10 Burning Questions Ahead of the 2013 FedEx Cup
Tiger Woods may be more than 750 points ahead of second place Matt Kuchar in the FedEx Cup standings, but he is not a shoo-in for the $10 million top prize.
In fact, just last year Brandt Snedeker wasn’t even in the top 10 entering The Barclays and ended up winning the whole thing.
With so many players performing so well, 2013 could be just as difficult to handicap. There are a slew of young players with the skills and the demeanor to win. Both of the game’s long-standing best players, Tiger and Phil Mickelson, have had stand-out years. Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Jason Dufner each won a major, while Snedeker and Kuchar have won twice on the tour.
Then there’s the questionable Rory McIlroy, last year’s No. 1 player in the world, who came in second to Snedeker in a rousing playoff sequence that included the best golfers in the world.
And, with the oddball system of resetting points prior to the last event, who knows who could creep in and win at the last minute?
As the tour heads into the postseason, a number of burning questions are yet to be answered.
Which Young Gun Will Rise?
This has been the year of youthful precociousness in the PGA, as a number of new players have risen to the occasion. There were first-time winners galore, and guys in their 20s were giving their older peers fits, as they scooted by them in the standings.
Of the group, who has the best chance to rise to the top?
Billy Horschel, currently ranked sixth in FedEx Cup points, has been one of the big surprises of the year. In only his third full year on the tour, Horschel won his first tournament at the Zurich Classic and finished in the top 10 seven times. He is in the top 30 in a variety of stats, including total driving, strokes gained, putting, scoring average and greens in regulation. Horschel’s finishes also include his tie for fourth at the U.S. Open.
Twenty-year-old Jordan Spieth, everyone’s pick for Rookie of the Year, refuses to act his age. Just last week, he lost in a playoff to Patrick Reed at the Wyndham Championship. He gained fame earlier in the year by becoming the youngest player in 82 years to win a PGA Tour event at the John Deere Classic. Currently ranked eighth in FedEx Cup points, Spieth has what it takes in his bag and his head to win.
Patrick Reed not only won last week’s Wyndham Championship, he did so by going 59 for 59 on putts within six feet. The 23-year-old Reed’s first career victory caps off a month in which he finished in the top 10 in three straight events and may be one of the hottest young bucks entering the playoffs.
Russell Henley won the Sony Open in Hawaii in January and then went on to finish in the top 10 three more times during the year while earning almost $2 million. Ranked 24th in the FedEx Cup Standings, Henley combines skillful driving (ranked 18th on the tour) and putting (11th in strokes gained).
Will Jason Day Finally Win an Event?
You may be surprised to learn that Jason Day has yet to win an event this year. It seemed that every time we looked around, there he was threatening to win not just any event but a major.
How’s this for “major” frustration: A tie for eighth at the PGA Championship, a tie for second at the U.S. Open and a third place finish at the Masters.
At only 25, Day has a remarkable propensity to challenge the best on the biggest stages.
Now ranked 14th in the FedEx Cup standings, look for Day to do the same in the FedEx Cup playoffs, where he is very likely to rise to the competition again.
Can Luke Donald and Lee Westwood Find Retribution in the Playoffs?
One of the tour’s most watched stories has been the inability of top players Luke Donald and Lee Westwood to grab their long-awaited first major victory.
Ranked 11th and 14th in the world respectively, neither player can call 2013 a truly successful year. Each positioned himself to capture a major title, only to have it end in disappointment and frustration.
For Donald, his opportunity came at the U.S. Open, where the title was within reach only to shoot a 75 on Sunday and finish in a tie for eighth. He then missed the cut at both the British Open and the PGA Championship, and he now comes to the playoffs on a down slope.
Westwood’s demise was more insidious, including his inability to close at the British Open, where he entered on Sunday with the lead. He then went on to a mediocre tie for 33rd at the PGA Championship and was last “heard” in a Twitter rant that seemed way out of character.
Would a win at the FedEx Cup lessen the psychological damage of not winning that coveted first major for two of the tour’s best players? That remains to be seen. But, each has the ability to rise to the top and the desire to prove their worth.
Can Henrik Stenson Continue His Blistering Pace?
The best comeback story of the year has been that of 36-year-old Henrik Stenson who had disappeared from the top ranks.
Once one of golf’s most competitive players, Stenson hasn’t won since 2009, but this year he finished second three times and third once.
Most notably, Stenson was in contention on the last day at both the Open Championship (second place) and the PGA Championship (third place), and at one point, he was ranked first in both total driving and greens in regulation.
He currently ranks fourth on the tour in scoring average and should be considered one of the favorites to win the Cup.
Will Adam Scott Prove He's the Rightful Player of the Year?
Adam Scott was not satisfied with just winning his first major at the Masters and disposing of the demons that cost him the British Open championship last year. He clearly has made a case for surpassing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as the game’s best player.
In addition to his win at the Masters, Scott finished in the top 10 five times and never missed a cut. He was in the running at the British Open, where he finished tied for third and followed that with a tie for fifth at the PGA Championship.
Should he actually win the FedEx Cup, he might also take the Player of the Year award.
Were it not for Tiger and Phil, the fourth-ranked player in the world would assuredly be the No. 1 favored player in every event he enters.
Can Rory Gain Redemption with a Win?
Actually, the question should be, Can Rory Win Again? Well, at only 24-years-old and only a year from his pure dominance of 2011-2012, of course the troubled Irishman will score many victories down the road.
But, how long is that road, and will he make a stop at one of the FedEx Cup playoff venues where he played so well last year, winning both the Deutsche Bank and the BMW championship legs of the playoffs?
Rory entered 2013 as the No. 1 Player in the Year and, while he still ranks third, his position of 47th in FedEx Cup points is more in line with a season in which he hasn’t had a win.
If it seems that there are too many questions, it is because Rory’s play has been so mysterious. Rarely have we seen such a rapid fall-off from success. Rarely, have we seen the type of emotion and frustration that besets a player when things are not going his way.
Rory still can pound the ball down the fairway and still has the innate ability to take control of a golf event. The question remains, When will he do it again?
Can Brandt Snedeker Repeat?
Since its inception in 2007, no one has won the Cup in consecutive years, although Tiger Woods won it twice in 2007 and 2009.
Ranking third in the standings and only 841 points behind Tiger, Brandt Snedeker has a chance to change that stat.
Last year, he stealthily crept up the standings to gain his title as FedEx Cup champion. He finished second at The Barclays, sixth at the Deutsche Bank, was 37th at the BMW and then ran past his competition by winning the Tour Championship.
His win showed that the playoffs are wide open, especially if, like Snedeker, a player gets a hot hand.
Snedeker continued his fine play through 2013, in which he has won twice and finished in the top 10 eight times.
He knows what it takes to win, and he should be a heavy favorite this time around.
Will Tiger Run Away with It?
Tiger Woods is certainly having the kind of year that brings to mind the last time he won the FedEx Cup.
That was 2009, when he had five wins (like this year) and top 10 finishes in three majors (he’s had two this year) and was ranked No. 1 in the world going into the FedEx Cup playoffs, as he is now.
So, what or who is there to stop him from his third FedEx title?
If this was a major, we could say he has trouble closing on Sunday. But, it isn’t and he could end up securing enough points to win by approaching it with the tenacity that brought him the win at the Players Championship and Bridgestone Invitation this year against a similar lineup of players.
Tiger’s wins this year have not been inconsequential. They have just not been at majors which we all know is his main goal.
Tiger sits first in scoring average and second in strokes gained putting, and he knows when to keep his driver in the bag and when to take it out. He manages a golf course as well as anyone out there, and he remains the golfer most likely to win.
Which Phil Mickelson Will Show Up?
Just a few weeks ago, Phil Mickelson may have had Player of the Year in the bag, if for no other reason than his remarkable Sunday 66 that brought him his first British Open victory.
In that one instance, he won our hearts and minds and capped off a really wonderful year of golf. Remarkably, he won after a heartbreaking loss at the U.S. Open, where he finished second for the sixth time. If he hadn’t done anything else the entire year, he still would have had the empathy of the golf world.
It looked like he and Tiger would square off against each other at the PGA Championship in what would determine the POY award, another major victory, the No. 1 world ranking and, of course, bragging rights.
Instead, both he and Tiger did little at Oak Hill and Phil, who finished tied for 72nd, looked lost and bewildered.
So, which Phil will show up at The Barclays and beyond? Will we see the magical player who makes us gasp at daring 3-woods off the fairway and unimaginable flop shots off the green or the one who wrests failure from the jaws of success by knocking tee shots out of bounds at key times in the tournament?
That is the beauty and frustration of watching Phil play, and it makes the upcoming playoffs that much more interesting.
Since the FedEx Cup Is Not a Major, Do You Really Care?
Ten million bucks. That is what the winner of the FedEx Cup gets.
What else? Of course, the right to a made-up title in a made-up playoff system that didn’t even exist a few years ago.
From a fan’s standpoint, the FedEx Cup pits the best players in the world, or at least the 125 who accrued enough points during the year to get into it, against each other. That alone makes it a pretty fun series of events to watch. And, we love to watch golf at the highest level.
But in the end, it is a money-based event, not a genuinely prestigious one. What player would substitute a win at the Masters or U.S. Open for the FedEx title? What young kid now practicing on the green imagines himself sinking a putt to win the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola rather than at Augusta?
And what will it ultimately determine? We have the World Ranking and we have the FedEx Cup point system, both of which are odd and untenable methods of computing who’s the best.
Last year, Rory McIlroy won two of the playoff events and had more than 7,200 points prior to the final TOUR Championship, or almost 4,000 points more than Brandt Snedeker, who eventually won the championship. This occurred due to a policy of “resetting” points before the final event so that no one could win early.
To the FedEx Cup creators, resetting points is about equanimity, as it protects the playoffs from ending early if someone like Rory is running away with it.
To us, it sounds like just plain weird, overtly materialistic and surely not the stuff of majors.
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