The FedExCup Playoffs will be contested for the seventh time beginning this month, and with a handful of events before the annual opener in the New York area, several familiar names were atop the standings.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were 1-2 following Mickelson’s triumph in the British Open, an appropriate circumstance considering the impact the two had on the creation of the Playoffs system. Matt Kuchar moved past Mickelson into 2nd after tying for 2nd in the Canadian Open, with 2012 FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker taking over 4th placed after his victory in that event, joining the three leaders as multiple winners on the PGA Tour this year
The Tour Championship, scheduled for Sept. 19-22, was played for the first time in 1987, serving as a season-ending event for the top 30 players at an outstanding venue (Pebble Beach, Harbour Town, Pinehurst, Olympic Club, Southern Hills).
The event later alternated between Champions GC in Houston and East Lake in Atlanta before East Lake became the permanent host course in 2004. Although the players strongly supported the decision to anchor the event at East Lake, the Tour Championship began to gradually lose some of its luster, primarily due to its spot on the schedule after two months of mostly second and third-tier tournaments that were overshadowed by college football and the NFL.
Mickelson began skipping the Tour Championship during its last two stops in Houston. Even though he won at East Lake in 2000, Mickelson returned to his routine of taking the last few months of the season off, bypassing the Tour Championship in both ’05 and ’06.
Woods joined Mickelson in omitting the Tour Championship from his schedule in ’06, deciding to “rest up” for two multi-million dollar appearance fee tournaments in China and Japan.
With its two brightest stars absent, PGA Tour officials quickly came to the conclusion that something had to be done to keep the Tour Championship relevant. The FedExCup Playoffs were introduced in 2007, with the Tour Championship moving from early November to late September following three Playoffs events in New York, Boston and Chicago, with the latter tournament now revolving around several sites in the Midwest.
There was some initial quibbling with both the format and the points allocation that determined who advanced to the Tour Championship and how the FedExCup champion was determined. But the idea of the Playoffs has received more and support from players, fans and media over the past seven years, with some tweaking to the format and points system quieting the early criticism.
The FedExCup Playoffs now stand as a worthy conclusion to the PGA Tour season, with the tour solving its dilemma regarding post-Tour Championship tournaments by switching to a non-calendar season beginning later this year.
The 2013 PGA Tour season will end at the Tour Championship, with the 2013-14 schedule commencing three weeks later in mid-October. All six tournaments that will be played in 2013 after the Tour Championship will carry full FedExCup points and will afford the winner an invitation to the Masters, enhancing the status of tournaments like the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island Golf Club.
Before the PGA Tour embarks on a different method of beginning its season, it will conclude a 2013 season that has not lacked for interesting story lines.
The regular season schedule concludes this month with the PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., followed by the annual stop in Greensboro, N.C. After the latter event, the top 125 players on the FedExCup points list will qualify for the Playoffs opener the following week.
The Barclays will be played at Liberty National in Jersey City, N.J., Aug. 22-25, with TPC Boston hosting the Deutsche Bank Championship Labor Day weekend. After a week off, the BMW Championship returns to Chicago at Conway Farms, before the Tour Championship wraps up the 2013 schedule.
The format is unchanged from last year, when Snedeker repeated the feats of Jim Furyk in 2010 and Bill Haas in 2011, winning the Tour Championship while also capturing the FedExCup title.
Players will retain their points from the regular season, with the first three Playoffs events carrying five times the points value of regular season non-major, non-WGC tournaments.
The top 125 on the points list will be eligible to play in the Barclays, with the fields reduced to 100 for the Deutsche Bank Championship and 70 for the BMW Championship. The top 30 advance to the Tour Championship, with the points reset after the BMW to prevent a repeat of 2008, when Vijay Singh locked up the FedExCup title simply by showing up at East Lake.
The top 5 players going into the Tour Championship are assured a FedExCup championship with a win at East Lake, but that happened for the first time last year when Snedeker won. Furyk was 15th coming into the 2010 Tour Championship, and Haas came from the 25th position to win in ’11, capitalizing on some lackluster showings by the players at the top of the standings.
With so many points available in the first three playoff Playoffs events, players can make sizeable moves up the standings provided they finish among the leaders. A majority of those in the top 30 at the outset of the Playoffs will make it to East Lake, with the other spots reserved for the relative handful of most successful players from the Playoffs.
Georgia should be well represented at East Lake, with six players in the top 30 as of the end of July. Haas, the 2011 FedExCup champion, was 7th on the point list behind emerging star Billy Horschel (5th) and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose (6th). .
There are some familiar names among the top 20 (Jason Day, Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson), along with some surprises (Kevin Streelman, a resurgent Boo Weekley, youngsters Jordan Spieth, Harris English and Ryssell Henley, and Jimmy Walker, one of the better obscure players on the tour).
Things start getting dicey around the 20th spot for advancement to East Lake, with Augusta’s Charles Howell 21st in the standings. Howell narrowly missed out on invites to the Masters and British Open this year.
Steve Stricker, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell, Zach Johnson and Charl Schwartzel were among the prominent players between 22 and 30, with Angel Cabrera, Lee Westwood, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler between 34 and 45.
Among the “name” players who have clinched spots in the Playoffs but will have to pick things up if they’re going to make it to East Lake were 2010 FedExCup champion Furyk (57), Rory McIlroy (58), Luke Donald (61), K.J. Choi (63), Sergio Garcia (64), Ian Poulter (70), Jason Dufner (78) and Ernie Els (85).
Padraig Harrington (123) and Nicolas Colsaerts (125) were just inside the number, Martin Kaymer (131) was barely outside. Winning the recent tournament in Mississippi was not enough to get Woody Austin into the top 125. He was 134 after collecting his first points of 2013.
The list of players who need a big finish or two before the regular season ends includes Tommy Gainey (135), Vijay Singh (138), Louis Oosthuizen (147), Trevor Immelman (148), Ryo Ishikawa (155), Davis Love (162), Y.E. Yang (165), David Toms (175) and Robert Allenby (180)..