We've all been watching the FedEx Cup playoffs for eight years running. Maybe I viewed this edition of the playoff-opening Barclays differently, now that I fill this space every week. But I never quite thought through just how valuable winning this event is, maybe even more than the next two playoff tournaments. And more valuable than it should be.
As Hunter Mahan told reporters Sunday after his sixth career PGA Tour victory, "This is the biggest win in a sense of what comes with it, having a chance to win the FedEx Cup."
Mahan, who was enduring a substandard-for-him year, entering the week at 62nd in points, moved to first in points, ensuring he'll play all the way through the season-ending Tour Championship, which delivers berths in the three U.S.-based majors next year and, tangentially, greatly enhanced his chances of being a Ryder Cup captain's pick in a mere eight days.
The Barclays winner gets $1.44 million and is immediately positioned better than most of the 30-man Tour Championship field to take home the $10 mil for winning the FedEx Cup.
Wow. As in, wow.
Any one of the 125 golfers in The Barclays would've moved to No. 1 in the points standings, ensuring a berth in the 30-man season finale and all the goodies that go along with it. And Mahan didn't need the two-year exemption for winning, but some other winner might have - another huge perk.
I get that the Tour wants volatility in the playoffs, to have some wide swings, but going from 62nd, not to mention 125th, to first seems extreme. Even silly. I mean, you can win a major and not go anywhere near first from 62nd. You get more than four times as many points for winning The Barclays as the Masters.
All that said, Mahan deserved to win, going 68-65 on the weekend to win by two strokes over Stuart Appleby, Cameron Tringale and co-third-round leader Jason Day. While a lot of golfers were going low, Mahan tore up the back nine, with five birdies in a seven-hole stretch, rendering a bogey on 18 harmless.
The field will be 100 for next week's Deutsche Bank Championship, then 70 for the BMW Championship and, finally, 30 for the Tour Championship. Mahan will be in all three, extending his record as the only golfer to appear in every FedEx event, 32 straight by the time he gets to East Lake.
Before Sunday, Appleby's claim to fame was not being Robert Allenby, however many times golf fans confused the two 43-year-old Australians. (That's a joke, sorta.) His claim to fame actually is being one of six PGA golfers to shoot a 59, to win the 2010 Greenbriar, the most recent of his nine titles. He had all of two top 10s in the next four-plus years - until The Barclays. Appleby began the playoffs 98th, took the lead for a bit on the back nine on Sunday and finished runner-up, moving to 19th in the standings. That all but locks up the aforementioned haul for a golfer who hadn't done squat in more than four years. Appleby has endured enormous tragedy in his life, and he seems like a likeable bloke, but it's too much for one tie for second.
Before Sunday, Tringale's claim to fame was withdrawing after the fact from the recent PGA Championship. (That's not a joke - he really had done nothing in his career.) He's never won on Tour, never had finished second, and now he's 10th in points (moving from 61st). The rest of this season and next for him are now golden.
The third golfer who tied for second place, Day did not hold onto the overnight lead he shared with Jim Furyk (we knew Furyk wouldn't hold it). The Aussie didn't play badly, shooting 68, but he was only 1-under on the back, and failed to birdie the par-5 17th, which would've given him a fighting chance coming to 18. After his four-footer for par closed the tournament, Jim Nantz actually said, "That's the last stroke we'll cover this year." (And even though that's not Day's claim to fame, it should be.) NBC will cover the next three playoff events, followed by the Ryder Cup. Good.
What is there left to say? On so many levels, Furyk's had a great year, will be in the Tour Championship and on the Ryder Cup team. But this man obviously likes Sundays less than the Boomtown Rats (Google it). Of the top-12 finishers at Ridgewood Country Club, Furyk, who tied for eighth, was the only one who didn't break 70.
Els has made a late-season charge, just when it seemed as if his season would end in disheartening fashion. He was 116th in points after missing the cut at the Open Championship. In the five events since, he has three top 12s, including seventh at the PGA and a tie for fifth at The Barclays after a closing 65. Els hasn't shot worse than 68 in his last five Sundays. He moved from 91st in points to 39th and, while he still has a lot of work to do to get to East Lake, his rise seems more in line with a reasonable reward for the on-course result.
With his wife back on his bag, Reed is back on track after falling out of his imaginary top 5 back in March. With an early charge up the leaderboard en route to a 65, Reed wound up T9, and is eighth in points. We kid Reed, but it would be short-sighted to overlook his chances in the next three playoff events.
Westwood sprung to life with a solo seventh at Augusta and a T6 at The Players, but otherwise, his season was pretty much a washout, and now it's over, unable to budge from 107th in the point standings with a missed cut. For all the talk the last few years of the best player without a major, Westwood and Sergio Garcia being at the fore, at least Garcia continues to play at consistently high level. Westwood does not, and it would not be a surprise if Paul McGinley overlooks him as a captain's pick for the European Ryder Cup team.
Donald missed the cut at The Barclays and, like Westwood, has fallen victim to perhaps the only thing worse than being in the conversation about the best player to never have won a major - and that's no longer being in that conversation. Still, Donald sits 80th in the standings, with at least a chance to advance after next week. Donald did it three years ago at the Deutsche Bank, with a tie for third. No matter the rest of his season, he likely will be a Euro captain's pick.
Walker by all accounts has had an over-the-top great year, and his place at East Lake and Gleneagles is secure. But after making 20-of-23 cuts coming into the playoffs, missing The Barclays cut has to be a bit disconcerting to him, not to mention Tom Watson. Another MC in either of the next two weeks and there will be a real reason for Watson to worry.
See: Walker, Jimmy. While having nowhere near the year that Walker has had, Snedeker had been playing his best golf of the season lately, until missing the cut at the worst possible time. Not only is he 71st in points, in danger of missing the BMW, but he has only one more week to impress Watson. Chances are, Snedeker, traditionally among the best putters on Tour, will be selected, but with Mahan moving back in the picture, it's not a gimme.
Bradley at least made the cut, albeit finishing 53rd, as he looks to become a captain's pick. Like Snedeker, Bradley has generally been considered to be on Watson's short list, probably at the top of it.
Seven golfers who were outside the top 100 played well enough to advance to Boston next week and, oddly enough, seven fell out of the top 100. There seemed to be a similar mix of big names and lesser names on both sides of the ledger.
IN: Morgan Hoffmann (from 124th to 72nd), Bo Van Pelt (104th to 73rd), Stewart Cink (109th to 77th), Gonzalo Fdez-Castano (119th to 81st), Paul Casey (118th to 85th), Andres Romero (110th to 92nd) and Danny Lee (116th to 96).
OUT: Jonas Blixt, Retief Goosen, Kevin Kisner, Nick Watney, Rory Sabbatini, Luke Guthrie and Brian Davis.
It was an impressive surge by Hoffmann from near the very bottom of the list. The second-year Tour golfer finished T9 at The Barclays, where he missed the cut last year to end his rookie season. If he can advance to the BMW, and he needs to move up only a couple of spots, make a note of Hoffman for next year's draft -- and do so maybe even if he doesn't play on after this week.
Van Pelt, Cink and Casey showed their veteran presence when they need it most. Conversely, Blixt definitely took a step back this season and Watney's disappointing season all but ended last week, when he let the Wyndham title slip away.