Sandwiched between the end of the PGA Championship and the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs, the Wyndham Championship offers fans a competitive stepping stone between two of the most exciting times of the season.
Last week's tremendous finale at Valhalla saw Rory McIlroy join Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players with four majors at age 25. McIlroy won't be in action this week, as he seeks to recharge his batteries before the PGA Tour's postseason, but the field is rather strong, all things considered.
Following the playoffs is the Ryder Cup, which American Patrick Reed has qualified for thanks to three wins in his young career. Reed's breakthrough victory came at this tournament last year, when he defeated U.S. prodigy and 2014 Ryder Cup teammate Jordan Spieth in a playoff.
The Ryder Cup points are closed, but USA captain Tom Watson will decide on three at-large captain's picks. Several golfers in the running for such a designation will also be striding the fairways at Sedgefield Country Club.
Here is an overview of how to catch the golf beginning on Thursday in Greensboro, North Carolina, along with a breakdown of the top groups to watch.
Note: Statistics and information are courtesy of PGATour.com.
When: Thursday, August 14, to Sunday, August 17
Where: Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, North Carolina
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit PGATour.com.
Purse: $5.3 million
FedEx Cup Points: 500
|Thursday, August 14||3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Friday, August 15||3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Saturday, August 16||1-2:30 p.m.; 3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel; CBS|
|Sunday, August 17||1-2:30 p.m.; 3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel; CBS|
Analyzing Marquee Groups
Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker and Webb Simpson
To stick with the Ryder Cup narrative, Reed ought to inspire and lift the level of play for both Snedeker and Simpson, who are pictured above playing on the most recent Presidents Cup team.
Rex Hoggard of Golf Channel provides a snapshot of the situation for the USA team ahead of September's showdown with Europe at Gleneagles:
Final US Ryder Cup points. Mickelson in, Dufner out. pic.twitter.com/rJVqQpzLsg— Rex Hoggard (@RexHoggardGC) August 11, 2014
Simpson won the Wyndham Championship in 2011, less than one year before he won his maiden major at the U.S. Open. Although Snedeker doesn't have a major to his name and has struggled for much of the season, he was the 2012 FedEx Cup champion and is one of the best putters on the planet when he's on his game.
But there is no question that Snedeker, sitting 21st in the points standings (h/t ESPN.com), has a lot more ground to make up than Simpson. Snedeker won this tournament at a different venue in 2007. However, he is playing better golf as of late.
Mike O'Malley of Golf Digest lauded the way Snedeker closed out the PGA Championship at Valhalla:
You can be sure that Brandt Snedeker's 68-66-67 finish caught the attention of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson.— Mike O'Malley (@GD_MikeO) August 11, 2014
PGA Tour pointed out that Snedeker is indeed scoring better in recent starts:
Reed is the man to beat, though. Ever since making his comments about being a top-five player in the world, he has gone through the majors as a non-factor.
Getting to prove himself in a respectable title defense, in the FedEx Cup playoffs and at Gleneagles would go a long way in changing the somewhat negative perception about him. Reed probably doesn't care about that, but he's a massive, young American talent, and he should care.
Hideki Matsuyama, Billy Horschel and Nick Watney
The Memorial Tournament winner in Matsuyama seems undaunted by the grandest stages golf has to offer. See his maiden PGA Tour victory, which came at an event Nicklaus hosts.
An impressive run at the majors last season featuring two top-10 finishes didn't translate to this year. Matsuyama should be on a mission to re-establish himself as one of the young guns to be reckoned with.
When the going got tough at Valhalla, Matsuyama showed he wasn't going to give up, per The Associated Press' Doug Ferguson:
You want clutch? Lost in Tiger's play late yesterday, Hideki Matsuyama went birdie-eagle to make the cut on the number.— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) August 9, 2014
Horschel is a magnificent driver of the golf ball. Where he falls short is in the short game, as he ranks 171st in scrambling, 104th in total putting and 143rd in three-putt avoidance, which can derail a round's momentum.
No one could ever accuse Horschel of not playing with significant passion, something the Ryder Cup team could use. In addition to Snedeker and another intense competitor in Keegan Bradley, ESPN's John Buccigross named Horschel as a potential USA captain's selection:
Bubba, Rickie, Furyk, Walker, Mickelson, Kuchar, Spieth, Reed qualifyfor Ryder Cup. I'd take @BrandtSnedeker/@Keegan_Bradley/Billy Horschel— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) August 11, 2014
We'll see what Watson thinks if Horschel finishes high on the leaderboard—or wins.
One of the most promising U.S. players in recent memory, Watney never quite lived up to the hype and has endured a slump in 2013-14. A jolt came at the Barracuda Championship, where Watney registered his first top-10 finish of the season. That came after a joint-12th effort at the RBC Canadian Open.
Watney and Horschel have similar skill sets in that they're both long and straight off the tee and struggle on and around the greens. Perhaps they can feed off each other, see the hole get a little bigger and turn in strong performances before the weekend.
Bill Haas, Davis Love III and Fred Couples
Love and Couples served as captain and vice-captain, respectively, in the 2012 Ryder Cup collapse at Medinah that saw the USA blow a big lead in singles matches on the final day.
Both are in their 50s, suggesting they should be exclusively on the Champions Tour by now. Just don't tell them that. Couples and Love still can crank it a long way and have the ball-striking chops to hang with the younger golfers in their primes.
As for Haas, Golf Digest's Luke Kerr-Dineen noted how steady, albeit unspectacular, Haas has been all season:
Interesting stat on Bill Haas: His WD at the Heritage was the only time in 23 events this year he didn't play the weekend.— Luke Kerr-Dineen (@LukeKerrDineen) August 12, 2014
Haas has won the FedEx Cup before, stands 35th in the points standings and yet has no truly memorable performances from the entire year. Never has he had a top-10 finish in a major, though no one had more such results on the PGA Tour last season.
Which group will produce the winner of the Wyndham Championship?
Between Haas' past success in the playoffs to draw on and the Ryder Cup stories he's bound to hear from Love and Couples while playing alongside them for 36 holes, some sort of fire ought to be ignited. At age 32, Haas has to start making it happen in the majors, where he often comes out flat and off his game.
A strong result this week, combined with a nice playoff performance, could catapult Haas forward and push him to the next level, where he's contending for majors and fulfilling his potential to do so.
All of these aforementioned storylines, along with the last-ditch efforts being made by some to qualify for the postseason, promise to make the Wyndham Championship compelling.
This tournament will provide a deeper glimpse into golf's bright future, where even playing fields that lack household-name star power are generating competitive greatness seemingly every week. As a bonus, a number of major champions, including Ernie Els, will also be in the mix at Sedgefield.
Only diehard golf fans may tune in, but those who were captivated by the finish at Valhalla this last Sunday won't be disappointed by watching what transpires in Greensboro.