If Rory Falters in FedEx Cup Playoffs, Who Can Take the Title?

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If Rory Falters in FedEx Cup Playoffs, Who Can Take the Title?
Mel Evans/Associated Press
Rory McIlroy didn't have his best stuff Thursday.

Before anyone gets worked up into a froth, this column is not written as a result of Rory McIlroy shooting a 74 in the opening round of the 2014 FedEx Cup playoffs.

Remain calm, all is well with the No. 1 player in the world. He would have to shoot several, maybe many more 74s before he takes himself out of contention for the $11 million he's expected to win in mid-September.

But hey, injuries happen, stuff happens. Because stuff does happen, let's play the "What if" game for a few minutes.

If something happens and McIlroy doesn't win, who's capable of finding the gold at the end of the FedEx Cup rainbow?

There some strong candidates, obviously. Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and even Phil Mickelson top that list.

Let's take a look at those guys to see who is a serious contender and who really isn't. And for this purpose, we'll blend in how they're playing now, as well as how they've done at the sites for this year's playoffs.

Cherry Hills, by the way, is the only new site of the four this year.

Rickie Fowler put together one of the best majors seasons ever, finishing in the top five in each one. He doesn't have a win this year, but does have a pair of seconds and pair of thirds.

Darren Carroll/Getty Images
Keep your eye on Phil Mickelson the next three weeks.

That's the good news for Fowler. You can't take anything away from the guy who's trying to make orange the new red on the PGA Tour. But thus far in his still-young career, Fowler's not been much in the playoffs. He's played in the Deutsche Bank four times, with his best finish a T41.

He's played in the Tour Championship once and finished T23. He certainly is talented enough, especially after he showed what he's made of battling McIlroy most of the summer. It would be a lot easier to feel really good about him if he'd won something in the last two years.

Jim Furyk has had an outstanding season, especially considering he's always been one of the shortest players off the tee and, at age 44, is not getting any longer. But he has a pair of second-place finishes and eight top-10 finishes.

And he has plenty in his history that suggests he might be someone to keep a keen eye on. Furyk has posted three top-10 finishes at the Deutsche Bank and has been phenomenal in the Tour Championship.

He's played in it every year since it moved to East Lake Country Club and has not finished worse than T14. He has five top-10s, including a victory in 2010.

Justin Rose has not shown to be much of a fan of the Deutsche Bank Championship and the TPC Boston. He has five starts there, has missed two cuts and his best finish has been a T16. In contrast, he's made five starts in the Tour Championship and all five have resulted in top-20s.

USA TODAY Sports
Jim Furyk is a dangerous grinder who is hot right now.

How's he playing this year? Starting with the Masters, Rose has registered eight top-10 finishes. The 2013 U.S. Open champion has a game that should play well as he tries to get himself in position for possibly another big week in the Tour Championship.

Sergio Garcia is one of golf's unpredictable stars. He was one of those keeping pressure on Rory McIlroy this summer as he overpowered the game. Garcia still hasn't won a major and may never. But he's been pretty darn good in the playoffs.

He's been in the top five twice in the Deutsche Bank, has qualified for the Tour Championship five times and has finished no lower than T20. He'll need to put together at least two good events to get himself into a position to win it all.

Phil Mickelson is the wild card in this year's playoffs. Before that final round 62 he shot in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, I wouldn't have given Mickelson a nickel's chance to even advance beyond the first event. You do remember he didn't have a top-10 finish all year until his second-place finish in the PGA Championship, right?

But that 62 sparked something, and he was spectacular in the PGA. Combine that with Mickelson's playoff history and you have a player who could be a real threat to McIlroy. He won the Deutsche Bank once and has another two top-10s. He also has a Tour Championship win among his six top-20s.

The man has won five majors, and if he can continue playing like he did in the PGA Championship, he could definitely win.

We've got some fun coming our way before mid-September gets here. It could turn out to be one-sided when McIlroy gets on a streak again.

Or it could be a horse race featuring the five players discussed above.

Stay tuned.

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