he won the Barclay’s (the first round of the Playoffs) and has remained a solid ball striker the past 3 weeks. I don’t foresee him contending this week for the Tour Championship, but this year should be a great jumping off point for his career.
Brandt Snedeker is in the same category as Watney as far as the “break though moment.” A lesser known name to the usual television viewer, but on Tour, he’s as fierce a competitor as they come. He plays fast and his irons are as accurate as a professional dart player hitting bulls eye’s all day. He won early in the year in amazing fashion, coming back from 8 strokes down on Sunday to beat Kyle Stanley, who got his revenge the very next week in a comeback win of his own. But Snedeker solidified his place as a grinder in the golf world, and it’s shown over the course of the year and these playoffs.
In my opinion, the winner of the FedEx Cup will come from the Top 5. It’s hard to bet against the best golfers in the world at this point of the year. As for my pick to win, I’ve got to go with Tiger Woods. He’s been playing like his old self the past 5 weeks, and looks as poised and dominant to take the Championship…right before the Ryder Cup.