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FedEx Cup Dreamin' - It All Makes Sense for a Few Players
by Tony Dear
After a number of early teething problems and the players, press, and fans' initial loathing of the competition, the FedEx Cup and the Playoffs in particular are, at last, beginning to be seen in a more favorable light.
Heck, it's actually enjoyable. Four exciting, season-ending tournaments in which the game's best players consistently slug it out for a shot at the $10 million bonus are a huge improvement on the rather lackluster conclusion to the old PGA Tour season which dragged somewhat lifelessly into November.
During Monday's telecast of the BMW Championship's weather-delayed final round, however, the Golf Channel's Steve Sands listed the scenarios that would have to occur for certain players to enter this week's Tour Championship at the top of the FedEx Cup standings. You could sense a backroom staff of math bods with dark-rimmed glasses, plaid shirts buttoned all the way to the top, and cups of extra-caffeinated coffee in their hands, had quietly calculated it all and then passed the list to Sands who read it out on-air as coherently as he could manage.
When Sands had finished, NBC's Johnny Miller gave a barely audible chuckle and said "well done," the suggestion being that a good deal of mental energy had gone into working it all out.
There's still something not quite right about that.
For the contest to be truly gripping for TV viewers, they need an instantly clear picture of how each player stands in relation to his fellow competitors, and the best (only?) way for that to happen is to adopt the system suggested by Sports Illustrated's Gary Van Sickle who says that players should keep their cumulative score going throughout the four playoffs.
After Zach Johnson had won the BMW - his tenth victory on the PGA Tour - it transpired Tiger Woods had done enough with a tie for 11th to snatch back the top spot in the standings from Henrik Stenson who tied for 33rd in Chicago and slipped 123 points behind the World No. 1.
The points have now been reset for the season finale - Woods has 2,500 to Stenson's 2,250. The next three players, all of whom will win the Cup and the cash if they go lowest at East Lake are Adam Scott (2,000), Johnson (1,800), and Matt Kuchar (1,600).
Everyone in the 30-man field does have a chance at winning it all, though. But for Dustin Johnson, in 30th place, to win the FedEx Cup he needs Woods to finish 29th or worse, Stenson to finish in a three-way tie for sixth or worse (so a two-man tie wouldn't be enough, apparently), Scott to finish tied fourth or worse, Zach Johnson tied third or worse, Kuchar a three-way tie for second or worse, and Steve Stricker, currently in sixth place, tied for second or worse.
Depending on how enjoyable you think statistics can be, playing with these scenarios can actually be quite fun.
Just imagine if Dustin Johnson did win the Tour Championship and that Woods finished 30th, Stenson 26th say, Scott 20th, Zach Johnson 18th, Stricker 12th, and that Kuchar tied for second with just one other player after Jason Dufner or Keegan Bradley or Bill Haas or Kevin Streelman or Roberto Castro missed a two-foot putt to make it a three-way tie.
Kuchar would then win the FedEx Cup, and Dustin Johnson would eventually be found in a corner of the clubhouse long after everyone else had gone home, staring off into the distance and mumbling something about bunkers and two-stroke penalties at Whistling Straits, final round 82s at the U.S. Open, out-of-bounds at Royal St. George's, and the dumb FedEx Cup - who needs $10 million, anyway? (He would have fiancée Paulina Gretzky to comfort him, though, so perhaps he'd muddle through.)
You have to think that particular sequence of events is pretty unlikely, though.
For Woods to finish 30th he would have to play badly. And while he hasn't won since the WGC Bridgestone in August, and tied for 65th at the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks ago, his recent form certainly hasn't been horrible (he still finished 4-under par in Boston, and had two 66s in his tie for 11th last week).
Likewise, there are only a couple of minor blips on Stenson's hugely impressive summer scorecard.
What's more, Woods' record at East Lake suggests that while he might not feel quite as invincible there as he does at Bay Hill, Torrey Pines, Muirfield Village, or Firestone, he is still perfectly comfortable on the course Tom Bendelow designed in 1908, Donald Ross redesigned in 1913, Rees Jones revived in 1994 and which Bobby Jones once called home. In seven Tour Championship appearances there (including three FedEx Cup playoffs), Woods has one win, three seconds and two other top-10s. His only "blemish" was a 26th-place finish in 2003.
Twenty-sixth this week could still be good enough for Woods to win his third FedEx Cup.
Defending both the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup will be Brandt Snedeker who earned $11.44 million last year after a final round 68 during which he said he had "complete confidence" in what he was doing. Sneds still has a chance of becoming the first man to win back-to-back Cup trophies but, at No. 10 in the standings, he will not only need to repeat his East Lake triumph but also rely on the top five not doing anything special.
The sentimental favorite, if indeed you can feel any sentiment for multi-millionaire golfers that experience a little misfortune once in a while, will be Jim Furyk who couldn't quite hold off the cool, unexcitable Dufner at the PGA Championship, missed out on a wild card spot on Fred Couples' Presidents Cup team by what must have been a paper-thin margin, and who wasn't able to convert an incredible 59 in the second round of the BMW Championship into his 17th PGA Tour victory.
It was Furyk though who overcame persistent rain to win the Tour Championship/FedEx Cup combo in 2010 and, judging by the weather forecast, similarly miserable conditions are expected for this week's tournament. What might also give the 43-year-old Pennsylvania native a glimmer of hope is that he is 11th in the standings heading into the tournament - the exact same position from which he plundered both prizes three years ago.
Should Furyk triumph, he'd be the second man to win the FedEx Cup by waiting until the season's final event to record his first win of the year - Bill Haas did the same in 2011 - and he'd probably feel tempted to give Couples a call to ask if he felt sure he had made the right decision in choosing not to take him to Muirfield Village.
No he wouldn't. He's not that type of guy. But talk about a late consolation.
Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it extremely difficult for him to focus on Politics, his chosen major. After leaving Liverpool, he worked as a golf instructor at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a 'player.' He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. He is a multi-award winning journalist, and edits his own website at www.bellinghamgolfer.com.
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