As the FedEx Cup playoffs get closer and closer to the midway point, every round grows in importance.
Hunter Mahan is currently the man to beat. He sits atop the standings after winning The Barclays last weekend.
With three more tournaments to go, though, those a little further down the leaderboard have plenty of time to right the ship. The biggest road block is the congestion formed by all four tournaments being held in such a short span of time. Fatigue can conquer even the most skilled golfer.
Here's a look at the top 15 in the FedEx standings, followed by a general outlook on which guys could possibly compete with Mahan over the coming weeks.
Note: You can view the full standings at PGATour.com.
The FedEx playoffs don't start getting really interesting until after the Deutsche Bank Championship. The field will shrink from 100 to 70 by the time the tournament is over, thus leaving almost all of the big names still standing.
Part of the fun—not necessarily from the golfer's perspective—is watching which stars crack under the pressure and which ones are able to navigate through the minefield that is the FedEx Cup playoffs. ESPN.com's Bob Harig wrote about how difficult it can be to feature in all four events:
Last year, the four playoff events were broken up by an off week in the middle. But the PGA Tour made the inane decision to play them all in a row as a nod to the Ryder Cup, placing an off week between the Tour Championship and the biennial event in Scotland. Good for the 13 or so players who will play in Atlanta and get a week off prior to the Ryder Cup. Not so good for the 70 who will (likely) play three in a row and another 30 who qualify for the Tour Championship.
Oh, there are bound to be defections this year. Undoubtedly, there will be a big-name player or two who skips the Deutsche Bank Championship or the BMW Championship. If it's not bad enough that the playoffs consist of four straight weeks, consider that the BMW in Denver starts just three days after the Deutsche Bank ends on Labor Day Monday.
Many eyes will be on Rory McIlroy as he looks to overtake Mahan in the standings. Winning the FedEx Cup would be the cherry on top of a great 2014 for the 25-year-old.
Mahan drew first blood at The Barclays, with McIlroy finishing in a tie for 22nd. According to SportsCenter, it was the first time since mid-June that the winner of both The Open Championship and the PGA Championship entered a PGA Tour event and didn't win:
Hunter Mahan wins Barclays Open at -14. This is 1st PGA TOUR event Rory McIlroy entered & didn't win since June 15th. pic.twitter.com/73eo5mEedI— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 24, 2014
Since Rory McIlroy last entered & didn't win PGA TOUR event: • Spurs won NBA Finals • LeBron returned to Cavs • Germany won World Cup— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 24, 2014
And McIlroy is likely taking part in the BMW Championship as well, per GolfChannel.com's Jason Sobel:
Rory McIlroy says he's 90 percent in for BMW Championship in Denver. "The Broncos are playing the Colts that Sunday night. I want to go."— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 24, 2014
Any hope Mahan had of McIlroy taking it easy looks to be out the window.
Another golfer to watch is Jason Day. Injuries have dogged the 26-year-old Australian all year, but he looks to be past any health issues at present.
"We are ahead of schedule which I'm very, very happy with and pleased with how things are coming along but I do feel like my best is still to come," said Day, per The Sydney Morning Herald. "I feel like I'm peaking at the right time, I'm trending in the right direction and I have now really given myself a shot at winning the FedEx Cup."
PGATour.com's Rob Bolton seems to think Patrick Reed could be in for big things at TPC Boston. He listed the 24-year-old at the top of his power rankings Monday, writing, "Flashed taut form at Ridgewood en route to T9; ranked T12 in GIR, fourth in proximity, second in scrambling. Won another shootout (Humana)."
Reed is eighth in the FedEx Cup standings, so it wouldn't be crazy to see him at the top of the leaderboard by the time the Deutsche Bank Championship is over.
Although Reed is a better golfer this year, it's worth noting that he finished 70th in this tournament last year.
Sergio Garcia is among the few choosing to miss out on the Deutsche Bank. According to The Associated Press, via PGA.com, Garcia is joined by Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Jason Dufner, Graeme McDowell and Paul Casey.
Garcia doesn't look to be regretting the decision, tweeting out a photo from the 2014 U.S. Open:
Night Tennis at the US Open, not many events better than this !!! pic.twitter.com/v3mXZubAAS— Sergio Garcia (@TheSergioGarcia) August 26, 2014
That's what Harig was talking about when he brought up the possibility of "defections." The FedEx Cup playoffs can be a slog, and especially with the Ryder Cup this year, getting through all four tournaments simply isn't worth the risk for some.
With a stacked field for the Deutsche Bank Championship, though, don't expect the drama to diminish anytime soon.