The PGA Tour’s version of the post-season, the Playoffs for the FedEx Cup, begins this week at The Barclays at Bethpage Black in Farmindale, N.Y. Heading into the tournament, the first of the four week playoff system, it is easy to pick contenders but almost impossible to pick the eventual winner. Among the favorites is Tiger Woods, the Tour’s only three-time winner and the FedEx Cup point leader. It will be interesting to see how Woods performs in these playoffs given his disappointing performances on the weekends of this year’s majors.
While the playoff events are worth a significant amount of money, they are not the major championships. Golf’s most important competitions take place in the regular season, but are followed by a highly-compensated All-Star competition at the end, making the PGA Tour the inverse of the most professional sports. But the Tour’s playoffs have grown over time to become a system that is enjoyed by players and fans alike.
Woods spoke of trying to “relax and take it easy” during the PGA Championship, a clear indication that he was feeling the pressure like other mortal golfers. Tiger has had success on three of the four playoff venues; if he can keep his focus without psychologically wrapping himself around a tree he will be hard to beat.
The next four positions in the FedEx standings are Jason Dufner, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson. Style-wise, they are a split between steady (Dufner, Johnson) and spectacular. Team Spectacular logged two major victories this year (Watson’s Masters win and McIlroy’s at the PGA Championship), but Dufner and Z. Johnson were permanent fixtures on the leaderboards every week. Look for all of them to be in contention going into the Tour Championship at East Lake.
You’ll win big betting money trying to figure out who is going to be this year’s Bill Haas, coming from the middle of the pack to cash a life-changing check. A betting man could take a chance on Lee Westwood. He finished in 51st place in the point standings, but he only played in 11 events. He again came up short in his quest for his first major and a FedEx Cup victory would buy a lot salve for those wounds.
The fun starts on Thursday, with Woods and McIlroy paired for the first two rounds on the Bethpage Black course that hosted one of Wood’s signature victories, the 2002 U.S. Open, where he was the only player to finish under par for the week. A full 10 years later, the once precocious Woods is now the elder statesman, while McIlroy is golf’s current phenom. Expect record galleries to follow this historic twosome as they negotiate the challenging Bethpage layout; perhaps as challenging will be how to handle each other. Any head-to-head matchup between these two for the rest of their careers will be closely scrutinized for signs of where their respective games are in relation to each other in the present and, ultimately, in terms of their legacies.
Michael Williams is the contributing editor of Newschannel8 Capital Golf Weekly and Bunkershot.com, as well as a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.