Breaking Down the 125: 18 different ways to play for the FedEx Cup

Breaking Down the 125: 18 different ways to play for the FedEx Cup

The world could use more power rankings and odds-to-win columns. No, it really could. I can’t get enough of them. Complete subjectivity, based on an individual’s random computation of statistics, gut, history and superstition.

As the FedEx Cup Playoffs kick off this week, predicting who will win is as exact a science as picking a putting line at Chambers Bay (too soon?). Does Jeff Overton have as good of a chance as Jordan Spieth. Your head says ‘No,’ but your heart says… ‘Well, no,’ but you thought about it for a second, right?

Only one player (Billy Horschel) came from outside of the top 30 in the standings going into the playoffs to win the whole enchilada. He got on golf’s ultimate heater, making Henrik Stenson’s 2013 closeout seem mild in comparison. It was great theatre. The truth is, almost every Cup champion has been of a different breed in terms of winning it all, which means we could go in any direction when picking the makeup of a winner. Rather than do that, I decided to group all 125 players in completely subjective pods and will allow you to sort through the golfer persona before picking your champion:

The ‘Wait, I get paid bonus money AND keep my card’ group: Daniel Berger, Zach Blair, Jon Curran, Fabian Gomez, Andres Gonzalez, Adam Hadwin, Jim Herman, Carlos Ortiz, John Peterson, Scott Pinckney, Hudson Swafford, Nick Taylor, Will Wilcox

This is the gravy-train group right here. Some won’t advance past this week. Others could make a run to Chicago or even Atlanta, but let’s be real: Making your first FedEx Cup playoffs means more about the fact that there is no offseason stress. Oh, and if you MC this week and your season is done, you still pocket 70 grand in bonus money. Livin’ the high life, boys!

(Pop quiz: Two players in this group won this season. Name them in 10 seconds and I’m impressed.)

The ‘I’d send Will MacKenzie a nice Christmas card’ group: Stewart Cink, Tim Clark, Chad Collins, Erik Compton, Graham DeLaet, Luke Donald, Jason Dufner, Ken Duke, Retief Goosen, John Huh, Spencer Levin, Bryce Molder, Jeff Overton, Vijay Singh, Chris Stroud, Johnson Wagner, Steve Wheatcroft, Mark Wilson

This group is my subtle of way of pointing out who I think will be done after this week, while also expressing my sympathy for Willy Mac, whose surgery in July on his knee probably didn’t come with an expectation that he’d be outside the top 125.

Not that he was going to play anyway you’d imagine, but everybody on the list above reaps the rewards (even if they shoot 81-82 in Plainfield) that MacKenzie just missed out on.

The ‘How many tournaments are there in a season?’ group: Scott Brown, Alex Cejka, Matt Every, Chesson Hadley, James Hahn, Morgan Hoffmann, Colt Knost, Jason Kokrak, George McNeill, Troy Merritt, Kyle Reifers, Shawn Stefani, Kevin Streelman

As you scroll through the list of eligible players this playoff season, you stumble across names that stand out because you haven’t heard or seen them in a while or you slept through the week when they locked up their 2015-16 card. For many, you wonder if they actually teed it up in 2015. This isn’t a criticism, but rather a celebration of players who have maximized the wrap-around schedule, opposite-field events or great week of brilliance. For some, they’ve mastered all three.

The ‘Morgan Hoffmann’ group: Jonas Blixt, Camilo Villegas, Ryo Ishikawa, Lee Westwood

Don’t tell me the FedEx Cup doesn’t offer life-changing opportunities for players who don’t win the $10 million. A year ago, Hoffmann missed the weekend at Wyndham and was buffing his shoes for a Finals run when the points drifted his way to sneak into the playoffs. From there, he went T-9, T-35 and solo third to get to East Lake, which comes with big-boy perks. He literally went from limited status to the Masters in a month. You may say, there’s no way Blixt, Camilo, Ryo or Westwood have that type of run in them, but I counter with, did we think Morgan did last year?!

The ‘Camilo Villegas’ group: Tony Finau, Kevin Kisner, Justin Thomas

Villegas, in the new points system, would have won the 2008 FedEx Cup. Seriously, who wins the first two tournaments of their career in the playoffs?! It is hard to win on the PGA Tour, but this group has the talent to break out.

The ‘William McGirt’ group: Jason Bohn, Chad Campbell, Jason Gore, Jerry Kelly, David Hearn, William McGirt, Greg Owen, Pat Perez, Daniel Summerhays, Brendon Todd, Boo Weekley

I want to write a book about life on the PGA Tour for those who don’t fly private, and McGirt would be the star. I’m fascinated by the grind of the “average” Tour player: juggling travel, family, caddie fees and the ever-knowing fear that you could be sent back to the minors any minute. Don’t let the word average be viewed in a negative light. To have made the FedEx Cup playoffs in all five seasons, without a win, like McGirt has, is an impressive display of competent, consistent golf. McGirt, like others on the list, aren’t going to be top-10 players, but they are consummate professionals, grinding out a career that should be celebrated. This is the list you want to cheer for in making it to East Lake, especially a guy like Jason Bohn, who enters the playoffs in the 33rd position.

(I wanted to name this group after Jerry Kelly, who has made all eight previous playoffs, but yielded to the guy seeking his first win)

The ‘Geoff Ogilvy’ group: Padraig Harrington, J.J. Henry, Martin Laird, Davis Love III, Sean O’Hair, Rory Sabbatini, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, John Senden

Ogilvy was in the midst of losing status on the PGA Tour when he won in Reno last year, got into the playoffs and channeled enough veteran greatness to advance to the final 30. While some are fluttering and others have made 2015 a bit of a comeback, this is a group with nobody you think will win it all, but nobody you would be shocked to see assemble the points necessary to make it to the end. Note some of the powerful names in this group, scratch your head, and then go see where they enter the playoffs. I’m talking to you, Adam Scott, Mr. 94th.

The ‘Marc Leishman’ group: Kevin Chappell, Brendon de Jonge, Harris English, Brian Harman, Matt Jones, Russell Knox, Marc Leishman, Francesco Molinari, Brendan Steele, Cameron Tringale

Did you know that Leishman has made it to the BMW Championship each of the last six years? Not too shabby. This group is less concerned with status as they are finding a way to take the consistent step to being a perennial Tour Championship participant.

The ‘John Senden’ group: Charley Hoffman, Kevin Na, Ryan Palmer, Webb Simpson

Also in the ‘Did you know’ realm, Senden has made it to Atlanta in three of the past four years. Not too shabby for a guy with only one win in that same span. I’m not saying everybody in this group has the East Lake history that Senden does, but they do have the quiet tenacity to be there in the end.

The ‘Phil Mickelson’ group: Keegan Bradley, Charles Howell III, Hunter Mahan, Phil Mickelson, Carl Petterson, Ian Poulter, Nick Watney

Lefty missed out on the finale for the first time in his career last year, and the list of those to have made it to the end every year is as small as ever -- as in one guy: Hunter Mahan. Mahan’s spot in the club seems likely to end this year, and the other household names on this list are in that FedEx Cup purgatory where we are trying to decipher in what direction their career arc is headed.

The ‘Billy Horschel’ group: Steven Bowditch, Paul Casey, Billy Horschel, Russell Henley, Ben Martin, Patrick Reed

Guess how many top-10 finishes Horschel had on Tour last season before his T-2, Win, Win, Give-Me-$10 million run. He had two. Guess how many he has this year. Yep, two. We expect the top player in the world to have that type of run, but very few others can do what Billy did. You need the streakiest of streaky players. Question some, but look at how feast-or-famine some of those players’ years are.

But, we know they could feast. That’s the key.

The ‘Henrik Stenson’ group: Brooks Koepka, Danny Lee, David Lingmerth, Louis Oosthuizen, Scott Piercy, Henrik Stenson, Robert Streb

As we alluded to earlier, Stenson was Horschel before Billy flipped the script. But, what we forget about the Stenson postseason double in 2013 was how he had resurrected his career that season AND entered the FedEx Cup as the hottest player in the world, with three top 3s at the Open, Akron and PGA. Given both of those, this list is those who are satisfyingly hot heading to Jersey, and in position to sprint to the end.

The ‘Rory McIlroy’ group: Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson

What, Rory didn’t win the FedEx Cup in 2012? Tell me why again. Oh yeah, because we didn’t want a repeat of the 2008 Vijay Situation. I toggle back and forth on whether somebody should clinch the Cup before he ever tees it up in Atlanta. Most of the time, I support the drama. Sometimes, like in 2012, I support rewarding who the best player of the Playoffs was. No offense to Brandt Snedeker (more apologizing in a second), but Rory is my 2012 co-champ. Here are the others who have the potential to win multiple times, but get clipped at the line.

The ‘Brandt Snedeker’ group: J.B. Holmes, Chris Kirk*, Matt Kuchar, Ryan Moore, Brandt Snedeker, Jimmy Walker

As much as I felt like Rory was a little robbed by Sneds, you can’t argue with winning. Snedeker won the Tour Championship and capped off a year where he won twice -- the first time he had done that -- and inserted him into more of the golf consciousness. View it as a validation, and the greatest win of his career. Something everybody in this group would love to share.

*Hopefully healed enough to play

The ‘Bill Haas’ group: Sang-moon Bae, Bill Haas, Hideki Matsuyama, Gary Woodland

Splash! That’s what I think of when it comes to the 2011 FedEx Cup. Haas not only hit the most incredible shot from the water to seal it (and it spun!), but he also moved ahead of so many peers who were merely Tour winners, into a category that exists somewhere between winners and major winners. Like Snedeker, I’ve kept Haas in his own group because, well, they haven’t really moved on from it.

The ‘Jim Furyk’ group: Zach Johnson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia

Lost in the narrative about how Furyk’s 2010 East Lake triumph was his last win before the drought, which was finally doused at Hilton Head earlier this year, is the fact that he won three times in 2010. For somebody who already had a major title and enough professional wins to quantify a borderline Hall of Fame career, the Cup was a monumental addition to the resume. It leads to a larger discussion about what the FedEx Cup (or even the Race to Dubai) will have on how we view the legacy of golfers in, say, 20 years or so.

We no longer celebrate the money winner, or the player who enters the playoffs in first. While that certainly helps position a player for a FedEx Cup title run, it is no guarantee. You now have to have a solid season AND win a grueling stretch of tournaments. It’s not a major triumph, and it may not carry the weight of a WGC title (yet), but I get the feeling it’s moving quickly towards becoming an even bigger feather in the cap. Yes, I realize Sergio hasn’t won a major, but his Players and combined worldwide wins have him in this group. And, would a FedEx Cup be the sealer for the Hall for Sergio?

The ‘Vijay Singh’ group: Jim Furyk

Furyk has his Cup, his major and, most importantly, the monkey off his back after winning at Harbour Town. He is a veteran grinder who has survived to still be great, relevant and tough as ever. In 2008, Vijay was past his prime (the dude won 17 times between 2003 and 2005, in his 40s!) and struggling through some changes and injuries, but pulled together to march to the win in what was his great final curtain call. I just don’t think Furyk has another major in him, but it would be sweet to join Tiger in the Two-Cup Club.

The ‘Tiger Woods’ group: Jason Day, Jordan Spieth

As underrated as winning the FedEx Cup may be in its infancy, Tiger doing it twice is also underappreciated on his laundry list of career accomplishments. There have been multiple Player of the Year candidates entering the playoffs who couldn’t cap off the season. Tiger has had more opportunities than others, but he’s won it twice. Not too shabby given the volatility of the stretch. We take for granted how many times he delivered when we expected him to and focus too often on the recent examples of when he didn’t. There are two guys, right now, who we expect to win the FedEx Cup (you could make an argument for Rory, but I think the ankle zapped his 2015 belly fire). I don’t know if Jordan or Jason will win it all, and they probably won’t, but wouldn’t it be a treat to have them in the last twosome on Sunday at East Lake?

Who ya got?

About the author

Will Haskett

Will Haskett

Will Haskett has had the privilege of broadcasting basketball, football, golf, soccer, tennis, cross country, track, swimming and lacrosse on every medium and in almost 30 states. He's worked for ESPN, Westwood One, CBS, Longhorn Network, Fox Sports, Turner Sports, Sirius/XM, the PGA Tour, the NCAA, Horizon League, Butler University, IHSAA and more. He's worked the Final Four, the Masters, PGA Championship and over 100 NCAA championships in 13 different sports.