Queue the Rocky music…get the eye black on…head butt a few lockers…do whatever else it is you do because it’s playoff time baby! Now in the fourth go ‘round I think we can all agree that this playoff season will definitely be unlike any we’ve seen yet, the points list still chalked full of world class players, the season long points race is over and now it’s time to pick it up a notch as we look to crown a champion.
The 2010 FedEx Cup is a wide open race for sure, with a wide variety of players toward the top and a revamped points system last year, any player fortunate enough to play his way into the first event could get hot at the right time and win it all. Two time winner and defending FedEx Cup champion Tiger Woods is fresh off a divorce and is currently sitting at 112 on the points list, two points behind Champions Tour player Corey Pavin…wow. The only other player to hoist a FedEx Cup is Vijay Singh and he currently stands 65th on the points list, neither player it out of the running just yet, but we’re going to have to see something special out of either of those guys if they want to keep us from having a brand new champ in 2010. Some people are still critics of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, I’m a fan and I’ll tell you why; normally after the PGA Championship we see most of the top players checking out for the remainder of the season. Not anymore, with nobody stepping out talking about skipping events (except Jim Furyk, ouch!) I think we’re really in for a great Playoffs in 2010, why don’t we take a look at what we have coming up and see if we can sort out what will prove to be a playoff season like none we’ve had before.
Players carry over their accumulated FedEx Cup points from the regular season, but points in the Playoffs are worth five times as much as points distributed at the majority of TOUR events. For instance, the winner of each event will receive 2,500 points, not 500. That means players who perform well in the Playoffs can move up quickly in the standings. Last year, Heath Slocum began the Playoffs next-to-last in points, but thanks to his 2,500 points in winning The Barclays, he moved up to third in the standings and eventually finished eighth. Looking at the bottom of the ranking this year I see 2 guys and 2 guys only that I think can pull another “Heath Slocum” this year, first of course is Tiger Woods, he has a good track record at The Barclays and sure he could somehow put everything behind him and finally play the golf we all know he’s capable of, but with news of the divorce just breaking this week don’t bank on it. Tiger will be happy to play his way onto next week’s Deutsche Bank Championship, so he’s out. The other guy, how about number 121 on the list- Kevin Stadler? Stadler has 4 top 10s this season, a career best, he also has 6 top 25 finishes, again tied for a career best. Stadler however is coming off of 4 straight MC showings so that throws his name out of the mix as well. OK fine, I’ll admit it, if there is a Cinderella story out there I can’t find it so I’m going to go with someone who’s played solid all season.
Right now there are 5 guys on the PGA TOUR with 2 wins a piece this year, Ernie Els (1st), Steve Stricker, (2nd), Jim Furyk (3rd), Justin Rose (5th), and Hunter Mahan (7th). In the previous 3 FedEx Cup playoffs Tiger Woods lead going in with win totals of 5 (2007), 4 (2008), and 6 (2009) wins respectively, the fact that nobody else has mounted any kind of winning streak this year tell us that anyone who gets hot right now will have a great chance of winning the FedEx Cup. Guys in the top 10 with a single win to their credit this year are Phil Mickelson (4th), Bubba Watson (8th), and Tim Clark (10th). If either of those guys with a win already under their belt this year can pull off a win early on in the Playoffs they’ll be tough to beat. Jeff Overton and Matt Kuchar both find themselves in the top 10 despite not winning a single event. Both guys have been a study of consistency most of the season and both have earned themselves a spot on the Ryder Cup team this year, if either guy wants to win the FedEx Cup though it is time to knock down that door and get a win to go along with all those high finishes.
So the formula for success in the Playoffs seems to be a 3 piece puzzle. 1. You have to be playing hot right now, 2. You have to be consistent, and 3. You have to know how to win, and while we’re at it you should know how to win on a tough course. Sure all the courses are tough on the PGA TOUR but these next 4 tracks are especially demanding. Last criteria is that the winner will come from someone inside the top 20 going into The Barclays, I just can’t see anyone from outside 20th winning. It’s time to start cutting down the list of contenders and first to go is Jim Furyk, hitting the snooze button a few too many times and missing the Pro-Am prior to the Barclays earned Furyk a week off in his getting DQ’d from the first Playoff event, tough break. We said earlier that you have to be hot right now to win the FedEx Cup so with that being said we can scratch Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Tim Clark, Ben Crane, Bo Van Pelt, and Anthony Kim. Some of the guys have had decent enough showings but nothing that would indicate that they are ready to win the FedEx Cup, thanks for playing guys. Next is that you have to be able to win, this kicks Jeff Overton, Matt Kuchar, JB Holmes, Rickie Fowler, and Robert Allenby off our list. Being able to play solid in major championships is another thing our 2010 FedEx Cup winner will need to have, based on that we can cut Hunter Mahan, a good finish at the Masters helps but a MC at the U.S. Open and not cracking the top 30 at the PGA or British gets rid of Hunter. This is also where we say good bye to PGA Championship runner up Bubba Watson, the long hitting Watson missed the cut in his only other major appearance (British Open) in 2010 so now that he’s got himself in all 4 majors next year maybe he can make a run. We’re down to our final four: Steve Sticker, Dustin Johnson, Camilo Villegas, and Zach Johnson.
OK, here we go the final four! Each guy has won in 2010, and each guy has played consistent and shown that they can play well at tough venues. Here is where we’ll really have to start splitting hairs to get through this and find our champion. Sticking with the theme of play in major championships in 2010 it is time to say goodbye to Steve Stricker, sure like the other final four guys he made the cut in each of them but with finishes of 30th, 58th, 55th, and 18th he is the only one that failed to at least crack the top 10 at a single one. Next to go is Camilo Villegas, the ladies favorite on our list for sure Villegas has to go based on his relative slip down the list as of late. Camilo had as good of start to the season as anyone and really jumped out to an early lead in the FedEx Cup points race but since his win at the Honda Classic in March we’ve only seen him crack the top 10 a total of 3 times. While not missing many cuts helped him continue to earn points he just wasn’t finishing high enough to really impress me finishing up his 2010 season.
And then there were 2. Dustin Johnson and Zach Johnson. Perhaps you missed my first point, you had to have the last name of Johnson….maybe not.
If we’re giving the FedEx Cup away based on major finishes alone then the nod has to go to Dustin despite Zach having a Masters win on his resume, but we are talking 2010 here and Dustin Johnson has played the majors outstanding all year. While he has experienced by far the most heart break in the majors this year he has also displayed some steady play that leads me to believe that it will not be long until Dustin Johnson claims a major victory of his own. Zach Johnson on the other hand just had 1 top 10 finish in a major this year, that coming at the PGA where he finished just a single stroke out of the playoff between Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer. As I said earlier, when we get down this far we’re really splitting hairs as to who to eliminate. I hate to do it but I just can’t give the nod to Dustin Johnson after what he has recently experienced at the PGA Championship, some call it a bad break, others call it a bad rule, and yet others like me call it a bad mistake on Johnson’s part. Whatever it is you call it you have to agree that having to continually talk about it and retell the story has to be exhausting and I just think it will take too much of his focus for him to finish atop the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Congratulations to Zach Johnson, you just earned yourself the honor of being cursed by THP! Zach Johnson has displayed steady play all year long, winning at Colonial at the end of May showed everyone he can win at a very difficult venue and his T3 finish at the PGA showed that his game is sharp right now and that is ultimately what will help him as he goes on to claim the 2010 FedEx Cup. Regardless of how completely horrible my prediction ends up being we can all agree on one thing, the FedEx Cup Playoffs gives us 4 events with the best players in the world all competing at a point in the season when most of them are on a boat fishing somewhere, for that reason alone I am a firm believer in the Playoff format that the PGA TOUR has come up with and I’ll be tuned in to each and every event the rest of the way through the season! Good luck to all the players involved, I expect it to be quite a show!