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7 Favorites Heading into the FedEx Cup Playoffs

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIOctober 7, 2016

7 Favorites Heading into the FedEx Cup Playoffs

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    Golf's major championships may be over, but the FedEx Cup playoffs still provide plenty of excitement and intrigue for the remainder of the 2012 season.

    With most of the world's top players in the field week to week—and even Ryder Cup implications this time around—the stakes are very high, with a $10 million grand prize waiting for the winner next month.

    Here are seven favorites heading into the PGA Tour's postseason, which begins Thursday with The Barclays tournament.

Tiger Woods

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    Tiger hasn't quite gotten it done at the majors this year, but he has still emerged victorious in three PGA Tour events. That's something no other golfer can lay claim to.

    Ranked No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings, Tiger looks to build on what has been a very positive year save for not winning a major title.

    A huge difference for Tiger in 2012 has been his phenomenal play off the tee. He ranks fourth on Tour in total driving—a far cry from his typical standing.

    Finding the fairway at Bethpage Black will be key, and Tiger's combination of power and accuracy with the driver will serve him well.

    Having won the 2002 U.S. Open at this very venue, Tiger has tangible experience to draw on that could get him off to a great start to the FedEx Cup.

    The stakes will still be high in the playoffs, but the absence of major championship scrutiny should be particularly advantageous to Tiger.

    Perhaps a winning performance in the postseason is what Tiger needs as a stepping stone to major No. 15.

Rory McIlroy

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    At the press conference ahead of The Barclays on Wednesday afternoon, McIlroy took a playful jab at Tiger Woods.

    It was something along the lines of wanting to go out first during the Ryder Cup singles matches and kicking his ass.

    This was with Tiger standing in the back room, and it kept the mood light and made everyone laugh.

    That sort of attitude will serve McIlroy well moving forward, and it's also the sort of attitude people should have when comparing McIlroy and Tiger. They have a mutual admiration for one another, and enjoy playing with one another. The so-called "rivalry" doesn't need to be made into more than it is.

    Tiger and Rory are definitively the two most talented golfers on the planet, and they will be paired together on Thursday.

    Let's just enjoy the show.

    With McIlroy coming off a runaway romp at the PGA Championship while rocking the Sunday red, it's clear he is brimming with confidence.

    Rightfully so, because McIlroy should feel as good as anyone entering the playoffs. He is, after all, the No. 1 player in the world right now. To not consider him among the heavy favorites would be silly.

    Playing alongside Tiger for the first two days of the FedEx Cup opener, McIlroy will immediately have the opportunity to dispel notions of a major hangover this time around.

Zach Johnson

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    Jason Dufner is missing in action this week, which means the mild-mannered Iowan will be along for the ride at the first two days at The Barclays.

    He may be viewed as the third wheel playing in a group with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, but Johnson doesn't mind that at all (via Steve DiMeglio of USA Today):

    I'm just hoping my boring golf kind of gets in the way...I don't know how many Zach Johnson fans will be out there, but I'll be hopefully embracing them and hopefully hitting some quality shots.

    Johnson may not have the aura that Tiger or McIlroy do, but he has quietly gone about his business and had one heck of a successful 2012 campaign.

    In notching the eighth and ninth victories of his PGA Tour career, Johnson has also secured a berth on the Ryder Cup team.

    As marvelous as his putting typically is, this may be Johnson's best year ever on the greens. He ranks third on Tour in strokes gained putting.

    With that hot of a flatstick and nearly unmatched course management skills, Johnson has the necessary steadiness to get it done in the FedEx Cup.

Keegan Bradley

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    One of the brightest young talents in American golf—and probably the most fidgety player in the world—the 2011 PGA Champion has become one of the most entertaining players to watch.

    Bradley's jab-step pre-shot routine is mesmerizing and hilarious all at once. You also won't see many better game faces than when he flashes that fiery, competitive stare.

    When he does well, Bradley has also established himself as one of the best fist-pumpers in the game.

    After a rough stretch this season, Bradley won the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron the week before he was to defend his PGA title.

    Rory McIlroy ran away with the year's final major at Kiawah Island, of course, but Bradley held his own in finishing tied for third.

    The recent return to form is enough to count Bradley among the favorites. With a great playoff performance, the PGA should market Bradley's rising star more prominently.

Justin Rose

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    After a disappointing missed cut at the British Open, Rose has responded.

    A tie for fifth at the most recent World Golf Championships event coupled with a tie for third at the PGA Championship vaulted Rose to 12th in the FedEx Cup standings.

    Rose has not won a major, but has an otherwise stellar resume of 11 professional wins. He has also finished in the Top 15 in the final FedEx Cup standings over the past two seasons, according to the PGA Tour's profile of him.

    You've got to admire how much perseverance he has shown throughout his career.

    The video profile nicely illustrates the mental struggles Rose has overcome to rise into the Top 10 in the world. That includes missing his first 21 cuts as a professional.

    The 32-year-old Englishman's game is in great all-around shape. If Rose can ride the momentum generated by his recent form, expect him to be in the hunt when the TOUR Championship rolls around.

Steve Stricker

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    One of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour, Stricker will be a significant factor in the playoffs.

    Stricker ranks fifth all-time in total FedEx Cup points, which is a testament to how well he's played in recent years to emerge as one of golf's elite players.

    The Barclays at Bethpage Black is not an ideal opening venue for Stricker due to his modest length off the tee. However, he can definitely putt the ball with the best of them, and his iron play is among the best in the game.

    After kicking off 2012 with a win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Stricker has maintained a high level of play with seven Top 10 finishes.

    The nickname of "Mr. September" has been catching on because of Stricker's stellar play in the FedEx Cup.

    Based on this being yet another successful season, there's no reason to doubt that Stricker will thrive in this year's playoffs.

Jason Dufner

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    As mentioned earlier, Dufner won't be in the field at The Barclays.

    That said, he should be a big factor for the remainder of the playoffs.

    One of the coolest cucumbers to ever walk the links, Dufner is starting to shed his stereotypical subtlety and show his hilarious personality through social media.

    Particularly noticeable was his recent back-and-forth with fellow PGA Tour stars Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler. This tweet is just the tip of the iceberg:


    On the course, Dufner has been one of the best players in the world. His waggling routine just before he takes that compact, simple, and beautiful swing has become one of the most recognizable moves in golf.

    No one will question Dufner's ball-striking prowess, but his putting has been streaky all season long.

    As long as he can find his putting stroke—hopefully, for the love of God, without going to a belly putter—Dufner should threaten for the $10 million grand prize at the end of the FedEx Cup rainbow.

Ryder Cup Candidates

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    Speaking of those Ryder Cup implications, here are four favorites (two for the USA, two for Europe) who have even more at stake in the coming weeks:

     

    Ian Poulter: That sensational start of six-under through seven holes in the final round of the PGA Championship was indicative of the type of talent Poulter has.

    In 2008, the brash, stylish Englishman was a captain's pick by Nick Faldo, and gathered the most points for his team. He also finished 3-1 in his matches at the 2010 event.

    Poulter is one of the best at grinding out pars in the game, but proved at Kiawah Island that he can light it up when need be.

    With a strong performance in the playoffs combined with his track record in match play, Poulter should easily find his way onto the team as a captain's pick once again.

     

    Padraig Harrington: The three-time major winner has resurfaced this season, but faces an uphill battle to be selected as a captain's pick by Jose Maria Olazabal.

    As a player who has appeared six times in the event, Harrington is clearly a seasoned veteran when it comes to the Ryder Cup.

    The fact that he made the cut at all four majors this season—and contended in the first two—doesn't hurt his cause, either.

    However, according to a report by David Field of The Sun, Olazabal has hinted that he doesn't have much confidence in Harrington's game as it stands:

    I’ve played with him a couple of times during this year and from tee to green his game has been fairly good. But I think his putting has let him down this year so far.

    The Irishman has a lot to prove in the FedEx Cup playoffs to say the least, and The Barclays may even be his last chance to make his case for a spot.

     

    Dustin Johnson: After losing his first three Ryder Cup matches 2010, Johnson responded by thrashing recent PGA Champion Martin Kaymer 6 & 4 in singles.

    That encouraging end to his rookie experience should translate well for DJ this time around, provided he's given the chance to join the team.

    Currently sitting at 15th in the Ryder Cup standings, Johnson missed a significant chunk of this season due to injury. That setback could cost him a shot.

    If he can successfully defend his title at The Barclays this week, perhaps it will be a different story.

    With four captain's picks at his disposal, Davis Love III should strongly consider Johnson for one of them, especially since he is primed for a fantastic FedEx Cup.

     

    Hunter Mahan: In a thrilling duel with Rory McIlroy, Mahan came out on top in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this season.

    Few players probably want to redeem themselves in the Ryder Cup more than Mahan, who lost the deciding singles match in 2010 to Graeme McDowell.

    Mahan hasn't played well in recent weeks, but has proven to be built for the end of the season.

    A shocking statistic by GolfChannel.com's Doug Ferguson reveals that Mahan has played 78 of 80 rounds since the FedEx Cup playoffs began in 2007. That's more than any other player.

    While there is the perception that Mahan is virtually a lock for the team, nothing is guaranteed. If he doesn't show improvement soon, he may get passed by.

    Don't count on it, though. Mahan would be as eager as any American to wrestle the Cup back into Team USA's grasp at Medinah.

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