A grueling truth in sports is that regular season success does not always carry a team, or an individual, far. In every major sport we see someone shine through a long, taxing season only to end up back on their couch a short time later.
The most recent example is on the PGA Tour where, after a 40-week regular season, a FedExCup machete took out 55 of the 125 players to make the postseason in just the first week.
That is not to say those 55 are too sullen; simply making the playoff field guarantees a Tour Card for next season, in addition to other exemptions, but still, the FedExCup playoffs are the most lucrative in all of sports, and everyone who tess up professionally wants to make the finale at East Lake, and have a chance at the $15 million prize for winning the championship.
The 70 players who remain get one more week to position themselves inside the top 30 of the FedExCup Standings to secure a spot in the Tour Championship field. That chance comes at Medinah Country Club, the historic site of this year’s BMW Championship, the penultimate playoff event in the new three-leg format.
The big question this week is whether Tiger Woods will play. The reigning Masters Champion withdrew from last week’s first playoff event with an oblique injury, adding to a long-list of injury concerns in recent years for the 43-year-old legend. Tiger ended a long winless drought when he took last year’s Tour Championship and finished second in the final FedExCup standings, but he is currently on the outside looking in to even make the field.
Then there is World No. 1 Brooks Koepka, who is the presumptive PGA Tour Player of the Year award, in addition to other major champions, including “Captain America” Patrick Reed, who won last week for the first time since his 2018 Masters triumph.
The stakes could not be higher this week for the strongest 70-man field golf can possibly offer.
8 Storylines To Follow
1. East Lake Bubble
The FedExCup format may have changed drastically this year, but this week, at the BMW, it’s the same as it has always been: 70-in, 30-out. Those 30 who remain after this week get to be in the most prolific field of the season, with those at East Lake getting every future exemption in the book and staying alive for the $15 million FedExCup first-prize money.
At No. 38, Masters Champion Tiger Woods is the biggest name on the bubble, but he is far from the only player desperately needing a great week.
Other notable names on or below the bubble includes No. 28 Louis Oosthuizen, No. 33 Hideki Matsuyama, No. 34 Francesco Molinari, No. 44 Jordan Spieth, No. 46 Phil Mickelson, and No. 50 Jason Day. Nobody outside the top 20 can afford to take this week off.
2. Tiger Status?
For the first time since missing the cut at The Open Championship, Tiger Woods started a PGA Tour event as he was in the field for last week’s The Northern Trust. However, that return was short-lived as the reigning Masters Champion withdrew from the event after a first-round 75 with an oblique strain.
His agent called the injury “precautionary” and expressed hope that Tiger would tee up at Medinah this week, but it is a troubling development for a player who has dealt with multiple injuries in recent years.
Woods has barely played since winning the green jacket, and his body continues to let him down. At No. 38 in the FedExCup Standings, he needs a great week at the BMW to have the chance to defend his 2018 title at the Tour Championship the following week.
3. Is Captain America Back?
After being largely irrelevant for the majority of the PGA Tour season, Patrick Reed finally saw his game come back together last week, winning The Northern Trust, the first round of the FedExCup playoffs, his first victory since his breakthrough major at the 2018 Masters.
The man known as “Captain America” for his competency in team-play events rode the good feelings at Liberty National – the site of the most recent Presidents Cup – to his best finish of the season. After an agonizingly long stretch without a top-10 finish, Reed has now finished 23rd or better in his last six starts, with three of those inside the top 10.
A player who has often run hot-and-cold, it would not be surprising to see him in contention again this week. With his win last week, he vaulted from No. 50 all the way to No. 2 in the FedExCup Standings, only trailing Brooks Koepka.
4. Keegan Defends
A year ago, Keegan Bradley took down Justin Rose in a playoff at Aronimink Golf Club to win the BMW Championship, his first victory in six years. A former major champion, Bradley hoped the victory would propel him back into the elite class of the PGA Tour, but that has just not happened.
His 2019 PGA Tour season has been largely a disappointment, and his recent results – aside from an outlier runner-up at June’s Travelers Championship – have been abysmal, with no other finishes inside the top-44 in his eight most recent starts.
Bradley did make the cut at last week’s The Northern Trust, but stumbled on the weekend to finish T64. Sitting at No. 66 in the FedExCup Standings, the Vermont native will need to play much, much better to qualify for East Lake for the second consecutive year.
Bradley’s 2019 Season
Cuts Made: 19
Top 10s: 3
Scoring: 70.8 (65th)
FedExCup: 716 (66th)
Money: $1,872,272 (57th)
World Rank (End 2018): 35 (30)
5. Koepka Still Leads
Fittingly, World No. 1 Brooks Koepka leads the FedExCup standings after the first week of the FedExCup playoffs. The reigning PGA Championship winner, Koepka again showed historical proficiency in the majors, with the victory, two runner-ups, and a T4 in the major season.
While he awaits his second consecutive PGA Tour Player of the Year award, the four-time major champion will likely need considerably better than last week’s T30 at The Northern Trust if he wants to keep that top spot in the standings at East Lake.
6. Spieth Surging?
It was something of an encouraging and discouraging week for three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, who is still looking for his first victory since the 2017 Open Championship. He finished T6, for his fourth top-10 of the season, and he now has six finishes inside the top 20 in his last 10 starts, which is definitely trending in the right direction after an awful first half of the season.
However, Spieth, again, faltered when in contention, as a third-round 74 knocked him well back of the lead after he trailed the 36-hole lead by a single stroke.
On the season, Speith ranks in the top 10 in scoring for the opening two rounds, but 174th in third-round scoring, and 192nd in final-round scoring. His finish at Liberty National moved him from No. 69 to No. 44 in the FedExCup standings, and he will need to make a similar move if he does not want to be absent from the East Lake field for the second year in a row.
Spieth’s 2019 Season
Cuts Made: 18
Top 10s: 4
Scoring: 70.1 (29th)
FedExCup: 960 (44th)
Money: $2,083,492 (51st)
World Rank (End 2018): 31 (17)
7. European Advantage?
For the first time, Medinah Country Club will be hosting the BMW Championship, and that could be something of an equalizer for the prodigious field, as few of them have competitive experience with the course.
The last time any event was held at Medinah was the 2012 Ryder Cup, and the course will presumably play much differently than it did that week. However, good feelings from that Ryder Cup, particularly for those who participated for the winning European side could be an advantage this week.
Among those in the BMW field who played especially well in that one-point European win are Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, and Keegan Bradley.
8. DeChambeau Distracted?
A year ago, Bryson DeChambeau stood atop the FedExCup Standings after winning the first two playoff events. This year, the controversial 25-year-old is slumping and is the central figure of a sudden slow-play debate.
After a video emerged of him taking an absurdly long time to attempt a short putt early at The Northern Trust, DeChambeau had to passionately defend himself both in interviews and on social media. It even led to a somewhat contentious (at least as far as professional golf is concerned) discussion with Brooks Koepka and his caddy.
At No. 20 in the FedExCup Standings, DeChambeau appears safe for East Lake, but with the recent distractions, can be emerge from his recent three week (CUT, T48. T24) slide?
Credits: PGA Tour Media, Getty Images