FedEx Cup Preview

It has been quite an exciting season on the PGA Tour. Just looking back at some of the highlights of the year could be quite a story of its own. We’ve had a record number of rookies win on Tour this year. It really seems to be a changing of the guard kind of a season if you ask me. Tiger Woods had dominated for so long and we’re finally starting to see those young kids who grew up watching him play, and wow are these kids good! Another name that seems to be missing from the winner circle on a consistent basis is Phil Mickelson, sure Lefty did notch a win at the Shell Houston Open, but even in the days of Woods’ domination it seemed that Phil was always good for about 3 wins a year. Perhaps the fields are just too deep now and seasons like Vijay winning 9 times are simply not going to happen anymore. Well, call it what you want, but I call it dramatic and exciting. I love the new PGA Tour and I cannot wait for the FedEx Cup Playoffs to kick in.

The playoffs start this week at The Barclays without any one clear cut favorite. We’ve only had 5 guys notch multiple wins this year with 2 wins each. As I said earlier, the rookie class has notched more wins than any rookie class before and it seems every week a new name shows up on the leader boards trying to make it to the top. Several guys have multiple top 10s. Maybe they’d be a decent pick to win the $10 million at the Tour Championship, or heck, the way things have gone all year long we just might see yet another rising young star step up and surprise us all. You’re in luck because I just happen to have the formula here and I’m going to tell you all right here and now who will win the FedEx Cup.

Contenders or pretenders?

Let’s start narrowing this down a little bit. The playoffs start with the top 125 competing this week at The Barclays but I’ll be honest, nowhere near that many guys have a shot at winning. If you’re going to win the FedEx Cup you’ll have to be in form all season long, we’ve seen in the past how guys can make a big move with a win early, but as Heath Slocum showed us a couple years back, the surprises like that are fun, but as Slocum showed, they’ll eventually run out of steam toward the end. In the 4 year history of the FedEx Cup we’ve seen winners come from guys inside the top 7 in the regular season final standings. Just because of the sheer depth of the fields these days, though, I’m not prepared to cut everyone out who’s not currently at 7th or more. Let’s cut it off at the top 15.

15 guys left

Alright, now we’re down to a more manageable number with our 15 remaining players. Before we can go any further, unfortunately, it’s time to say so long to one of my favorite guys on the PGA Tour, Bubba Watson. Bubba had a great run there for a little while but he hasn’t done much of anything since winning the Zurich Classic of New Orleans back at the beginning of May. It seems like something happened with Bubba, not really sure what, but he has made mention of having some mental hurdles to get over. Hopefully he can do that and get back out there notching wins again really soon. He’s fun to watch.

Now is also the last stop for a couple of those guys who notched tons of high finishes but never quite got the job done and we know that it’s going to take at least 1 and maybe 2 wins in these last 4 events to hoist that cup. Bill Haas and Jason Day please find the nearest exit, thanks for the fun guys. I expect to see much more of both players in the future.

Mark Wilson is not going to win the 2011 FedEx Cup either, sorry. Talk about a great start of the season though; it looked like he was destined to have a year for the record books. Wilson had 2 wins under his belt while most of the country was still under snow. Once the temperatures heated up though it seems as if Wilson’s game cooled off. He still managed a very solid year, but just not the kind of year that will see him winning the FedEx Cup at the end.

K.J. Choi please pick up the white courtesy phone, your car is here to pick you up. Choi has put together a pretty solid year for sure. His win at the Players was both solid and very impressive and he has done well to notch some pretty good finishes throughout the rest of the season as well, but in the last 2 months he seems to be trending the wrong direction. If there’s a time to be playing your best golf it’s right now. Good run K.J!

The top 10

Now it’s going to start getting pretty tough. The guys left have shown that they can play solid and consistent golf throughout most of the season and they’ve also proven that they can step up and win when it counts. We’ve got to keep on making cuts though, let’s carry on.

Webb Simpson is a good young player who really has shown that he is a steady golfer. He also showed us that he can get the job done with his win last week at the Wyndham Championship. That was his first ever PGA Tour win and the fact that it came right before a very tough stretch like the playoffs is the reason I’m pulling his card now. I think he has the game and the mentality to get it done, but that win could have come a few weeks earlier to give him time to get his mind back on golf and ready to contend in the playoffs.

Matt Kuchar is next to have to step off this train. I was hesitant to kick him off at this point, in this very preview article last year he was one of my first guys gone and he promptly comes out and wins The Barclays and cements himself as a contender. I would like to think he can do it again and he’s showing his game is steady, but with once again 0 wins going into the playoffs I just have a hard time keeping Kuch around. I hope I’m wrong with this one.

Gary Woodland and David Toms could not be much more opposite as far as their strengths on the golf course, Woodland is what some call the longest in the game and I am pretty sure that I could out drive David Toms. The fact is that they both had great seasons. Woodland with his outstanding rookie year and David Toms with a heck of a great resurgence made the PGA Tour a lot of fun to watch. Each week we had the veterans tangling with these young guns and each side definitely got their fair share of shots in. Great season for both of them, but unfortunately this is their last stop. Good luck in 2012 boys!

Well this next paragraph is going to be hard for me. As much as my heart wants to take over and declare that Phil Mickelson will be the winner of the FedEx Cup playoffs it just simply won’t happen. Let’s rewind to the beginning of the year for a second. People were saying that Mickelson was going to struggle this year because of his lack of drive, I don’t think they were talking about his occasional wayward driver shot either. Well Phil proved everyone wrong with a very solid start to 2011 that included a pair of top 10s and a win before the Masters. After that point Phil just sort of prodded along with mediocre (by his standards) play until a T2 that nobody saw coming at the British Open. It was definitely an average season in the majors for Phil Mickelson and something is telling me that we’ll see that continue the rest of 2011. Sure he’ll make it to the Tour Championship, but I just can’t pick him to win it all.

Top 5

Nick Watney, Steve Stricker, Luke Donald, Keegan Bradley and Adam Scott. This is really starting to get tough but my formula will not fail…trust me.

Keegan Bradley, unfortunately young man it’s time for you to check out of this list. Talk about a breath of fresh air on the PGA Tour. Remember when rookies just showed up on Tour and tried not to get in the veterans way and hopefully they made enough money to keep their card? Now rookies get out there with the big boys and they are cocky and ready to win. Keegan Bradley has virtually locked up the Rookie of the Year award and could even garner some Player of the Year nods as well. When he won the HP Byron Nelson Championship everyone was impressed but we kind of knew it was coming, he is very talented and for him to notch a win early in his career was not that big of a shock. When he played his way onto the leader board at the PGA Championship again people were impressed, but definitely not shocked. He made a triple bogey 6 on the par 3 15th hole and it looked as if his chances washed out with his golf ball as it went bouncing across that green into the water. Again, people were not shocked, they sort of expected it. What they didn’t expect though was the young rookie to go out and birdie 2 of the last 3 holes to come from 5 down with 3 to play to force a playoff before eventually going on to win a major in his first try. That showed me something and I know without a doubt that Keegan Bradley is no flash in the pan; he’s legit and will contend on the PGA Tour for a long time. I just can’t pick him to win the FedEx Cup this year, maybe next year though.

It seems like Adam Scott might have finally turned into the player we all thought he would be about 6 or 7 years ago. He and his new caddie will definitely be a popular pick in the playoffs but when studying his results in 2011 there’s one thing that jumps out at me that the other guys left just don’t have. Missed cuts. Sure he’s only got 4 of them but one of those MCs is at a major and a missed cut in any of these next events would just spell disaster for someone trying to get enough points to win the FedEx Cup. I like where his game is at right now, but as I said earlier, the guy who will win has to have shown consistency and that killer instinct to get the win when it’s close. Adam let his best chance to win the Masters slip through his fingers and a couple missed cuts in some big events just tells me that he’s not quite sharp enough to pull it off.

And then there were 3

If I said to you nobody has been more consistent than _________ in 2011 you could easily put in any of these last 3 guys and you’d be 100% correct. We’re down to the point where the formula is done, it’s all about a gut feeling and picking the guy who has shown the most all season long. We’re splitting hairs at this point, but let’s get this thing done.

Steve Stricker has 0 missed cuts this entire year and he has no finish worse than his T33 finish at the WGC Match Play early in the season. Match play can be pretty flukey at times so let’s throw that one out; his next worse finish is T29th! Stricker has 13 top 18 finishes in his 15 events in 2011. 2 wins, 5 top 10s and a season that has to feel pretty good to the old veteran, especially when all the young guns are coming out firing the way they are. Some critics will say his wins haven’t been against the best fields in golf and I can’t really argue with that. If Stricker can get a win in the first couple of playoff events we very well could see the khaki crusader hoisting the FedEx Cup at East Lake in Atlanta.

Luke Donald only has 1 win on the PGA Tour in 2011; can someone please tell me how that is possible? Luke is in contention just about every single week but the complete annihilation of the field at the WGC Match Play was the only time he actually raised a trophy. Donald lost in a playoff to Brandt Snedeker at Harbour Town and again finished T2 at the WGC Bridgestone a few weeks back but man it just seems like he should have more wins. One look at Luke Donald’s season does show that he seems to play well in fields stacked with talent. His MC at the British and his T45 at the US Open weren’t great but he has T8 or better finishes in events like The Masters, The Players and The PGA so Luke can definitely get it done. Had Jim Furyk not made that up and down from the bunker on the 72nd hole last year Luke would be the defending FedEx Cup champion, so he knows how to get it done in the playoffs as well.

Nick Watney comes into the playoffs with the top spot and he definitely deserves it. He has played some solid golf all season long and notching 2 wins on tough tracks such as Doral (WGC Cadillac Championship) and Aronimink (AT&T) has definitely been pretty impressive. One thing that jumps out and scares me about taking Watney though is his 3 MCs in major championships this year. What is up with that? His last time out was a pretty solid T12 showing at the PGA Championship and the man does have 8 top 10 finishes along with 13 top 25s so we know he’s held good form all season long.

And the winner is…

I easily could have gone out and found some bold prediction like taking Cameron Tringale as my winner, if I somehow got lucky I could claim to be the smartest man alive. If he crashed and burned I could just laugh it off as a failed dark horse pick. But instead I wanted to go through the field and point out the guy with the best chance at winning the 2011 FedEx Cup. Watney is out, too many MCs in some big events has me too scared to take him so it’s down to Stricker or Donald and I’m going to go with Luke on this one. Sure he’s #1 in the world and he hasn’t won anything but since there are no majors in the FedEx Cup playoffs I really think that Luke Donald is going to show up and get the job done. I know I dismissed Adam Scott for lacking the killer instinct when a win was close and Luke can definitely be accused of the same thing but I’m going with my guy on this one. He has been rock solid all season long and I think a FedEx Cup title will go a long ways toward validating the world’s number one player. He came so close last year and I think we’re going to see that same sort of success in 2011. Luke Donald, your 2011 FedEx Cup Champion!

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Jason Kunze
Jason is a busy husband and father of 2 daughters who are both just starting to take up the game that he has loved for years. Golf is his passion, when Jason is not playing golf and testing equipment he's hanging out with all his friends on the THP forum discussing every aspect of this great game.