The 2014 Barclays is the first of four events in the FedEx Cup playoffs, and a $10 million bonus waits at the end of the Tour Championship rainbow.
Rory McIlroy sits atop the standings. He is No. 1 in the world rankings and is coming off three straight victories, including two majors. He is the prohibitive favorite yet again ahead of Thursday's start at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey.
A final-round 62 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, followed by a runner-up finish to McIlroy by one stroke at the PGA Championship, suggests Phil Mickelson is rounding into form at the perfect time. However, Mickelson still has some ground to make up—and consistency to demonstrate—to get into FedEx Cup contention, as he is 45th in the standings.
Mickelson reflected on the nature of golf in hinting at his roller-coaster year and acknowledged the importance of performing in the playoffs when he spoke to reporters at Ridgewood Country Club:
We all go through highs and lows, and I'll try not to dwell on it or worry about it because I know it will come back and it slowly has. It started at the British and it led into the PGA, but it was a disappointing finish for me in the sense that had I played tee shots like that in the final round, it would have made the year totally different. Now I have to play well this week and in the FedExCup to really make the year salvageable.
A number of other top players are in excellent form, including reigning FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson, who was in contention before settling for a tie for third with Rickie Fowler at the PGA.
Let's take a look at the viewing information, tee times and prize money, along with some of the top groups that will provide galleries with plenty of entertainment in the first two days of the tournament.
Note: Stats were obtained via PGATour.com unless otherwise indicated.
When: Thursday, August 21 through Sunday, August 24
Where: Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the opening two rounds, visit PGATOUR.com.
Purse: $8 million; Winner's Share: $1.44 million
FedEx Cup Points: 2,500
|Thursday, April 3||2-6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Friday, April 4||2-6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Saturday, April 5||1-2:30 p.m., 3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel, CBS|
|Sunday, April 6||12-1:30 p.m., 2-6 p.m.||Golf Channel, CBS|
Analyzing Marquee Groups
The Big 3: Rory McIlroy, Jimmy Walker and Bubba Watson
McIlroy's recent romps speak for themselves. Beating such quality fields with several of the planet's best players hitting so many quality shots was almost unfathomable before The Open Championship.
McIlroy is suddenly just a 2015 Masters win away from completing the career Grand Slam, and BBC Sport compared his path to major greatness with several of golf's other legends:
As the defending Masters champion and winner of two of the last three green jackets, Watson will be among the chief challengers to derail McIlroy's Masters bid.
There is still plenty of golf between now and when McIlroy strolls up Magnolia Lane next April at Augusta National.
The playoffs will be exciting, but all three of these men will be competing in the Ryder Cup as well. This group offers a preliminary glimpse into that matchup, where Europe figures to be a heavy favorite thanks to McIlroy.
Watson has failed to follow up the Masters with good results. Save for a third-place effort at the Memorial, he has just one finish inside the top 20. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open and the British Open and placed T64 at the PGA.
That caused him to become a bit hotheaded at Valhalla, and he apologized upon arriving in New Jersey, via Golf Channel's Jason Sobel:
Bubba Watson on PGA week: "Not competing in the Long Drive was first mistake... my attitude on the course... my language was not good."— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 19, 2014
More form Bubba Watson: "It was my fault. Everything's my fault and I should be bigger and stronger and better than that."— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 19, 2014
Walker, sandwiched between McIlroy and Watson in the FedEx Cup standings, won three times early in the 2013-14 campaign and hasn't won since. This is all new to Walker, but, to his credit, he posted three top-10 finishes in the four majors and isn't shying away from his unprecedented exposure to the limelight.
While McIlroy and Watson are among the longest players in the game, Walker isn't a slouch in that department. He averages over 300 yards off the tee, albeit with the 185th-ranked driving accuracy. The Ryder Cup may help Walker rise to the occasion yet again, based on his enthusiasm for the impending competition at Gleneagles:
The real key for Walker this season has been on the greens, where he ranks third on tour in total putting, just ahead of McIlroy (15th) and well in front of Watson (116th).
Should that hold true this week, perhaps the pair of multiple major winners next to Walker will be outshone if they aren't sharp enough with the flat iron.
Past, Present and Future: Martin Kaymer, Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler
This trio of golfers is ranked in order from 14th through 16th in FedEx Cup points. The developments in their careers create compelling outlooks ahead of the postseason and beyond.
Both Kaymer and Scott endured slumps after immense success in their 20s. After beating the likes of McIlroy and Watson down the stretch at the 2010 PGA Championship, Kaymer went on to be No. 1 in the world for a time.
Swing changes saw Kaymer fall off for a number of years. The results this season have been inconsistent, but when he's been on, the German star has been special. An eight-shot win at the U.S. Open and a triumph at The Players Championship showed how good he can be when he's on his A-game.
Rising as high as No. 3 in the world as a younger player, Scott collapsed before re-emerging to seize the top ranking before McIlroy went on his torrid recent run.
The Aussie acknowledged amid a tie for 15th at the PGA—his first result outside the top 10 in six starts—that he wasn't quite where he wanted to be, via Golf Channel:
As for Fowler, he still has only one PGA Tour victory on his resume, but he also made history at the majors this season, per Golf Channel's Alex Myers:
Rickie Fowler's aggregate score in golf's four majors this year was tied for THIRD-best of all time. Poor guy... http://t.co/RphMmZOnK0— Alex Myers (@AlexMyers3) August 12, 2014
Kaymer and Scott looked like they'd peak and flame out in their early 20s, but they are once again thriving, with a ton of positive momentum to draw on in the coming years.
Fowler appears on the cusp of greatness and a rise to golf's elite in his 20s. Whether he can sustain it remains to be seen, especially after such agonizing close calls at the majors. He was only denied victories by historic performances in front of him.
At least the young American is taking solace in how well he prepared for golf's biggest events:
No matter what happens in the playoffs, Fowler ought to be a favorite every week. Don't be surprised to see him break through for a second win. Playing alongside major champions in Kaymer and Scott is bound to push Fowler along.
With a week off to regroup after falling short to McIlroy and Mickelson at Valhalla, the 26-year-old will be ramping up the intensity. Since he played so well in majors, it would be ideal for Fowler to thicken the FedEx Cup playoff plot by carving out his own greatness on this unique stage.
Steady Vets: Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia
Which group will produce The Barclays winner?
The former two aren't flashy and don't hit the ball far, but they find a way to stay near the top of the leaderboard on a regular basis with smart course management and a knack for grinding out pars.
Mental fortitude has always been something of a question mark for Garcia, whose failure to win a major to date is a bit of a shock considering his talent level.
But the Spaniard has putted far better in the past few years after switching to the claw grip and could have had McIlroy at The Open Championship, only to fall short by two strokes. Garcia didn't choke the Claret Jug away. McIlroy was just a bit better.
A runner-up finish to McIlroy followed, as Garcia lost a three-shot, 54-hole lead rather quickly. Now, he must bounce back after a disappointing tie for 35th at Valhalla.
Furyk has not won on tour since the 2010 Tour Championship, which wrapped up the FedEx Cup trophy for him. He has three runner-up finishes this year along with a fourth-place finish at the British Open.
Critics have been doubting Furyk for years, but he's hung tough and enters The Barclays off a tie for fifth in the PGA Championship. Based on this information and analysis from Golf Channel's Will Gray and ESPN Stats & Info, the chip on Furyk's shoulder will remain healthy even at age 44:
This also means that 44-year-old Jim Furyk is now the highest-ranked American golfer. (*Sound of Paul McGinley cackling in a dark corner*)— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) August 11, 2014
Tiger Woods out of consideration for Ryder Cup. Woods has 17 match losses in Ryder Cup career, tied with Jim Furyk for 2nd-most for USA— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 14, 2014
Just behind the world No. 6 Furyk is Kuchar in seventh. Though he did earn a victory at the RBC Heritage, Kuchar has had a number of other opportunities to seal the deal and failed to do so. Back problems caused Kuchar to withdraw from the PGA Championship, putting a dimmer on his otherwise bright postseason prospects.
For a player who is in the top 10 as often as anyone on tour, the FedEx Cup playoffs are the ideal arena for Kuchar's style to be rewarded. As long as he's fit to compete, Kuchar can't be counted out this week and moving forward.
If McIlroy continues to bring his best to the course, it might not matter how well anyone else is playing. Save for Fowler, no one has played at a similar level across all four majors, and McIlroy hasn't been caught by anyone in the past three tournaments.
Until we see otherwise, McIlroy has all the tools to keep dominating the sport. It's already been a great season regardless of the playoffs. Should McIlroy, Fowler, Mickelson and others keep the momentum going now, though, the FedEx Cup would mean more.
Absent Tiger Woods, golf needs that kind of spice at the moment. The Barclays can be the first provider of that as long as McIlroy and the rest of the world's best play well.