FedEx Cup bonus, PoY on line at East Lake

Webb Simpson, pictured here at the BMW Championship, is No. 1 in the FedEx Cup points standings.

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ATLANTA — Webb Simpson is the No. 1 seed when the Tour Championship gets under way at East Lake, giving him the best shot of the 30-man field to capture the $10 million bonus from the FedEx Cup. It’s enough to pinch himself to make sure he’s not dreaming.

Only he’s already doing that.

Not many had reason to know much about Simpson a year ago. He didn’t do anything to distinguish himself in his second year on the PGA Tour. He didn’t make it beyond two stages of the FedEx Cup. He wasn’t even sure he would keep his card.

“It’s just crazy what can happen in a year,” he said.

It started with the birth of his first child in February, and the golf has gone from good to great. Simpson picked up his first career win at Greensboro, and then won the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks later that set him up in the Tour Championship.

His career earnings going into the year were $2.2 million.

A win this week at East Lake, combined with the FedEx Cup bonus, would be worth $11.44 million.

With a reset in the points to give the entire field at the Tour Championship a shot at the biggest payoff in golf, the top five players control their fate. Simpson is followed in the standings by Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar. If any of them win the Tour Championship, they win the FedEx Cup.

For a 26-year-old like Simpson, in only his third year, it’s hard not to keep the eyes on the fairways and greens of East Lake without being tempted to look at the carrot.

“We want to focus that much more on the golf course and the conditions that we’re going to face, because we feel like the more we can kind of get lost in the golf course and not think about where we’re going to end up in the FedEx Cup, the better we’ll play,” Simpson said, using the third person to include caddie Paul Tesori.

“It’s hard,” he said. “It’ll be in the back of our minds all week. But I think the better we can try to focus on winning this golf tournament, it’ll kind of take care of itself.”

It’s like that for everyone — for Simpson at No. 1, all the way to Bo Van Pelt at No. 30.

Geoff Ogilvy is at No. 24, and just happy to be here. He was on the cusp of being eliminated from the playoffs 16 days ago until he made a 20-foot par putt and a 6-foot birdie putt on the last two holes to narrowly advance to the third event, then finished alone in third place at Cog Hill — a two-way tie for third would not have been enough — to get to Atlanta.

Yes, he still has a shot at $10 million. But it requires a little math, and Ogilvy didn’t have to work his way through the scenarios very long to realize anew that it’s a long shot at that.

“Webb Simpson must finish 17th or worse, which is probably not going to happen, you wouldn’t think,” he said, reading from a chart. “Dustin Johnson has to finish sixth or worse. Justin and Luke have to finish fourth or worse, which isn’t going to happen because Luke doesn’t finish out of the top three anymore, does he?”

That’s when he shifted to a prize that might be just as meaningful.

“I’d love to win this golf tournament,” Ogilvy said. “That would be nice because people are forgetting this is one of the tour’s special golf tournaments — The Players Championship, the Tour Championship, the Tournament of Champions. It’s still the Tour Championship, and it would be pretty special to have a Tour Championship on your mantle.

“I guess I’ll view it like that and try to win,” he said. “And if the right things happen, that would be great.”

Nick Watney knows the feeling.

A year ago, Watney narrowly got into the Tour Championship at No. 28 and was 12 shots behind going into the weekend. In the final hour, he was one shot off the lead and had a legitimate chance to win the FedEx Cup until a bogey on the 16th hole.

“I was thinking I had no chance,” Watney said. “Kuchar was leading the FedEx Cup, and he was playing so consistently. They said I had to win and he had to finish worse than 25th or something. There were so many mathematical scenarios. It was like the BCS.”

His message for the guys ranked toward the bottom of the FedEx Cup list was to think about winning — not the FedEx Cup, but a season-ending tournament that still packs some prestige.

“I think that big crystal with the dude on it is pretty special,” Watney said of the Tour Championship trophy. “The FedEx Cup is great, but I mean, there’s a lot to be said for that trophy. It gets lost in this sometimes, at least pre-tournament.”

And that’s from a guy who is No. 7 this year and has a far better chance at $10 million.

Kuchar is the only player who mathematically could capture the FedEx Cup without having won a tournament this year. That nearly happened last year with Paul Casey until he faded over the last few holes.

Adam Scott is No. 19 and thinking about only one trophy — the crystal one with the dude on it.

“It’s just a tournament for me,” Scott said when asked about his chances in the FedEx Cup. “If I go home to Australia next week being a winner at a World Golf Championship (Firestone) and the Tour Championship, I’ll be pretty proud of my year. I’m so far back, I can’t concern myself with money. But I can win the tournament. There’s only 30 guys.”

That might not be bad advice for the guys who do have better odds in the FedEx Cup.

“If you think about money, then you’re not thinking about golf,” Scott said.

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