Having stepped to the back of the golf stage so that the spotlight could shine on the Walker Cuppers, senior amateurs, and the LPGA Tour (raise a toast, it took until the ninth month, but it was tournament No. 11 on American soil), the PGA Tour playoffs resume this week.
If in the fifth year of this FedEx Cup business you still chuckle at the word “playoffs,” you’re not alone. Elimination is at the core of what we have always had with playoffs in our team sports, yet after two FedEx Cup postseason tournaments, more players are alive (70) than have been ousted (55).
So go ahead, giggle. But after you do, allow yourself to look beyond the word and focus on what the FEC has done to the PGA Tour landscape. It has changed it – and for the better.
Consider what we had at about this time in 2006, the year before the FedEx Cup began. The Bell Canadian Open was held Sept. 7-10 that year and the field included four of the world’s top 25 players – Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, Trevor Immelman, and Stewart Cink.
Or go back 10 years, to the Pennsylvania Classic (Sept. 20-23), when a mere six players from the top 25 teed it up. (Again you had Furyk and Singh, in addition to Scott Hoch, Scott Verplank, Mark Calcavecchia, and Paul Azinger.)
And 20 years ago? The Hardees Golf Classic (Sept. 12-15) had Greg Norman in the field, but only three other top 25 names – Azinger, Larry Mize, and Chip Beck.
But when the BMW gets under way at Cog Hill Thursday, the 70-player field will include 17 of the top 25 in the world order. That’s major championship-like and so strong is the field that when he won the BMW a year ago, Dustin Johnson received 70 world ranking points, more than what went to the winner of the European BMW PGA (64), the Abu Dhabi stop (54), Dubai Desert Classic (50), or the Dubai World Championship (58).
Pretty stout for mid-September, when the PGA Tour has traditionally been dormant.
No one is naive enough to suggest these FedEx Cup tournaments steal thunder from the behemoths – college football and the NFL; we’re merely suggesting that they have done what they were intended to do, which is provide a series of tournaments with marquee fields to wind down the season in style.
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They were in, now they’re out: Who is the highest-ranked player entering the playoffs who has already been eliminated? That dubious distinction would go to Kevin Na. Sitting 47th at the start, Na missed the cut at The Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship and wound up being bumped to 71st when a trio of players – Chris Stroud, Ernie Els, Geoff Ogilvy – had some final-hole theatrics at the DBC and secured spots 68-70.
Others who began the playoffs inside the top 70, but have since been eliminated: Pat Perez, Robert Garrigus, Brian Gay, Harrison Frazar, Kris Blanks, J.B. Holmes, Jeff Overton, and John Rollins.
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They were out, now they’re in: Coming from beyond the top 70 spots at the start of the playoffs to earn their way into the BMW Championship were these nine (with their starting position in parentheses): Chad Campbell (74), Chez Reavie (76), Johnson Wagner (77), Geoff Ogilvy (79), Scott Piercy (80), Marc Leishman (87), Stroud (106), Camilo Villegas (109), and Ernie Els (118).
Reavie, thanks to nearly winning the Deutsche Bank Championship, made the biggest move (76th to 9th, or plus-67), but give credit to Villegas, who moved up 62 spots (109th to 47th).
Villegas bascially has played three playoff tournaments already, because he had to play well in the Wyndham Championship just to get into the playoffs. He did that, finishing T-9, and he carried that over to The Barclays (T-6) and the DBC (T-25). It’s arguably been his best stretch of golf this year, 32 under for 11 rounds, with seven scores in the 60s.
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Tough on himself: Playing seven playoff rounds in a cumulative 1 over, Garrigus fell 21 spots and got bounced. That afforded him the opportunity to vent – at himself.
He was disappointed, but not surprised that his playoff run ended after just two tournaments. “Not with how awful I hit it this week and how awful I hit it last week and the week before that, too,” Garrigus said before leaving TPC Boston.
“As bad as I hit it, I’m surprised I made the cut.”
Not that he didn’t have reason to be critical of his play. Since finishing T-3 at the U.S. Open and T-20 at the AT & T National, Garrigus has put up five indiferent performances. He’s missed two cuts, his best finish is a T-38, and he’s 14 over in 16 rounds.
Ineligible for the BMW and Tour Championship, Garrigus has re-assessed his Fall Series plan. Originally, he was going to put up a title defense in the Children’s Miracle Network Classic, but now he said he’d probably add the Justin Timberlake in Las Vegas and the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island.
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Challenging finish line: It’s not an easy task to play in the Tour Championship and for proof, look no further than the leader in consecutive appearances – Furyk, with six. That’s not exactly an overwhelming figure, but Furyk is one better than Els, while Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan, and Phil Mickelson all have four appearances in a row.
(OK, an asterisk is perhaps needed, because Mickelson has qualified for seven consecutive Tour Championships. He chose not to play a number of times, however.)
Of the 70 players who’ve made it into the BMW Championship, a whopping 28 have never played in the Tour Championship.
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Different roads: The majority of players who’ll tee it up at Cog Hill are PGA Tour veterans who moved seamlessly from 2010 to 2011 as fully exempt players. There are some, however, who did it a different way.
Five earned their 2011 cards at Q School (Brandt Jobe, Scott Stallings, Kyle Stanley, Cameron Tringale, and Gary Woodland), while five came through the Nationwide Tour money list (Keegan Bradley, Tommy Gainey, Jhonnatan Vegas, Chris Kirk, Brendan Steele).
Three managed to get to Chicago after having played out of the 126-150 money list category (George McNeill, Scott Piercy, Johnson Wagner).
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Parting stat: Furyk has been on 13 consecutive international cup teams (seven Ryder, six Presidents) without ever having been a captain’s pick. Hunter Mahan has played on four consecutive international cup teams (two each) with three captain’s picks.