The top 125 golfers in the FedEx Cup rankings tee it up this week at Liberty National.
The FedEx Cup playoffs get rolling Thursday at The Barclays with most of the top 125 golfers of the 2013 season on hand.
The event, which makes a return to Liberty National Golf Club for the first time since 2009, is the first of four tournaments that will ultimately determine the 2013 PGA Tour champion and the fortunate winner of $10 million.
While winning is still the ultimate goal at The Barclays, there will be a competition inside the competition this week.
Led by playoffs leader Tiger Woods, the golfers at the top of the rankings will be looking to solidify their positions in the FedEx Cup, while golfers in the bottom quarter of the draw will be looking to punch a ticket to next week’s Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston.
Get teed up with everything you need to know to enjoy the playoffs' initial test this weekend. What’s at stake, when to watch, who to follow and who might surprise you are just a few of the nuggets we drop on you here.
The five-week journey to deciding a champion begins this week at The Barclays.
Saddle up. It's going to be a fun ride.
The first time Liberty National played host to The Barclays, it debuted to mixed results.
Some appreciated the young course’s test and its scenic views of the New York City skyline.
Others, including Tiger Woods, felt it too penal and not up to the task of hosting a FedEx Cup playoff event back in 2009.
With some significant changes intended to improve its playability and design, the Jersey City course gets a second shot at hosting the PGA Tour event four years later. This time around, it will likely bask in rave reviews all around.
Fifteen of the course’s 18 holes have undergone some form of redesign, including the moving of greens and creeks to improve playability and sight lines.
Across the course, trees have been removed, the rough has been changed, and the general condition of the rustic course has been upgraded.
In order to make the course less penal, the rough has been cut down to allow golfers to survive slightly wayward shots off the tee and from the fairways.
That said, any shot more than just a bit off the intended target will still face the full test of the course as it did in 2009.
Heath Slocum won the 2009 Barclays with a nine-under, while Tiger finishing in a tie for second one shot back despite his disapproval of the layout.
Expect similar scores this week as a friendlier Liberty National will still prove plenty difficult for the game’s elite.
With at least 16 hours of television coverage cued up for The Barclays starting Thursday, there will be ample opportunities to follow the action at Liberty National.
So get your calendar cleared, your excuses for leaving work early lined up or your TiVo scheduled. It’s going to be a fun kickoff to the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Thursday and Friday
3 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET—The Golf Channel
1 to 2:30 p.m. ET—The Golf Channel
3 to 6 p.m. ET—CBS
Noon to 1:30 p.m. ET—The Golf Channel
2 to 6 p.m. ET—CBS
With the lure of a $10 million payout in front of the world’s best players, the beginning of the FedEx Cup playoffs is the leading storyline at Liberty National this week.
The entire field certainly wants to win this event, but its place in the larger scheme of things is without a doubt on every golfer's mind.
A victory this week won’t necessarily translate into a title at the close of the playoffs, but it will certainly go a long way in delivering the victor a trip to the Tour Championship in a month’s time.
Likewise, with a poor performance at Liberty National, dreams of that huge payday and career-defining accomplishment may be severely damaged or outright extinguished.
Specific to this week, everyone is eagerly awaiting the performance of Woods and Mickelson—the world’s top two golfers in that order. The two rivals return to work at The Barclays after taking last week off to lick their PGA Championship wounds.
For a change, Tiger isn't weighed down by his quest for a 15th major. That effort won’t renew until about eight months from now. With five PGA Tour victories already in the bag, Tiger is the favorite to not only win this week but also claim the FedEx crown for the third time in seven years.
For his part, Mickelson looks to emerge from the fog he’s been in since his stirring victory at the British Open and begin the hunt for his first FedEx Cup championship.
Nick Watney is the defending champion, but he’ll need to play much better than he has so far this year to earn the repeat. Watney, who claimed the 2012 Barclays on the Black Course at Bethpage, enters the playoffs 63rd in the standings. He hasn't won on tour this year.
Given the significance of the event, only two notable golfers among the top 125 are not at Liberty National. Zach Johnson is taking the week off to attend his brother's wedding, and Steve Stricker is nursing a sore hamstring.
Twenty-five of the golfers teeing it up at Liberty National on Thursday won’t be doing so a week later at TPC Boston.
The first cut of the FedEx Cup will come Sunday, and only the top 100 golfers will make their way to the Deutsche Bank.
Projections published Monday by PGATour.com suggest it will take 550 points to ensure passage into next week’s tournament. Based on current standings, that mean golfers in the top 86 spots are in good shape for moving on, regardless of what they do in The Barclays this week.
That means major champions such as Ernie Els and Stewart Cink and accomplished veterans like Ian Poulter and Rory Sabbatini—all ranked between 70 and 85—are safe…at least for this week.
On the flip side, however, several well-known golfers have work to do if they hope to play beyond this week.
Bo Van Pelt and Justin Leonard sit at 90 and 91, respectively, both just short of 550 points and dangerously close to the 100-player cut line.
Geoff Ogilvy and Martin Kaymer are even further down the list at 99 and 103, respectively, and they most certainly have to play well to advance.
Those golfers, like all the players between 87 and 100, can’t just rest on their laurels in The Barclays and assume they will continue to play next week.
That’s the beauty of a playoff event. The battle at the bottom can be just as interesting as the one going on at the top.
It’s going to take a clear mind and steady hand to succeed at Liberty National this week. A little experience on the difficult golf course couldn't hurt either.
Hosting a PGA Tour event for just the second time in its relatively brief history, the Jersey City gem features strategic water hazards in the form of winding creeks throughout the layout, which will force golfers to navigate not only carefully but also thoughtfully.
Pulling the right club, knowing where to hit and then executing the shot is critical at the layout, which offers breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline.
At the same time, Liberty National stretches to more than 7,400 yards, meaning even the longest hitters will be forced to hit driver on the appropriate holes and in the right moments. Playing conservatively with 3-wood or less will leave longer, more difficult approach shots on many par-fours.
After some criticism about course setup the last time Liberty National hosted The Barclays back in 2009, the first cut of rough at the course has been shortened, and several greens have been moved to allow for better angles and sight lines.
But even with the changes, golfers who were around for that 2009 test will benefit from the lessons it provided.
Among those is Tiger, who shot an eight-under and missed forcing a playoff by just one shot. He went on to win his second FedEx Cup title several weeks later.
Among other golfers who challenged four years ago are defending champion Watney, four-time major winner Els and Englishman Poulter.
Positive experience on the course doesn't mean victory, but it’s a good thing to have on a difficult layout like Liberty National.
While the top of the FedEx Cup rankings is the "who’s who" of professional golf, a number of golfers outside the top 20 are harboring realistic hopes of not only winning The Barclays this week but also making a run toward that $10 million.
Some of those golfers have the benefit of positive experience from the last time the tournament was played at Liberty National.
Chief among those is Hunter Mahan, who currently sits just outside the top 20 in the standings but played well in 2009 after finishing in a tie for 20th. The Texan enters this year’s event in solid form after challenging late in both the U.S. Open and British Open and playing well early at the PGA Championship.
Despite finishing second at Oak Hill a couple of weeks ago, Jim Furyk is 23rd in the playoff hierarchy coming into The Barclays and should be considered a serious threat to capture the event come Sunday.
Lee Westwood is 35th in the standings and has certainly shown good form this summer. Stealing The Barclays and challenging for the FedEx title would help ease the pain of his final-round struggles at the 2013 British Open.
Defending champion Watney resides in the low 60s and certainly has pleasant memories of Liberty National after finishing in a tie for sixth back in 2009. The American’s victory last year sent him soaring up the rankings, and a win this weekend would do the same thing.
Highlighted by these accomplished golfers, there’s plenty of talent outside the top 20 in the rankings, and it isn't a stretch to expect several players from that list to make significant leaps up the ladder this week.
Every time Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson tee it up on the PGA Tour, they are the odds-on favorites to win. That certainly is the case again this week at The Barclays.
But considering the world-class talent teeing it up at Liberty National, neither should be considered a sure bet to ring the bell this weekend.
Consider the company Woods has in his pairing alone. The world No. 1 tees it up with Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker. Each golfers has two wins on the PGA Tour this year.
Added together, they still fall one behind Tiger’s tally in 2013, but they are certainly significant threats to match Woods shot for shot this week.
Mickelson gets it going with 2011 FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas and Billy Horschel, both of whom have also won this year and should play well at Liberty National.
Among the other playoff leaders who will be heard from are 20-year-old phenom Jordan Spieth, Masters champion Adam Scott and the long-hitting Dustin Johnson.
Another golfer to keep a really close eye on is Jason Day, who played well at the PGA Championship two weeks ago and finished in a tie for 12th the last time Liberty National hosted The Barclays.
Considering the quality of those favorites, as well as others who have gone unmentioned, whoever claims the first event of the 2013 playoffs will have certainly earned it.
The last time Liberty National hosted The Barclay’s, Tiger nearly won it. Four years later, he’s back to finish the deal.
While Woods failed to win a major this year, he played nearly flawlessly on some of the PGA Tour’s toughest courses, including the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, Doral and Bay Hill.
At the difficult Firestone Country Club, Woods recorded a second-round 61 and won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational by seven shots.
Given that level of dominance, it’s hard to bet against Woods.
Tiger’s test will be to hit the driver well and to take advantage of solid approach shots by holing key putts along the way.
He failed to do either at Oak Hill two weeks ago, and he finished the PGA Championship far back in the pack. He did the exact same at the U.S. Open back in June.
That hasn't been the case on the PGA Tour, however. In those events, Woods is back in form. If he plays to his significant potential, the rest of the field is essentially playing for second place.
He won’t dominate like he did in four of his five previous victories, but he will claim victory No. 6 of the year at The Barclays and widen his lead in the 2013 playoffs in the process.