Featured Group: Watney, Stricker, Simpson

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August 24, 2011
Helen Ross, PGA TOUR.COM
Nick WATNEY, Steve STRICKER, Webb SIMPSON RD. 1 tee time (No. 10): 8:21 a.m. ET
RD. 2 tee time (No. 1): 1:06 p.m. ET
Golf Channel

At each PGA TOUR event this season, a featured pairing will be highlighted prior to the first round. Here is the featured group for Thursday and Friday at The Barclays.

EDISON, N.J. -- One is nicknamed Mr. September. The other two players are nearly two decades younger and are just coming into their own on the PGA TOUR.

BarclaysPicks.jpg

The PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup, which begins its four-event run this week at The Barclays, offer Nick Watney, Steve Stricker and Webb Simpson a tremendous opportunity. The three go into the chase for the $10 million bonus ranged Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the standings, respectively.

Watney owns a 41-point lead over Stricker, who enters the Playoffs ranked second for the third straight year, and is 45 ahead of Webb Simpson, who jumped nine spots when he won his first PGA TOUR event on Sunday at the Wyndham Championship. The three will play together in the Featured Group -- teeing off No. 10 at 8:21 a.m. ET on Friday and No. 1 at 1:06 on Friday.

Watney has two victories in 2011, marking the first multiple win season of his career. The lanky Californian picked up his first World Golf Championships title at the Cadillac Championship, two years after finishing second at TPC Blue Monster. Four months later, Watney prevailed at the AT&T National, bringing his career total to four.

The 30-year-old Watney has been one of the TOUR's most consistent players this season, hence his lofty rank in the FedExCup standings. He ranks inside the top 10 in 11 statistical categories, including third in birdies, fifth all-around and in strokes gained putting and seventh in birdies.

Stricker has never won the FedExCup but he has been the most consistent player in the Playoffs with 10 top-10 finishes in 16 events, including two wins. He finished second to Tiger Woods in the inaugural FedExCup and has finished 14th, third and seventh in the last three years. He also leads the TOUR with 39 rounds in the 60s in the Playoffs.

Stricker, who has matched Watney with two victories this season, had a golden opportunity to win the $10 million bonus a year ago as he entered the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola ranked fourth. Jim Furyk, who eventually captured the FedExCup, was 11th at the same juncture but ended up winning the finale at East Lake. Stricker tied for 25th -- but if the rest of the leaderboard had remained the same, Stricker could have won the FedExCup with a solo seventh or better.

That's how close the FedExCup can be -- particularly with the Playoffs points ranked five times as much as during the Regular Season. So seizing momentum is key, and Simpson obviously enters the Playoffs with it after the win at Sedgefield on Sunday.

The North Carolinian was ranked 12th in the FedExCup entering the Wyndham Championship, the second highest-ranked player in the standings without a PGA TOUR victory. He closed with a 67 on Sunday, though, to beat George McNeill by three strokes.

Simpson's victory hardly came as a surprise -- earlier this season he finished second at the Transitions Championship and lost in a playoff at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Statistical comparison
Key stats from Watney, Stricker, Simpson from the 2011 season (TOUR rank in parentheses)
Category
WATNEY

STRICKER

SIMPSON
 
Driving distance 300.0 (23rd) 287.9 (124th) 298.4 (36th)
Driving accuracy 58.61% (129th) 63.93% (61st) 62.26% (86th)
Greens in regulation 66.86% (38th) 65.87% (68th) 68.67% (15th)
Strokes gained - putting .734 (3rd) 1.070 (1st) .244 (59th)
Scoring average 69.30 (3rd) 69.04 (2nd) 69.39 (4th)
Career at The Barclays
  Nick Watney Steve Stricker Webb Simpson
Appearance 7th 6th 3rd
Cuts Made/Missed 5/1 5/0 2/0
Wins 0 1 0
Top-10s 1 3 1
Top 25s 3 4 1
Best Finish T6 (2009) 1st (2007) 8th (2009)
Last Appearance/Finish 2010/T36 2010/T3 2010/T36
Scoring Avg. 70.77 69.50 70.00

Simpson will be making his third appearance at The Barclays this week. He held the 36-hole lead at Liberty National in 2009 and went on to tie for seventh. He'll be looking to get to the TOUR Championship for the first time.

EXPERT PREDICTIONS: We asked some of our PGATOUR.COM experts to predict which player will fare best this week at Plainfield:

Stan Awtrey: Simpson: He's on a hot streak right now and is brimming with confidence after picking up his first TOUR win.

Melanie Hauser: Stricker. No brainer here. Mr. September. Mr. Barclays. No matter what the venue, Stricker is always ready to kick off the playoff stretch at this event.

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