Lesson of FedExCup Playoffs: Find a way to the finale at East Lake

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Bill Haas made it to East Lake -- and was rewarded when he won the FedExCup finale in a playoff.
August 21, 2012
Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- Whatever the sport and whichever the season, whenever playoffs time rolls around, a common thread runs though the competition: big dreams can become reality.

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This is true even in the cold heart of the Big City. Around these parts, you can hear the pounding pulse of New York City beating across the Long Island Sound down to the East River for a reminder of this truth from only a year ago. After 14 regular-season games, the New York Giants were a struggling embodiment of mediocrity at 7-7. Then, they took off on an improbable late-season run of six straight victories, swiftly transforming into Super Bowl champions.

This week on the major championship venue of the Bethpage State Park Black Course, we'll learn whether the FedExCup Playoffs -- the PGA TOUR's official postseason series of four elimination tournaments -- can summon a similar plot when The Barclays gets under way.

The odds might be against it. But, hey, it's happened before.

Granted, the FedExCup Playoffs don't have the same argument-ending finality of the World Series, the NBA Finals or the Stanley Cup finals. But the FedExCup Playoffs, with all their permutations and potential for upsets, do make for some pretty stunning possibilities.

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Take what happened three years ago at The Barclays. Remember Heath Slocum, the then-124th ranked golfer in the field of 125? The longshot who made the long putt at the final hole at Liberty National to defeat the world-class foursome of Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Steve Stricker?

Heath's back. For believers in omens and portents, it might be significant that he (again) squeezed into the field of 125 for The Barclays, in the identical 124th spot. Whether he can reprise the shocker that lifted him from 124th to third that week, and ultimately to eighth after the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola season finale, is open to speculation.

But it could happen. Slocum was 128th going into the Wyndham Championship last week, and as he summed it up Monday after surviving a tough finish that included two bogeys over the final three holes, "I have life next week."

Which is the whole point. Certainly, the favored players at the top of the heap, those who have had superb seasons coming into the Playoffs, all deserve their place on the marquee. Woods, with his three wins, Rory McIlroy with his second major championship at the age of 23, Zach Johnson, the consummate pro and extraordinary technician, Bubba Watson, the imaginative Masters champion who also happens to hit the ball farther than anyone on TOUR, are four of the top five players on the FedExCup points list.

Each is positioned to put an exclamation point on his already-exceptional season, and they are the favorites along with Keegan Bradley (No. 8) and Phil Mickelson (No. 14) and a smattering of others among the top 20 who make up those most likely to win the FedExCup.

But it will be a cakewalk for none of the favorites, particularly for Jason Dufner, the No. 2 points earner who took this week off to rest up for the coming grind of three more Playoff events and the Ryder Cup. Woods won it twice (in 2007 and '09) from the No. 1 spot and Jim Furyk won it from the No. 3 spot in 2010 despite missing The Barclays when his cellphone alarm malfunctioned.

Preview show

Our insiders break down the numbers to get you ready for the start of the FedExCup Playoffs.

Vijay Singh winning the FedExCup from the No. 7 spot was hardly an upset in '08, but Bill Haas coming from the No. 15 was a bit of a longshot. It is the specter of upset that fuels Playoff drama, and the dream of winning it all is alive for anyone who makes the Playoffs and the nightmare of blowing the opportunity is what adds pressure to favorites.

Ask any of the players on the 2011 Green Bay Packers. They were the defending Super Bowl champions who went into the Playoffs with a 15-1 record and homefield advantage, but they watched last year's game on TV after the Giants beat them 37-20.

And for the flip side, ask Charley Hoffman, whose jump from 77th place to fourth two years ago was ignited by an 11-birdie outburst in the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship. Hoffman, a two-time winner on TOUR, went into the 2010 TOUR Championship ranked third, with a real chance to win the TOUR Championship and the FedExCup, both of which were eventually claimed by Furyk.

"The main thing is to get into the TOUR Championship so you've got a chance," said Hoffman, who is at No. 67 this year. "Everybody knows that if you get a top-two finish in the Playoffs, you're going to be in the TOUR Championship in four weeks. I'm going into the Playoffs with nothing to lose. I've got no pressure on me. I'm just freewheeling, wanting to play four more weeks of golf, and hopefully I can."

When Hoffman won the Deutsche Bank Championship, he started the day four strokes behind, and won by five. What that demonstrates is a dangerous level of talent with a lot on the line. That there are any number of other players among the top 125 who can crack open the same kind of display is what makes the Playoffs worth watching, regardless of who wins.

Larry Dorman is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.

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