Ten years after the PGA Tour introduced a playoff format to generate more buzz at the end of the golf season, the 2017 FedEx Cup Playoffs are here. Who’s excited?!
Even with looming schedule changes to avoid football, the playoffs have delivered on the marquee. Tiger won it twice. Spieth has one. Rory has one. The tournaments, for the most part, have been really good too.
As the PGA Tour’s best battle each other, the organization battles to get your attention. With The Northern Trust set to tee off on Thursday, here is a primer for the four-week dash to the finish line.
The Favorites – Outside of Billy Horschel in 2014 and Bill Haas in 2011, the cream has generally risen to the top of the rankings to crown winners. The odds are probably better to pick somebody outside of the top three in the current FedEx Cup standings, but a battle between Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth would be a sweet cherry on top of the year. One has to wonder if the scar tissue from Matsuyama’s PGA Championship finish will create a hangover. Spieth and Thomas duel for the trophy? Yes, please!
The Challengers – The three listed above are battling for Player of the Year honors, but a hot player can always come through (see Henrik Stenson in 2013 or Rory McIlroy last year) to earn a big pay day. Would a Rickie Fowler win salvage some big win PR? How about Patrick Reed off his first top-10 in a major? Paul Casey made a run last year, has made 16 straight cuts entering the playoffs and has been lurking. Oh yeah, Stenson won last weekend too.
Who’s Out – It was fun to watch J.J. Henry snag the last spot in the playoffs on Sunday. It came at the expense of Zac Blair, but did you know who else missed out? Ryan Palmer, Smylie Kaufman, Jim Furyk, Hunter Mahan and ‘Beef’ Johnston all failed to make the top 125. Golf is hard.
Motivated Earners – No, not FedEx Cup points, but points and prestige in advance of the Presidents Cup. The top 10 in points after the second playoff event will make the team. Reed is No. 9, Charley Hoffman is on the bubble and Kevin Chappell is No. 11 for the U.S. Chappell doesn’t seem like a captain’s pick, so he can play his way in. There are some talented, experienced names from 12-20, including likely pick Phil Mickelson.
On the international side, where world golf ranking determines the 10 automatic spots, there is less wiggle room. Adam Hadwin is hanging on to the 10th spot with two weeks to go and laboring with his game. It could be interesting to track his play in New York and Boston.
Player of the Year – As mentioned above, it appears to be a three-player race. Matsuyama’s WGC win helps keep him engaged with the major winners of Spieth and Thomas. However, what if Brooks Koepka or Sergio Garcia win a couple of times, including at East Lake? Thomas is a nose ahead of the field right now, but unlike the last two years, there is no guaranteed player of the year entering the postseason.