By Stanley Kosinski
There’s no shortage of story lines this week at the Tour Championship, the PGA Tour’s Playoff finale that will make one of the season’s top-30 finishers $10 million richer.
The Tour Championship is played at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga., Bobby Jones’ home course that will turn 100 next year and has hosted the last nine Tour Championships. It is a true test of golf — an old-style course where driving is at a premium and hitting greens is a must. Since East Lake’s change from bent grass to bermuda grass in 2008, the lowest score at the par-70, 7,319- yard layout has been Phil Mickelson’s score of 9-under in 2009. So unlike the last two events, where Rory McIlroy has won with scores of 20-under, pars will be at a premium this week.
But the life-changing money at stake in the final stage of the FedExCup and the historic golf course that it is played on shouldn’t overshadow one of the biggest stories of the week, that is, just how hard it is for even the most accomplished players in the world to make it into the Tour Championship.
Kyle Stanley, who won the 2012 Waste Management Open, missed the top-30 by seven FedExCup points, finishing his season ranked No. 31 in the standings. Last year’s $10-million man, 2011 FedEx Cup Champion Bill Haas, will not defend his title after finishing 32nd in the standings after the BMW Championship. And after leading the BMW Championship for three rounds, a poor finish by Vijay Singh led to him missing out the Tour Championship — he finished in the 33rd position.
European stalwarts Ian Poulter, Padraig Harrington, and Graeme McDowell also failed to qualify for the Tour Championship, finishing in 39th, 42nd and 43rd place respectively. 2011 Masters Champion Charl Schwartzell fell short as well, finishing in 61st place. And 2011 Players Champion K.J. Choi, who finished in 98th place, and Y.E. Yang, the 2009 PGA Champion, won’t be at East Lake this week either.
Amazingly, only three golfers — Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Hunter Mahan have qualified for every FedExCup finale since the PGA Tour Playoff system began in 2007. It would take a lot of good fortune for Stricker (No. 13) and Mahan (No. 23) to contend this week at East Lake, but Mickelson, who is ranked fourth going into the event, is one of the top-5 ranked players who controls his own destiny at the Tour Championsip.
Mickelson, like McIlroy, Woods, Watney and Snedeker, would win the FedExCup if they were to win the tournament. History is on his side as well — Mickelson finished 3rd in 2007 behind Stricker and Woods and 2nd in 2009 behind Woods.