Although there really are more PGA Tour events left to be played this season, despite what some outlets might lead you to believe, this will certain be the peak of 2010 for the Tour’s elite players.
Just 30 players will be on hand at the Tour Championship although only a handful will really have chance to hoist the trophy come Sunday. Some of the pros have earned their spot through a season of steady play while a few have stepped up in recent weeks to earn their chance at a $10 million FedEx Cup payout. Plus another $1.35 million for the tournament win, of course. You don’t want to forget about that “spare change.”
22 of the 30 guys you will see this week, playing over a course replete with a legacy that includes golf legends like Bobby Jones and Alexa Stirling Fraser, were actually in a top 30 position as the playoffs began.
With a two week break in the action since Dustin Johnson took down the BMW Championship in Chicago every player should be either well rested or maybe even a little rusty so this week might have a few surprises. Only five men can control completely control their bid for the Tour Championship – Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Charley Hoffman, Steve Striker, and Paul Casey. With a win at the Tour Championship they will win the FedEx Cup, no matter what any other player does.
What would not alarm many people would be a strong push to the Championship podium by Matt Kuchar. The affable man of many smiles has already made reference to East Lake more than a few times this year and what it will mean to him to play on a course where he has tallied a ton of rounds through the years. When he locked up his Tour Championship win at The Barclays he was ecstatic about the idea of the Atlanta appearance. “I’m excited. It’s been No. 1 on my goal list of what I’d like to accomplish for my year on the PGA TOUR for a number of years. I’ve wanted to get to East Lake. It’s a home game. It’s a course I know. It would be great to have friends and family to be there.”
Kuchar has had a remarkable season and win or not, the Georgia Tech alum can look back positively at a season where he posted ten top ten finishes. Whether he can contain his excitement and continue that steady play on familiar turf in front of a cordial crowd will be the question.
Another player with a similar record (but a completely different style of play) in 2010 has been Dustin Johnson who follows Kuchar into the Tour Championship in the #2 FedEx Cup Points position. Unlike Kuchar, DJ will have to rely on practice rounds to get familiar with the East Lake layout where length can be an asset (especially on the meaty par four holes) but accuracy is still a major priority. This is a course he can overpower on some holes but the presence of just two par fives (#9, #15) with the 15th reachable by all, somewhat eliminates DJ’s length advantage.
The biggest surprise of the playoffs has been Charley Hoffman who peaked at just the right time. At 77th in points as The Barclays began, his win at the Deutsch Bank Championship vaulted the 33 year-old into contention for the biggest prize in golf. His confidence in Boston did not appear to continue into Chicago where he finished tied for 30th but if he can regain his swagger he has a chance to have the biggest meteoric rise in FedEx Playoff history.
The steady horse of the Tour Championship picture is Steve Stricker who may be left standing with the crystal if the other contenders cannot keep their knickers clean and end up failing under the pressure. Stricker dipped no lower than 14th in FedEx Cup points all season and largely held a top ten position during every week. Despite the length he is comfortable at East Lake and if the championship comes down to the fewest strokes on the greens, he is an easy guy to bet on.
The player with the most to prove at the Tour Championship will be the #5 point man, Paul Casey. With Monty not choosing him as a Captain’s pick for the European Ryder Cup side it would be a big statement if he were to be the top of the PGA Tour heap by week’s end. Three top twenty-five finishes in the playoffs, including a runner-up spot at the BMW, could be avenged with strong play in Atlanta and Casey has all the tools to complete the task. If he gets in position on Sunday and keeps his head straight don’t be shocked if a certain team Captain will have some profound regrets as the Ryder Cup week begins.
Initial pairings follow the order of points so final five groupings on Thursday should provide some contrasts in styles with Laird/Mickelson, Donald, Els, Casey/Day, Hoffman/Stricker, and Kuchar/Johnson holding down the 1:15PM (EST) to 1:55 tee times. Thursday and Friday television coverage begins at 1 PM on Golf Channel while Golf Channel/NBC pick up 8 hours of coverage on Saturday and combine for 6.5 hours of programming on Sunday.
This report provided to GolfWRX.com by Flagstick Golf Magazine (www.flagstick.com)