The top 125 golfers from the 2013 season open a four-tournament chase toward a $10 million payday this week at The Barclays.
As they have since 2007, the FedEx Cup playoffs promise to take plenty of twists and turns as they whittle that field down to the 30 golfers who will ultimately qualify for the Tour Championship a month or so from now.
With four battles to fight on the way to winning the war, anything can and will happen in the playoffs. We certainly have no crystal ball, but here are 10 bold predictions for the season’s race toward a championship.
Who will thrive, who will struggle and ultimately who will win the playoffs is a matter of debate, and we’re getting it started even before the world’s best golfers tee it up on Thursday.
Some will miss, others will hit. What is certain is the next four weeks on the PGA Tour will provide great drama, memorable moments and one proven—and very rich—champion.
Tiger has the inside track on yet another Player of the Year award, yet the FedEx Cup playoffs will have plenty to say about who ultimately wins the award.
Woods has won five times on the PGA Tour and has a pair of top-10 finishes in this year’s major championships.
The only thing he doesn't have in 2013 is a 15th major championship, which is leaving the door open for the four golfers who did win one.
Should Phil Mickelson or Adam Scott rally to win the playoffs at the Tour Championship next month, they would likely win the award based on their breakthrough victories and near misses in other majors this summer.
Scott won his first career major at the Masters and then followed with top-10s at the British Open and PGA Championship. Mickelson won his first Claret Jug and a month before that finished second for the sixth time in the U.S. Open.
The debate is a little murkier should PGA champion Jason Dufner or U.S. Open winner Justin Rose claim the $10 million prize at the end of the playoffs. If Rose or Dufner were to run away with the title by winning a couple events, their case would be strong.
But either way the FedEx Cup playoffs will ultimately determine the identity of the 2013 Player of the Year award among the five golfers left with a case for claiming it.
Every year in the FedEx Cup a golfer makes a run from outside the top 15 to make himself a factor in the Tour Championship.
This year it will be Hunter Mahan, who has enjoyed a summer topped by only a handful of other golfers.
Mahan enters The Barclays in 21st position, a little more than 400 points behind fifth-place Bill Haas. Despite that deficit, he's riding a wave of strong performances that promises great things to come in the next month.
Twice this summer the Texan found himself in the final pairing of a major championship on Sunday and two weeks ago he played well through 36 holes at the PGA Championship before sliding back over the weekend.
The week after finishing in the top 10 at the British Open, Mahan was the 36-hole leader at the Canadian Open before withdrawing to join his wife for the birth of their first child.
Given those recent performances, there’s little reason to count Mahan out in the playoffs.
The veteran has a history of playing well at the Tour Championship and with three strong showings, or just a single victory in one of the first three events, he could easily be in position to win the $10 million at East Lake next week.
If he can continue his stellar play the next three tournaments, he will be a significant factor at the Tour Championship in a month.
Rory McIlroy needs a strong showing in the playoffs to ease the pain of a dismal 2013 season.
Not only is it not forthcoming, but the former world No. 1 will be gone from the FedEx Cup battle after just two weeks.
Despite entering the Barclay’s in 49th place, The Irishman hasn't won a tournament since August 2012 and was a bitter disappointment in this year's major championships. After starting the season as the world’s top-ranked player, he has fallen to No. 3 behind Woods and Mickelson.
No matter what the 2012 PGA Champion does this week, he’s going to qualify for the Deutsche Bank next week as a member of the top 100. Yet if he does struggle at Liberty National, he will slide even further down the rankings.
Should that happen, there are no guarantees he will be among the top 70 golfers to advance to the BMW Championship following the Deutsche Bank.
Given how trying McIlroy's year has been, his motivation to compete in a four-tournament event he has little chance of winning at the outset is questionable at best.
Rory has struggled on difficult golf courses this season, and it's reasonable to assume that will continue this week at Liberty National Golf Club and then again next week at TPC Boston.
If that indeed unfolds, McIlroy won't be around for the second half of the playoffs and will bid a fond farewell to a terrible 2013 few saw coming.
Jordan Spieth cracked the top 10 of the FedEx Cup standings on Sunday—the last possible day he could.
When the playoffs conclude at the Tour Championship five weeks from now, he will be among the top five and rising like a bullet in the world rankings.
Spieth, who earlier this year became the youngest golfer to win a PGA Tour event in 82 years as a 19-year-old, nearly missed a second victory of the season at the Wyndham Championships this past weekend.
Despite shooting a final-round 65, he lost in a playoff to Patrick Reed, but in the process moved up to eighth heading into the Barclays.
His youth aside, the Texan is playing incredible golf and that will continue throughout the playoffs.
Spieth will claim at least one top 10 in the next four events and will not finish outside the top 25 as he moves up the rankings and into contention for a big payday at East Lake.
Should that top 10 become a second PGA Tour win, Spieth just might mature into a FedEx Cup champion years before anyone expected he would.
That's certainly unexpected, but no one figured on the young star even getting this far in 2013.
At its conclusion in Atlanta, the FedEx Cup will have a decidedly American feel to it.
In fact, the entire top five of the standings will be comprised of U.S. golfers, and only one international player will place in the top 10.
We’re not really sure what it says or means, but Americans have largely owned the FedEx Cup since its beginning.
In fact, since 2007, only one international player—Vijay Singh—has won the playoffs and few others have threatened.
As these playoffs begin, only two golfers born outside of the United States—Rose and Henrik Stenson—are among the top 10. Reigning Masters Champion Adam Scott is in 11th place and is likely the biggest threat to Yank dominance this time around.
Standing in their way are the likes of Woods, multiple 2013 winners Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar and, of course, British Open champion Mickelson.
Scott will finish among the best of the international golfers, but it will be outside of the top five, which won’t be much of a surprise given the recent history of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
If the pairings in the playoffs were based on world rankings, we’d have plenty of head-to-head battles coming up between Woods and Mickelson—the top two players in the game.
Unfortunately, golfers are paired by FedEx Cup rankings in the first two rounds of the next four events, meaning the duo will have to earn its way toward a showdown.
Mickelson’s game has been off since his British Open victory and changing that could take the type of focus not even Lefty will be able to muster during the next month-plus.
For his part, Woods has been dominant in PGA Tour events this year and is extremely likely to be playing late in the afternoon quite often on weekends during the playoffs. We're obviously not expecting Lefty to be there with him.
Eventually we will get the classic showdown between the two longtime rivals; it just won’t come in the playoffs—no matter how badly we want it.
Outside of Mickelson’s awe-inspiring victory at the British Open, the 2013 majors were dominated by first-time winners who ended years of frustration and reversed past disappointments in the sport’s biggest events.
To be sure, Scott, Rose and Dufner provided inspiring lessons of perseverance and dedication that will serve them well beyond the glow of their great accomplishments.
In the FedEx Cup playoffs, however, it’s not about past performance but what you've got ready to go. While all three are great, their impact on these playoffs will be minimal.
Scott sits just outside the top 10 this week and is likely the most dangerous of the trio. That said, while the Masters champ was a mainstay among major leaderboards, he did little else in PGA Tour events and is likely spent after a summer chasing a second major title.
For his part, Rose hasn't played particularly well since his U.S. Open triumph outside of one round in the PGA Championship. At seventh in the rankings, Rose is in the best position to make a run at the $10 million, but a change in form and a renewed focus will be needed to make that happen.
As for Dufner, it’s been less than two weeks since he won the PGA and getting back to that same level of focus is unlikely this week or next, for that matter.
The FedEx Cup has become a significant event on its own and doesn't need the pull of recent major winners to carry its lunch, which is good because they will not this time around.
In his two events since the 2013 British Open, Phil Mickelson’s head was in the clouds and his swing was out of sync. Considering what he accomplished at Muirfield back in July, who can blame him.
Still basking in the glow of that amazing come-from-behind victory to win his first-ever Claret Jug, Mickelson will play better in the playoffs than he did at the PGA Championship or the WGC—Bridgestone Invitational before that.
He will not, however, play well enough to win one of the next four events and by extension his first FedEx Cup championship.
Instead, we’re giving Lefty a pass on winning again this year because regaining his focus after his Muirfield mastery will prove a little too difficult—just as it did in his previous two starts.
Phil remains the world’s second-best player; he just won’t be the best at any point during the next month.
Not only is Tiger going to be a force in each of the four upcoming playoff events, he’s going to win half of them.
Whether or not he’s guaranteed to win his third FedEx Cup, however, still depends on how things shake out at the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Forgetting his struggles in this year’s majors, Woods has won five PGA Tour events and has done so on several of the most challenging layouts on the circuit. Save for a tight finish in the Players Championship, he has essentially cruised to victory in each of those.
In his last win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the world No. 1 fired a second-round 61 and won by seven shots.
The last time the Barclays was played at Liberty National, Woods finished second. This week, he will improve that performance by one spot and claim his sixth tour victory of the year.
On the heels of that performance, Woods will win either the Deutsche Bank or the BMW Championship but still won’t be guaranteed a $10 million payday at East Lake.
Someone else will win the Tour Championship. The question is whether that golfer will come from the top five and steal the trophy and cash out from under the world's best player.
Read on to discover the prediction for that one....
While the pain of a fifth straight season without a major championship victory will persist, Woods will walk off East Lake as the 2013 FedEx Cup Champion.
Having won two of the three events leading up to the Tour Championship, Tiger won’t need a win in Atlanta; which is good because he won’t get it.
Instead, Mahan will win from outside the top five and Woods will play well enough at East Lake to hold him off for the bigger prize.
The FedEx Cup victory will be Tiger's first since 2009, a breakthrough that won’t erase this year’s disappointment in the majors but could signal better things to come next year.
Woods certainly doesn't mind the cash, but there’s no question he’d trade it in a New York minute for a 15th major title.