• Fantasy Aces: The Barclays
PARAMUS, N.J. – The second edition of the FedEx Cup playoffs is set to begin here on the far side of the Hudson River much like the PGA Tour’s inaugural post-season experiment began. That is to say without Tiger Woods, without much buzz and without the desired foothold in the general golf psyche.
Maybe it’s the format. Four events strewn across six weeks with a built-in bye and the Ryder Cup lumped in the middle for good measure. As a comparison, let’s say Major League Baseball took a break after Game 3 of the World Series to hold an All-Star Game. The Ryder Cup is a special exhibition. But it’s an exhibition, nonetheless.
Or maybe it’s the 110 percent participation. One hundred and forty-four players, give or take an ailing icon or two, will put peg to ground on Thursday at Ridgewood Country Club for this week’s Barclays. That’s 19 more players than will retain their playing privileges for next year. To further the comparison, the Tour’s “playoff” is akin to every MLB team, including the 48-77 San Diego Padres, making it to the Fall Classic, and a couple of Triple A teams filling out the dance card.
To be fair, the Tour’s playoffs are new, albeit woefully misnamed. The postseason enjoys more than a few redeeming qualities. Like something to talk about after the major championship season. And, without the likes of Woods looming, an end-of-the-year race that didn’t end before the year was halfway over.
Among the more-interesting story lines we expect to unfold before the flag drops at East Lake next month, expect:
• A struggling grinder, give us J.J. Henry at No. 135 for 1,000 FedEx Cup points, will make the most of the Tour’s creative math and go from Q-School to too-cool-for-school.
During a recent interview, Tour senior director of communications Steve Dennis said it was mathematically possible for No. 144 Lee Janzen to win The Barclays and jump to No. 1 in the points. Dennis also said the circuit’s number crunchers had calculated that Woods – who won four of his six starts this year, including that one-legged loop at Torrey Pines – would drop out of the top 30 before the dust settled at East Lake.
We call that new math.
• A European – pick a Euro, almost any Euro will do – will win the FedEx Cup. Because they’ve won almost everything else the last few weeks and because it’s a Ryder Cup year and because sooner or later Sergio Garcia won’t have to wait for Padraig Harrington to blink on a Sunday.
• Phil Mickelson will make a birdie at the 18th hole from the caddie parking lot adjacent the TPC Boston to win the Deutsche Bank Championship for the second consecutive year. He’ll skip the BMW Championship because commissioner Tim Finchem didn’t return his text message.
• The FedEx Cup will be kissed because the guy who saves all his Xs and Os for old-school hardware like the Claret Jug and Wanamaker Trophy is at home in central Florida riding his stationary bike and learning to like “Baby Einstein.”
• Likable Steve Stricker will win the Comeback Player of the Year Award for the third consecutive year – as an aside, the award will be renamed the Stricker Trophy and retired – after he claims his second straight Barclays title, lands a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team and goes undefeated at Valhalla.
• Bellerive Country Club will be star-crossed for the second time. The venerable St. Louis layout was set to host the 2001 WGC-CA Championship when 9/11 canceled the proceedings. This time, it was knee surgery that did in the little club that couldn’t. Far less sinister and not nearly as damaging, but still a blow.
• Players enjoy one of the most solid course lineups of the year. Following last week’s stop at Sedgefield, the Donald Ross gem in Greensboro, N.C., Tour types get Ridgewood (A. W. Tillinghast), Bellerive (Robert Trent Jones Sr.) and East Lake, which recently underwent an extreme makeover that will assure that only the players, and not the greens, are stressed come Tour Championship time.
• J.B. Holmes will be mentioned as a possible Ryder Cup captain’s pick a gazillion times. But unless the matches are relocated from Valhalla to TPC Scottsdale, Holmes will fail to fill the Euros with the desired panic.
• Harrington wraps up the Player of the Year trophy with solid finishes at all five events, including the Ryder Cup, and beats Woods to another milestone by winning the money crowns on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Of course, we’ve been wrong before.