Tiger Woods' next move, Ryder Cup implications and POY race: 7 things to watch during the FedEx Cup Playoffs
There's always a post-Wanamaker depression that sets in after the PGA Championship, the reality sinking in that the next major is some 250 days away in the spring. That is especially true this season, with Tiger Woods' final-round surge instilling a rapture not felt in ages. But for those still coming down from that Bellerive bliss, fear not: The rest of the calendar has plenty still in store. From Tiger to the Ryder Cup to Jordan Spieth, here are seven storylines to follow during the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Tiger's comeback continues
The comeback is real, and it is spectacular. Tiger demonstrated at Innisbrook, Bay Hill and Carnoustie that his game is in shape to compete with the game's best; his runner-up at Bellerive, however, asserted Woods' ceiling is higher than previously deemed. Better yet, as the season reaches the dog days of August, the 42-year-old has dispelled the idea he's running on fumes.
Aside from Ridgewood, the venues on the postseason slate are tailored to Tiger's game. Currently 20th on the FedEx Cup standings, Woods will have some latitude in the early rounds in pursuit of a spot in the Tour Championship at East Lake, but with hopes of solidifying his Ryder Cup candidacy (even though, come on, we all know Big Cat's already on the roster), look for Woods to make a formidable run through the tour's postseason.
Speaking of Ryder Cup …
Four tickets for Paris up for grabs
Well, two; you'll see Augusta National dye Rae's Creek pink before Woods and Phil Mickelson are left off the team. That leaves Bryson DeChambeau (who finished ninth in points), Tony Finau, Kevin Kisner, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson among viable candidates. For what it's worth, players and PGA of America officials at Bellerive maintained Kuchar is more in the running than fans believe.
There's also the chance captain Jim Furyk rides the FedEx Cup Playoff's hot hand, which is what facilitated Ryan Moore's selection for the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2016. It proved to be the right call: Moore won two matches, including the clinching point, for the Americans at Hazeltine.
No matter the selections, there will be a wave of Monday quarterbacking on Furyk's decisions, particularly if he goes with a veteran that hasn't performed as of late. Furyk will announce three of his picks after the Dell Technologies Championship over Labor Day weekend, with the final slot filled at the BMW Championship's conclusion, meaning DeChambeau, Kisner, Finau and the like will have opportunities to prove their merit.
The Player of the Year race is over, right? Well …
Make no mistake, Brooks Koepka is the unequivocal favorite. That doesn't mean he has this bad boy locked it up, even with his U.S. Open and PGA titles as well as runner-up finishes at the WGC-HSBC and Colonial.
If Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas—both with three wins and ahead of Koepka in the FEC—win two of the four postseason events, it might be enough to raise an argument. Three out of four instigates a full-blown discussion. (Bubba Watson also has three wins, but the two-time Masters champ has missed the cut in the last three majors, torpedoing any realistic hopes.) Patrick Reed and Francesco Molinari, the year's other major victors, could join this surge with multiple playoff wins as well.
These scenarios are far-fetched, and even if they transpire, Koepka likely still earns the nod. But a victory by Thomas or Johnson at Ridgewood will raise these questions—exactly the shot of late-season vitality the tour's postseason aspired for when constructing the FEC a decade ago.
Can Spieth save a "lost" season?
In one breath, it's hard to call a season "lost" when A) The guy comes this close to winning the Masters and B) Plays in the final pairing at the Open. Conversely, we measure our superstars by a different touchstone, and Spieth—who's currently on the outside looking in at the Tour Championship—has fall shorten of his historical standards.
The short game has taken the brunt of the blame, and rightfully so: Spieth ranks 144th in strokes gained/putting on the season. It's an astonishing figure for any top-flight player, but even more so considering Spieth ranked second in the category just two seasons ago. Just as concerning, however, has been a drop in iron performance, ranking 40th in approach this summer, a far cry from his work last year (ranking first) and during his two-major summer of 2015 (11th). For the putts to start dropping, Spieth will need to give himself better chances on the greens.
The good news is Ridgewood and Aronimink (site of the BMW Championship) set up well to Spieth's strengths, and he logged a runner-up in Boston last September. By his standards, it won't be a season to remember for Spieth. With a strong finish, he won't have to make it one to forget.
A Rookie of the Year chase, without one of the favorites
Unless he wins the Wyndham Championship, Joaquin Niemann, despite owning enough points to comfortably advance to the Northern Trust, cannot compete in the FedEx Cup Playoffs due to his special temporary membership status. Significant because, if he does reach the postseason, Niemann would arguably be the frontrunner for rookie-of-the-year honors. (Update: He did not win in Greensboro. Niemann, however, has locked up his card for next season.)
Instead, this award likely comes down to Austin Cook and Aaron Wise. Since winning in the fall, Cook has been relatively quiet, although did have top-10s in Memphis and the Greenbrier. Wise had stellar back-to-back showings at Quail Hollow (T-2) and the Bryon Nelson (win); the ensuing schedule, unfortunately, has been tough sledding, with six missed cuts in seven appearances. Still, both have loads of talent, with the reserve not to be intimidated by their playoff debuts. Neither is a household entity yet; an energetic finish in the FEC can go ways in fixing that.
Architecture aficionados, rejoice!
For connoisseurs of course design, the past month has not been Christmas morning. That changes during the FEC thanks to:
• Ridgewood Country Club, a 27-hole A.W. Tillinghast design with its history including a Ryder Cup, U.S. Amateur and a handful of Barclays' events. Gil Hanse's team has done restoration work over the past couple of years, making Ridgewood as good as ever. Ridgewood features a mix of Tillinghast-eque bunker-guarded greens with the option to run it up on many holes. The rough is expected to be thicker than the last time the FEC visited, possibly leading to U.S. Open-like scoring.
• TPC Boston, while not beloved by players, produces plenty of red figures, and it's various lines and contoured greens offer more set-up options and mind-sets than a rank-and-file tour course.
• Aronimink, another track that—we hope you're sitting down—was restored by Hanse and his team. Set to host the 2027 PGA Championship, Aronimink has eliminated a ton of trees from the property, but its tight fairways and challenging par 4s—and Donald Ross greens—make it one of the Northeast's toughest tests.
If you can't get behind that lineup, you don't have a pulse.
What's up with Rory?
Similar to Spieth, this warrants a provision. After all, the four-time major winner just finished T-2 at Carnoustie last month, and, unlike Spieth, he's won on the PGA Tour this season with his triumph at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
On the other hand, McIlroy's game was such a mess at Bellerive that he hinted he was going to skip the first leg of the postseason to figure out what's going on.
"I need to assess where I'm at, and I think the best thing for me to do right now is take a couple of days off and reflect on what I need to do going forward," he said at the PGA Championship. "I'll do some practice this week and see if I feel ready to go there and play five out of six weeks leading up to the Ryder Cup." (Update: McIlroy appears to have made good on skipping the Northern Trust as his name is not included on the PGA Tour's field list as of Monday.)
McIlroy won the FedEx Cup just two seasons ago, and does rank 11th in strokes gained this season. Nevertheless, his wedge game, or lack thereof, has rendered his prolific distance moot, and the putter, again, hasn't bailed him out. McIlroy's nearing a bit of a career crossroads. Tis postseason won't define his legacy, but it can get him back on track.
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