Picking out sleepers among the current FedEx Cup standings could be viewed as a bit insulting to the golfers who have played well enough all season just to be teeing it up in Thursday's BMW Championship.
Only 70 players are in the field for this exclusive PGA Tour playoff tournament at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado. The pool will shallow to 30 for the grand finale at the Tour Championship, so this is the last shot the outsiders in the current postseason picture have to get into FedEx Cup contention.
For a number of stateside players and Europeans, there is another notable motivating factor, as The Associated Press' Doug Ferguson asserts in his analysis:
Ryder Cup influence: In the middle of FedEx Cup and chase for $10 million, most guys more interested in a tournament they play for free.— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) August 29, 2014
The likes of previous playoff winners in Hunter Mahan and Chris Kirk are third and first in the current standings, with Rory McIlroy at No. 2. Their places are more or less secured, while others will be fighting for better position before the action shifts to Atlanta next week.
Here is a look at some of the top sleeper candidates at Cherry Hills. Some of them have played well as of late, others not as much, and it reflects in the FedEx Cup hierarchy.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of PGATour.com unless otherwise indicated.
|—||Current cutoff for The Tour Championship (Top 30 Qualify)||—|
|35||Charles Howell III||1,432|
Jordan Spieth (Ninth in FedEx Cup Standings)
Perhaps no young star in recent memory made such a loud, emphatic statement that he'd arrived in the big leagues when Spieth broke out last year. Going from no PGA Tour status to the Presidents Cup team is no small feat, nor is playing in the final pairing at the 2014 Masters and Players Championship.
But since his stellar effort at TPC Sawgrass all the way back in May, Spieth has just one top-10 finish, which came in defense of his lone victory to date at the John Deere Classic.
With the success the 21-year-old Spieth was having earlier this year, it appeared he'd be the next big hope for American golf. Then Rickie Fowler stepped up, finishing in the top five at all four majors to push Spieth into the background for the time being.
Two final-round double bogeys at the Deutsche Bank Championship sank Spieth to tied for 29th after a two-over 73. Those big numbers are deceiving outliers from the norm, though. There was enough firepower from Spieth last week to suggest he is coming back around, as PGA Tour noted in his opening round:
Spieth is due to contend after months of middling results based on his talent and fearlessness in the spotlight alone. Iron play has let him down as of late, but with the quick turnaround from TPC Boston that went into Monday, Spieth figures be physically fresher than many of his fellow competitors amid this grueling stretch of golf.
With the excitement of the Ryder Cup looming, ideal FedEx Cup positioning and all the tools to succeed, this week seems as good as any for Spieth to notch another landmark achievement in his young career.
John Senden (16th in FedEx Cup Standings)
Who is most likely to win a major in the next two years?
One of the best pure ball-strikers on the planet, Senden has often been undone by his putter. That hasn't been the case as much in 2013-14; he ranks 12th in strokes gained putting.
But since his win at the Valspar Championship in March and a subsequent top 10 at the Masters, not much had gone right for Senden in terms of bottom-line results.
Everything changed in Norton, Massachusetts, on Labor Day, where Senden shot a 66 to back up his third-round 67 and finish tied for fifth. It was his best finish since that aforementioned victory.
Before the PGA Championship got underway, where Senden missed the cut, he expressed desire to achieve more than he has in his career at age 43, via PGA.org.au:
The Major Championship win is something that I have always had as a top goal, any of them would be great. [...] For me winning two PGA TOUR events I feel proud of that and winning the Australian Open. But I don’t think you really get noticed until you win a Major.
Senden has the game to gun for the biggest trophies in golf, even though he hasn't been near the lead at marquee events as often as he would have liked to this point. The BMW Championship is a great chance for him to bolster his legacy and secure the biggest win and season of his career.
The Masters showing suggests Senden is still improving this late in his playing days. He might be considered past his prime, but as long as Senden plays as well from tee to green as he does, the smooth-swinging Aussie can't be underestimated.
Henrik Stenson (55th in FedEx Cup Standings)
Failing to win his first major at the PGA Championship for the second straight year had to be disheartening for Stenson. After struggling for much of the season to get going in defense of the FedEx Cup title, Stenson began to put things together in the summer.
Check out Stenson's form leading up to Valhalla for the year's major finale:
|BMW PGA Championship||T7|
|BMW International Open||T2|
|The Open Championship||T39|
Now he has followed up that stretch of golf with a tie for 38th at The Barclays and needed a six-under 65 in the final round on Labor Day just to make the BMW Championship field.
The strapping Swede has admitted to being a bit fatigued, via GolfChannel.com's Rex Hoggard:
I guess we have more golf ahead of us. It's that time of year when we play a lot of golf. Looking ahead to the Ryder Cup I could do with a week off. But we’ll give it a go in Denver...It wasn’t the type of defense I was looking for. [...] I'm not playing poorly but I'm a little bit run down at the moment. We do the best we can. I was never in a position where I could take a playoff event off.
He may be suggesting he isn't as fit as he'd like to be, but Stenson may be sandbagging himself to an extent. Those who are trying to wager a little coin—Stenson is listed at 28-1 for the BMW Championship, according to VegasInsider.com—may want to watch out for him.
A blistering final round at TPC Boston hints Stenson isn't going to go quietly in defending the FedEx Cup trophy—something no one has ever done in the PGA Tour postseason's brief history.
Making up ground in the FedEx Cup is difficult, but like Mahan and Kirk have shown, fortunes can change with a strong week or two. A golfer stuck on the bubble can suddenly explode into the Tour Championship field with a ton of confidence.
No one would want to see Stenson show up in Atlanta. Among the best players in the world, just about no one other than him can emulate McIlroy's power off the tee and knack for sticking iron shots close.
Stenson has gotten it done before, so despite his modest FedEx Cup standing, don't be surprised to see him bounce back in a big way at Cherry Hills. As strong as his summer was, Stenson didn't notch a win. It's something he is overdue for, whereas Senden is more of a case where victories should have piled up for him more a long time ago.
And as for Spieth, his time to be a fixture in big tournaments has already arrived. The BMW Championship could be the site of his next big step toward greatness—just in time to push for the FedEx Cup title and spark an underdog USA Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles.