Notes: Euros show passion for playoffs

Luke Donald

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In five weeks they will put Europe first.

But for now, their passion is for America. Specifically, the cash that flows through the American PGA Tour.

At least seven (Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia and Peter Hanson), but possibly eight or nine (Ian Poulter and Padraig Harrington) members of next month’s European Ryder Cup team will be teeing it up Thursday in the FedEx Cup playoff opener, The Barclays, even as their home tour conducts the Johnnie Walker Championship in Scotland.

The Johnnie Walker would appear to be a significant tournament, given that it’s the last chance for players to earn qualifying points to make the Ryder Cup team. But the reality is this: It’s significant only for Nicolas Colsaerts, who could earn the 10th and final automatic berth on the European team that will play the U.S. on Sept. 28-30 at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club. The fact that Martin Kaymer, who presently holds down that final position, isn’t teeing it up at Gleneagles is curious, though given his miserable form of late, maybe it’s not.

While the chase for the final European spots is a natural storyline this week, it’s not enough to steer attention away from the disparity in the tournaments. Frankly, the event in Gleneagles looks like a minitour stop against the field assembled at Bethpage State Park's Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y., clear evidence that despite what critics might suggest, the playoff structure works.

Whereas The Barclays will feature 23 of the world’s top 25 players (No. 9 Jason Dufner and No. 24 Kaymer being the exceptions), there are only six players ranked within the top 50 teeing it up at Gleneagles – the highest being No. 26 Francesco Molinari. At The Barclays, the lowest-ranked player is No. 337 Jeff Maggert, but there are a whopping 16 players in the Johnnie Walker field who are ranked beyond No. 1,000.

Even when those few Middle East stops in January and February pull in the stars and put a dent in the West Coast fields, the contrast is never so stunning.

• • •

NO REUNION FOR HIM: If there is one player for whom a Barclays appearance seemed fitting, it would be Lucas Glover.

After all, he was the last man standing when the rain-plagued U.S. Open visited Bethpage Black in 2009.

Unfortunately, very little has gone right for Glover in 2012. His season started with a well-earned trip to Kapalua, thanks to a victory at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship, but he sprained his right knee while paddle-boarding and withdrew from the first two events of the year, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open.

Well off the mark in the FedEx Cup points list, Glover started with a 68 at last week’s Wyndham, his first sub-70 opening round of the year. He backed it up with a 69, but midway through Round 3, Glover, who was 4 over on his round, felt a soreness in his left knee, decided not to risk it and withdrew.

Glover will miss the playoffs for the first time, though he reportedly will be ready to tee it up in the Fall Series.

• • •

HUGE DROPOFF: Proof is everywhere that the PGA Tour is not the NBA or Major League Baseball, leagues in which guaranteed contracts keep so many happy and fat. Look no further than a trio of players – Gary Woodland, Chez Reavie and Y.E. Yang – who were part of an elite group of 30 who made it all the way to the playoff finale, the Tour Championship.

This year, all three are on the outside looking in. Woodland, plagued by injuries most of the year, went from 10th in FedEx Cup points a year ago to 134. Yang (43rd to 127th) and Reavie (76th to 132nd) also failed to crack the top 125, so like Woodland they will be sitting out the playoffs.

• • •

ALSO ON THE BENCH: Among the notables who fell outside the top 125 in FedEx Cup points were a handful who, like Glover, will be missing the playoffs for the first time: Stewart Cink, Camilo Villegas, D.J. Trahan, Retief Goosen and Vaughn Taylor. (Anthony Kim, too, though he put himself on the sidelines with an injury.)

Villegas’ slide has been steady. Having ranked 52nd, 42nd, 35th and 15th, respectively, in regular-season FedEx Cup points since 2007, he was 109th a year ago and 148th this season.

• • •

SOME OTHER TUMBLES: Nick Watney will be in the playoffs, but he, too, fell off dramatically. From No. 1 in regular-season points in 2011, Watney crashed to No. 49 this year. Others who finished much lower in the FedEx Cup standings than a year ago:

Player, 2011, 2012, spots lost

Jason Day, 14, 113, 99

Tommy Gainey, 30, 102, 72

K.J. Choi, 7, 77, 70

David Toms, 9, 69, 60

Rory Sabbatini, 23, 73, 50

D.A. Points, 27, 52, 25

• • •

BETHPAGE BLUES? Certainly not for Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia, each of whom has played very well in the two U.S. Opens held there. In 2002, of course, Woods won, finishing three clear of Mickelson, while Garcia wound up fourth.

Mickelson also was second in 2009, two behind Lucas Glover. Woods was T-6 that summer, while Garcia finished T-10.

In those eight rounds of U.S. Open play at Bethpage Black, Woods broke par 70 five times, Mickelson three, Garcia twice. Woods was 3 under total, Mickelson 2 under, Garcia 5 over.

Unlike the USGA, which has never seen a par 5 it couldn’t write off as a par 4, the PGA Tour will give the lads a scoring opportunity at Bethpage Black for this week’s Barclays, making it a par 71. The seventh will be set up as a 550-yard par 5; in 2002 and 2009 for those U.S. Opens, it was a 500-yard par 4.

• • •

CURIOSITIES REMAIN: Seven years in and there still are some peculiarities to this FedEx Cup points list.

For instance, those who rank 105th (Jhonattan Vegas), 112th (Brendan Steele), and 122nd (David Mathis) on the money list are not in the playoffs, because they sit outside the top 125 in FEC points. But Heath Slocum, No. 142nd on the money list, is in, having finished 124th in points.

Then there’s Colt Knost, whose season you might think has been spotty, given that he’s earned just $64,645 over his last 15 tournaments. Yet he’s in the playoffs. How did that happen?

Well, the distribution gives more points the higher you finish, and Knost’s solo third at the RBC Heritage was worth 190 FEC points. That’s pretty much the difference to his playoff spot over Steele, whose best finish was a T-4 at Valero that was worth 108.75; or Vegas, whose T-4 at the AT & T National was also worth 108.75. At the end of the process, Knost had 390 total points, 29 more than Vegas and 56 more than Steele; when you consider that Knost had an 81.25 edge over Vegas and Steele based on their best finishes, you realize that finishing third is exponentially better than being T-4.

Slocum truly stumbled into the playoffs. When he pushed to 12 under in the final round of the Wyndham, he was T-10 and safely inside the top 125 in FEC points. But he played his last seven holes in 5 over and wound up T-37. That was worth 37.5 FEC points, a mere four more than Vegas, who got consequently got knocked outside the top 125.

Had Slocum been one shot higher, he would have received just 30 FEC points and Vegas would have earned the 125th spot.

• • •

GEE, WHAT A SHOCK: In the never-ending quest to find new angles to the Augusta-names-two-women-members story, 2012 Masters champ Bubba Watson was asked if he had any inkling of the move, given that he was in the company of club officials during the green jacket ceremony.

“No, I had no idea,” Watson said.

It’s probably a safe bet that men who are the leaders of industry and deal with decisions on a daily business that shape our nation don’t consider Bubba Watson someone with whom they need confide.

• • •

WANT PROOF THAT TIMES HAVE CHANGED? That’s Colin Montgomerie sitting in spot No. 510 in the world order – three positions behind Edouard Dubois.

• • •

FOLLOWING FOOTSTEPS FROM HORSEHEADS: While Joey Sindelar was closing with a 66 to finish T-2 at his hometown event, the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in Endicott, N.Y., his son Jamie was finishing joint fifth in his pro debut. Choosing to leave Ohio State before his senior year, Jamie Sindelar declared his pro status after finishing runner-up in the recent New York State Amateur. In an NGA Tour tournament in Conover, N.C., Sindelar earned $5,640. Of course, the fact that his dad earned $98,550 for his share of second is the sort of prize that motivates the youngster.

• • •

OTHER FAMILIAR NAMES: Jay Haas Jr. took a break from caddieing for his brother Bill to play in an eGolf Professional Tour stop in Aiken, S.C. Still invested in his own playing career, Jay Jr. finished in a share of 25th. . . . Rick Cochran, son of Russ, is fourth on the NGA Tour money list. Tyson Alexander, the former Florida standout where he played for his father, Buddy, is sixth. . . . The puzzlement of one-time U.S. Amateur winner David Gossett continues. He has missed the cut in eight of his nine starts on the NGA Tour.

• • •

FABLED VENUE RETURNS IN 2013: Are we talking about Merion? Well, sure, that’s going to be interesting. But the very next week (June 21-23), the Champions Tour will set up shop at North Shoree Country Club in Glenview, Ill., a Harry Colt design that has been held in high esteem for years.

The Encompass Championship will be a pro-am format for Friday and Saturday, with the pros paired with amateurs and celebrities.

North Shore hosted the 1933 U.S. Open and U.S. Amateurs in 1939 and 1983.

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