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The Barclays Preview: FedEx Cup Playoffs Begin

Greg Vara

Vara is the lead golf writer at RotoWire. He was named the 2013 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. In addition to producing the weekly preview and the bulk of the draft kit content, Vara participates in Yahoo!'s "Experts Picks" where he routinely dominates. He also picks college football games against the spread in his "College Capper" article.

The FedEx Cup playoffs start this week in New York, and there's a chance, a chance, that it could be the most exciting version of the FedEx Cup playoffs that we've seen. I can already here you - "you're crazy, nothing could top 2008 when Vijay Singh took the title, or 2010 when Jim Furyk won the whole thing." OK, so the FedEx Cup hasn't exactly caught the imagination of a nation since its inception in 2007, but that could all change this year as there are several story lines that look intriguing. For starters, there's Rory McIlroy, who just repositioned himself atop the golfing world with a win at the PGA Championship. Is he truly back? Is he focused again on becoming the best player in the world? Speaking of "truly back," is the man who won last week, Sergio Garcia, back on top of his game? Let's not forget the biggest question of all, Tiger Woods. Just where is his game? We know about the three wins and the weekend meltdowns at the majors this year, but that didn't really clear anything up, now did it? Another FedEx Cup title would shine a little more light on where he stands. It's nearly impossible to pry any attention away from the NFL this time of the year, but with the aforementioned story lines, the PGA TOUR has a chance, a chance, to pull in some more viewers this year.

This week:
The Barclays

Last Year:
Dustin Johnson shot a final-round 66 on his way to a two-stroke victory over Matt Kuchar.

Players to Consider:

1. Rory McIlroy

McIlroy obviously has all the skills needed to win this week, the only question remaining is his mind set. Will his PGA Championship victory stoke the fire that's been missing for the better part of a year? Or will complacency set back in? I think it's the former.

2. Tiger Woods

This is the perfect format for Tiger right now. He's one of the best in the world, but he hasn't shown it in the majors this season. This playoff format gives Tiger the chance to show that he's still the man, but it also allows him to make a few mistakes on the weekend and still remain in the hunt for the overall title.

3. Dustin Johnson

Johnson failed to take the next step during the 2012 regular season, but he still has a chance to do so during the FedEx Cup playoffs. Johnson has the length off the tee and the ball-striking to win this week at Bethpage Black.

4. Sergio Garcia

Garcia is still one of the best in the world when he's on, and if last week is any indication, he's on now. Garcia knows his way around this track as well. He scored top-10s on this course during the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens.

5. Steve Stricker

This is Stricker's time of the year as he usually saves his best play for the end of the season. The length of Bethpage Black may be an issue for Stricker this week, but I have a feeling he'll figure a way around it.

Players to Avoid:

1. Jason Day

We waited all year for Day to finally put it all together and it never happened. He's certainly capable of making a run over the next four weeks, but at this point, it's more likely that he'll just walk off into the sunset and call it a year on the PGA TOUR.

2. Ken Duke

Duke's season can already be classified as a success as he's safely inside the top-125 on the money list. But it looks like his season will end soon as he's no match for the monster that is Bethpage Black this week.

3. David Toms

Toms posted consecutive top-10s at the U.S. Open and Bridgestone Invitational earlier this year and appeared to be trending upward heading into the Wyndham last week. But then something odd happened - he finished eight shots off the cut line. It's hard to consider a guy coming off such a poor showing.

4. Graeme McDowell

This has nothing to do with McDowell's game. He's played very well the past couple months, but McDowell strikes me as uninterested in the FedEx Cup. McDowell went two and out in last year's playoffs, and with the Ryder Cup looming, his focus may be elsewhere.

5. Ricky Barnes

Barnes has played just well enough to gain entrance into the FedEx Cup playoffs this year, but unless he takes his game up a notch, he won't continue on next week. Barnes has only one top-10 this season.


This week:
The Barclays

Group A

1. Steve Stricker
2. Sergio Garcia

Group A has plenty of quality options this week, but Stricker and Garcia appear to be the best. Surprisingly, or maybe not, this is the first time I've used Garcia all year.

Group B

1. Rory McIlroy
2. Hunter Mahan
3. Dustin Johnson
4. Tim Clark

It's that time of the year when you have to consider how many starts you have left for each player. Actually, that time was probably a month ago as I'm down to just one with Tiger. As such, I'll save him for later in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Fortunately, there are plenty of good options, like the four I've selected. Also, there are no issues regarding the number of starts available as all players selected have at least four remaining. McIlroy and DJ are in my top-five this week, while Clark is in due to his current form, while Mahan is in because of his most recent showing at Bethpage.

Group C

1. Carl Pettersson
2. Bud Cauley

Group C is actually a little thin this week. A bunch of options appear very similar. I've plucked out Pettersson and Cauley as each comes in with some momentum from last week. The question now is, can they up their games against the best in the world?

Starters Round One

1. Sergio Garcia
3. Rory McIlroy
4. Tim Clark
5. Carl Pettersson

Garcia gets the start in round one off a great performance last week at the Wyndham. Not only did he win, but he did so in style as he kept his foot on the gas all the way through Sunday. McIlroy seems like an obvious choice to start in Group B also as the last time we saw him he was destroying the field at the PGA Championship. The other starting spot was not as easy to fill. I decided on Clark because he appears to be near his top form entering the week. The length of the course might be an issue for Clark, but I guess we'll find out soon enough. I'll stick with Pettersson in Group C, but that decision isn't as easy as you'd think. Cauley is playing very well, it's just a matter of him adjusting to the bigger stage.

Round Two and Going Forward:

Garcia starts the week with a pretty strong hold on the starting spot in Group A this week, but that could change if Stricker starts well. For now, the plan is to start Garcia in rounds one and two and see what develops before making a call on the weekend. McIlroy could be a four-round starter this week as long as he starts well. The second spot is up for grabs starting Friday. Clark is hot coming in, but he'll have to prove he can handle this course to get another start on Friday. A hot start by DJ or Mahan could lead to a starting spot Friday. Group C is up for grabs as well after round one. Both Pettersson and Cauley come in on a roll, but I'll have to see which player adjusts to the course better before making the call on the weekend.