By Pete Pappas
GolfWRX Staff Writer
The Wyndham Championship is the final stop for the PGA Tour regular season this week. But a crowd of noteworthy competitors is still frantically scrambling to gain admission to the Tour’s FedExCup Playoffs, which begin next week with The Barclays at Bethpage. So when the gates close Sunday evening at Wyndham’s Sedgefield Country Club, you better not be on the outside looking in, or it’s “wait until next year.”
Reigning Wyndham champion and 2012 U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson is in Greensboro, NC to defend his title, and will be grouped with Carl Pettersson (who’s controversial two-stroke penalty derailed the Swede’s efforts to chase down PGA Champion Rory McIlroy last week at Kiawah), and Davis Love III (this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup captain; and currently ranked 119th in the FedExCup standings).
Last year at Wyndham, Simpson broke out with his first career Tour title, winning by three-strokes thanks to steady weekend play (including a bogey-free final round).
“I really couldn’t think of a better place to win than here in Greensboro,” Simpson said afterwards of his “home-state” maiden victory.
Simpson went on to win the Deutche Bank Championship (the second FedExCup PLAYOFFS event), but fell short in the Tour Championship two weeks later. Simpson would however finish second overall in the final standings behind eventual 2011 FedExCup champion Bill Haas (whose brilliant 17th hole greenside save with his ball submerged in a water hazard was one of the most unforgettable moments in PGA Tour Playoff history).
Among the swarm of flag hunters vying for Sedgefield supremacy this week — seven past Wyndham winners, eight tournament winners this season, and 12 major winners are all looking to keep their seasons alive.
Simpson currently ranks 13th in the FedExCup standings by virtue of his U.S. Open victory and six top-10 finishes, and comes in as the field’s highest ranked player in the Official World Golf Rankings (No. 5).
The only other player at Greensboro inside the World top-10 is Jason Dufner (No. 9), and he’s excited to be here.
“Sedgefield is a terrific layout, and I think the course will be even better with new Bermuda greens,” Dufner said. “It’s going to be a great week.
Dufner is one of just five players on Tour with multiple wins this season, and looked very impressive picking up titles earlier this season at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and HP Byron Nelson Championship. He currently ranks third in the FedExCup standings.
Meanwhile, former Wyndham champion Brandt Snedeker currently ranks 23rd in the FedExCup standings on the strength of his win at the Farmers Insurance Open and T-3 finish at the British Open. Wyndham was Snedeker’s first victory on Tour in 2007, helping him earn “Rookie of the Year” honors.
The top 125 players in the FedExCup standings will move on to Bethpage, and high-profile names conspicuously on the wrong side of 125 entering play this week in Greensboro include Y.E. Yang (129), Gary Woodland (130), John Daly (137), and Camilo Villegas (146).
It still seems like just yesterday that an excited Yang celebrated winning the 91st PGA Championship by spontaneously military pressing his tour bag. The South Korean erased a two-shot final round deficit for his first and only major, and handed Tiger Woods his first blown 54-hole major lead in the process.
Although Woodland has yet to taste major victory (or even finish inside the top-10 at a major for that matter), his 2011 Transitions Championship victory by one-stroke over Simpson put him on the Tour map. This season, however, Woodland has struggled. In 18 starts he’s yet to finish higher than 24th, and has missed four cuts (with two coming consecutively, including one at the U.S. Open).
Two-time major champion Daly remains one of the most polarizing figures in golf, and “The Lion” comes in to Sedgefield with a “mini-roar” four top-20 finishes in his last seven starts. In the last two weeks alone he’s moved up 26 spots in the FedExCup standings. But Daly has never finished inside the top-40 at Wyndham, and he’ll have to do that if he plans to be around for the Barclays.
And Villegas rose to rock-star status almost overnight with his first two Tour victories coming in back-to-back 2008 FedExCup events (the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship). “Hombre Arana” has 10 career top-10s in the PLAYOFFS, however a poor season thus far (with a T-18 best finish) has left Villegas fighting just to keep his card (a testament to how deep the well of talent runs on Tour – and how quickly fortune can turn).
Following the coronation of an Irish King in America at the PGA Championship last week is a tough act for Wyndham to follow. But Greensboro is the final frenzied push for a chance at the most lucrative payout on Tour. And that means for anyone not named Rory; it’s time to go for broke.
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