In the FedEx Cup’s 10-year history, only two of the champions have entered the playoffs outside of the top 19 in the standings. One was Rory McIlroy, who began the first leg of the playoffs a season ago in 36th place.
We all know what happened next, even after his so-so, T-31 finish in The Northern Trust at Bethpage Black, the Northern Irishman ripped off two victories, including one in incredible fashion at East Lake to win the FedEx Cup. Rory’s run of form further proved that it’s still anybody’s ballgame if you can get into the playoffs.
There was no better example of this than Billy Horschel, who entered the 2014 playoffs sitting at 69th. After missing the cut in the first leg, Horschel went on to finish T-2 at TPC Boston, then won the final two events and capture the FedEx Cup.
With the way the trio of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson are currently playing, a Horschel or McIlroy-esque run from someone seems increasingly unlikely. But a strong performance at the BMW Championship, plus the reseeding of points at the Tour Championship, still gives plenty of players an opportunity to take a shot at the crown. Who could be this season’s Billy Horschel or Rory McIlroy? Here are a few candidates:
Standing entering the playoffs: 32nd
Rose went through a bit of a slump after his runner-up finish to Sergio Garcia at the Masters, failing to register a finish any higher than T-54 in his next six events on the PGA Tour, as well as missing cuts at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. But he's found some form in the playoffs, finishing T-10 in each of the first two events to move inside the top 20 and well within striking distance of the FedEx Cup leaders. A strong finish this week at Conway Farms, where he tied for 13th in 2015, will give him legitimate chance to win the whole thing at the TOUR Championship. In the last five years at East Lake, Rose has finished sixth or better four times.
Standing entering the playoffs: 38th
If anyone knows how to turn it on late in the season, it's Reed. His first PGA Tour victory came in the season's final event in 2013 at the Wyndham Championship. In 2014, he finished T-9 at The Northern Trust, T-19 at the TOUR Championship, and then strutted all over Gleneagles, acting as the lone bright spot for the U.S. team in the Ryder Cup. A season ago, he won The Northern Trust at Bethpage Black, finished seventh in the FedEx Cup standings, and once again flashed his brilliance in the red, white and blue, this time in a U.S. victory at Hazeltine. Reed's 2017 campaign is on a similar trend, with a near first major championship win at the PGA, a T-20 at The Northern Trust and a T-6 at the Dell Technologies Championship. He's won in each of his last four seasons on the PGA Tour, but has yet to come out on top this year. Don't be surprised if he keeps the streak alive one of the next two weeks.
Standing entering the playoffs: 49th
It's difficult to fathom Jason Day being a "longshot", but his 2017 struggles made him one when he began his playoff run. While he appears to be turning the corner, he still hasn't been able to put four solid rounds together. A T-9 at the PGA Championship was marred by his third-round 77 and 18th hole blow-up, and despite three consecutive under par rounds at the Dell Technologies, it wasn't enough to overcome a first round 75. He returns this week to Conway Farms, where he won in 2015 by six shots at 22-under par, part of his 11-month, seven win stretch that saw him earn the No. 1 spot in the world ranking. Perhaps he can conjure up those good memories and earn his first win since the 2016 Players Championship this week.
Standing entering the playoffs: 78th
By now, most know the story of Cantlay's return to the PGA Tour, and how difficult the comeback journey was for the former No. 1 amateur golfer in the world. He's made the most of his limited opportunities this season, playing in just 11 events, making every cut and finishing inside the top-3 twice, including a near win in his second event back at the Valspar Championship. Qualifying for his first FedEx Cup Playoffs was a feat in its own right, but the fact he's given himself a chance, albeit slim, to win it is remarkable. If it's not in the next two weeks, sooner or later its going to happen for Cantlay, who is still in search of his first PGA Tour victory. Now would be a great time to remind everyone that it was him, not Jordan Spieth or Justin Thomas, who was once forecasted as the next big thing.
Standing entering the playoffs: 44th
Much like Day, it's hard to consider the No. 6 player in the world a sleeper, but Rory's lackluster season has put him in that position. A T-34 at The Northern Trust and a missed cut at the Dell Technologies has made him an even bigger longshot, not to mention his lingering injury issues. A much needed week off could be just what the doctor ordered for the Northern Irishman, who finished T-4 at Conway Farms in the 2015 BMW Championship. His wild run was so much fun to watch a year ago, why not run it back?