Tiger Woods goes into FedEx Cup playoffs as the No. 1-ranked player
The best 125 players on the PGA Tour—at least the best as judged by the criteria of the FedEx Cup points system—tee it up this week as the FedEx Cup playoffs begin.
The kickoff begins at Bethpage State Park on Long Island, the famed Black Course that features a sign on the first tee that says: The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we highly recommend for only highly skilled golfers.
Being ranked in the top two or three spots, like Tiger Woods, Jason Dufner and Rory McIlroy, certainly makes getting to the Tour Championship four weeks down the road easier. But there are no guarantees.
These guys are still going to have to play and play well to get to that possible $10 million payoff three weeks into September.
Following are predictions for the top 25 players.
Tiger will be looking for consistency starting Thursday
Tiger Woods won three times in 2012, more than anybody else on the PGA Tour.
He didn't win a major and, in reality, could have won a couple more times had he hit his irons a little closer and putted even a tiny bit better.
Woods will somehow find his lost putting stroke but won't hit enough of his irons close. He'll make some bombs that will electrify crowds the next four weeks, but in the end, it won't be enough.
Could this be Jason Dufner's year to hit the big time?
Jason Dufner is a moneymaking machine.
He entered 19 events in 2012 and finished in the top 25 a dozen times. He won twice and was a runner-up once.
That translates into $4.5 million in earnings and a second-place finish in the FedEx Cup points.
The man of very few faces, even with his decision to skip the first of four playoff events, will be right there when the Tour Championship ends...but won't win it.
Rory McIlroy will definitely be a force in the playoffs
When Rory McIlroy obliterated the field in the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in June of 2011, much was expected of the game's newest star.
But the young Northern Irishman didn't dominate as expected. Instead, he disappeared from regular contention and missed a bunch of cuts.
The youngster has learned from the year following Congressional, and he will grab the big prize this time. The fine play he showed at the PGA Championship will continue, and he will confirm his top-dog position in the game.
Hard to imagine a former Masters champion being under the radar, but Zach Johnson has been
What kind of season has it been for Zach Johnson?
Two wins, two seconds and 19 cuts made in 20 starts.
The man with the superior ball-striking skills will be stretched to his limits this week and in two weeks at Crooked Stick Golf Club for the BMW Championship. Both can play over 7,400 yards.
Coming off a 70th-place finish in the PGA Championship, Johnson won't make it out of Bethpage Black with his playoff hopes alive.
Bubba Watson can't be yelling "fore, right" very often if he expects to contend in the playoffs
Bubba Watson can and does go deep.
Bubba can and does curve the ball as well as anybody.
Bubba did not come close to contending in the 2011 FedEx Cup playoffs.
Like he did last year, Bubba won't make the cut in the Barclay's...and his scores will be higher than the 70-70 he posted a year ago.
Hunter Mahan has the game to contend in the Fedex Cup playoffs
Hunter Mahan has the game to be among the PGA Tour's best.
He really only played that way in half of the FedEx Cup playoffs, but one of those was an important one: the Tour Championship.
He lost in a playoff to Bill Haas' miracle shot out of the water, but he made just over $1 million in the playoffs.
This is a guy who is going to push Rory McIlroy, et al, in the next four weeks.
Carl Pettersson has rebounded well from the disappointment at Kiawah Island
There are those who will believe that the leaf Carl Pettersson moved with his back-swing in a hazard right of the fairway of the first hole on the final day of the PGA Championship cost him a chance at winning the title.
To the contrary, Pettersson rebounded from that mishap to make a couple quick birdies, but Rory McIlroy was just too good.
That's what Pettersson will need to be this year in the playoffs. He didn't make it to the Tour Championship a year ago.
Pettersson will make it to Atlanta this year, but he won't be a factor.
Keegan Bradley can be dangerous in the next four weeks
When Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship a year ago, he couldn't shake the euphoria of that title and missed the first two cuts in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Bradley rebounded to tie for 11th and 16th in the final two weeks.
Bradley is the hottest player coming into the playoffs. He'll make a top-five showing.
Matt Kuchar's due for a breakthrough
Matt Kuchar put together four top-25s in last year's FedEx Cup playoffs, including a second-place finish in the Barclays.
He's still a relatively young player, one that has success beyond what might be expected.
Four top-10s this year will make him one of the hottest players on the United States' Ryder Cup team.
Steve Stricker is a great putter and those re always dangerous in a playoff situation
Steve Stricker has proven to be one of the greatest putters in the history of the game, but even more importantly, he's proven to be one of the most clutch American players in a long, long time.
He's been on Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups and has always been a great teammate.
He played very, very well in last year's FedEx Cup, eventually finishing in a tie for sixth in the Tour Championship.
The window is open for Stricker to seriously contend in a grueling stretch of tournaments like the FedEx Cup. Look for a big run by Stricker.
Ernie Els' resurgance in mid-2012 was good for golf
Ernie Els caught lightning in the bottle for a couple of weeks this summer.
He finished ninth in the U.S. Open and then took advantage of Adam Scott's meltdown to win the Open Championship. He hasn't done much since then and was little more than a peripheral player in last year's FedEx Cup playoffs.
Els' best golf is behind him, and he obviously can't sustain it when it does happen. He won't make it to Atlanta for the Tour Championship.
Justin Rose is another player knocking on the door of superstardom
Justin Rose is the 12th-ranked player in the World Golf Rankings and, as such, will be expected to be a contender this year.
He posted a pair of top-10s last year but then slipped to 20th in the Tour Championship.
He's an elite player but is one of those who has yet to fulfill his potential.
Don't look for Rose to be holding the trophy in a month. Maybe top 10.
Webb Simpson shakes hands with his Ryder Cup captain, Davis Love III (left)
There weren't many better in the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2011 than Webb Simpson.
A tie for 10th, a win and a tie for fifth raised hopes that he might contend at the Tour Championship.
But a 22nd-place finish dashed those hopes.
He won the U.S. Open this year at Olympic, but he took time off for the birth of his child and struggled in three of his last four outings.
One of the game's great young talents who needs to find his Mojo again quickly, but it might not be enough this year. Top 15 at best.
Nobody, even Phil Mickelson, knows where his golf ball might land
Phil Mickelson had a pair of 10th-place finishes in last year's playoffs, the second of which was in the Tour Championship.
This year, in Mickelson's last six outings, his best finish is a tie for 43rd. He's ranked 20th in the FedEx Cup points.
Mickelson won't make it to the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Scott Piercy is one of the relative unknowns hoping for a Cinderella story
Scott Piercy has won the Reno-Tahoe Open and the RBC Canadian Open in the last two years.
He's still hardly a household name, but he's alive and kickin' in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He didn't make it to the Tour Championship last year.
Don't look for him to get past two weeks of the playoffs.
Maybe Luke Donald just can't handle big-time pressure
Three top-10s in the 2011 playoffs, including a tie for third in the Tour Championship followed by a win in the final PGA Tour event of the season, got Donald a temporary stay or two in the top spot of the World Golf Rankings.
He didn't perform well in the first two majors this year (tied for 32nd and missed cut), but had a tie for fifth and tie for 32nd. He's had a good year, but can he turn it into something even bigger.
I'm going to say Luke Donald doesn't have what it takes to win golf's biggest championships. Top-five maybe.
Jim Furyk is the kind of grinder who could surprise
It's not surprising that Jim Furyk struggled in the FedEx Cup playoffs last year.
His whole season was a struggle, as he only made $1.5 million, far below the norm for a man who has won more than $51 million in his career.
It's been a much better year in 2012, and it could have been even better had he not snapped his tee shot on the 16th hole on Sunday at the U.S. Open at Olympic Club. He's played well this year.
The length of Bethpage Black and Crooked Stick might be too much for Furyk. Won't make the final 30.
It's time for Rickie Fowler to get back in the fairways and contend
Rickie Fowler, the PGA Tour's most flashy youngster, recorded his first win this year, relieving the pressure that goes with looking for a first win.
He didn't have a good major season this year and wasn't a factor in the FedEx Cup playoffs last year.
It's time for this Oklahoma State Cowboy to rise up.
A top-10 finish is not out of the question.
Much is expected of rising star Brandt Snedeker
Brandt Snedeker had a tremendous run through the playoffs a year ago, culminating in a tie for 16th at the Tour Championship.
He's won once this year and had a pair of seconds, but he has a missed cut and a tie for 28th coming into the playoffs.
My dark-horse pick to make a lot of noise the next month. A top-five is a definite possibility.
Johnson Wagner will have to re-discover his early-season lightning to last in the playoffs
All you need to know is that in Wagner's last 13 starts, he's missed the cut seven times and hasn't had a top 10 since March.
He's ranked 75th in the World Golf Rankings.
Wagner wouldn't be here had it not been for his tie for ninth, first and tie for second to start the season.
Won't be among the 100 who play over Labor Day weekend at the Deutsche.
Bill Haas cashed in big-time a year ago. Don't look for a repeat
It would have been nearly impossible for Bill Haas to replicate the season he had a year ago and, more importantly, duplicate the FedEx Cup playoffs run he had.
Winning the FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship earned him a cool $11 million.
It's not been that kind of year for Haas.
The fireworks don't seem to be there this year. Haas may not last two weeks.
Kyle Stanley's best playoff performances are in the future
Another player who was at his best early in the year.
He lost in a playoff in the Farmers Insurance Open and came back the next week to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Since then it's been, well, not pretty.
Twenty-five players won't play in Week 2. Stanley will be one of those.
Bo Van Pelt might be this year's Cinderella story
There hasn't been a leaderboard that Bo Van Pelt hasn't liked this year.
He's been in contention a lot this year and is the kind of guy who may outwork some of the more talented guys ahead of him and make a move.
He had top-25s in three of the four playoff events, including a ninth in the Tour Championship.
Quietly, this is a guy who warrants some attention. Top 15.
Robert Garrigus unleashes one of his long bombs off the tee
Robert Garrigus has recorded five top-10s and won more than $2 million in a season that otherwise has not been great.
There's a reason he's 55th in the World Golf Rankings and finished 24th in the FedEx Cup standings.
Bombs away at Bethpage Black and then gone.
John Huh was a mid-season winner but hasn't done much else
Rookie John Huh made his first trip around the PGA Tour a memorable one, winning the Mayakoba Classic in a playoff in his fifth event of the year.
He had three other top-fives but missed five cuts in 17 starts.
Getting a win is a big deal for a rookie. He'll be a short-timer in his first playoffs.