The fall portion of the PGA TOUR schedule used to be defined by players’ pursuit of playing privileges for the following season. Now the latter half of the calendar commences the chase for the FedExCup.
This week’s Frys.com Open is the first event of the TOUR’s first wraparound schedule. The fall events now mark the beginning of the season, not the end. More importantly, this is the first year that these events offer FedExCup points. This season will end with the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola on Sept. 8-14, 2014. Players who want one of the 30 coveted spots at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club can begin earning FedExCup points this week.
The PGA TOUR season used to begin and end with the New Year. Players’ main concern after the TOUR Championship was finishing among the top 125 on the money list in order to retain their TOUR card. Not anymore.
The PGA TOUR will conduct six events in four countries before the end of 2013. This week’s event at northern California’s CordeValle Resort is followed by the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas. The TOUR heads to Asia for two consecutive events – the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China – before the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island Resort in St. Simons Island, Ga., and the year’s final event, the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. All six events will be played consecutively, with no off weeks in between.
Here's who our panel thinks will emerge as the early FedExCup leader after these half-dozen events:
Mike McAllister, Managing Editor: Jonas Blixt. He won the Frys.com Open and finished third at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open last year. A similar performance in 2013 will give him an early jump in the standings. Blixt finished 52nd in this year's FedExCup after winning his second PGA TOUR title at The Greenbrier Classic and finishing fourth at the PGA Championship.
Helen Ross, Chief of Correspondents: John Peterson. If he can carry the momentum he had at the end of the 2013 Web.com Tour season -- when he finished fifth or better in his last five events -- John Peterson could jump-start his rookie year.
Brian Wacker, Site Producer: Billy Horschel. He has played well at the Frys.com Open and McGladrey Classic before and is coming off the best season of his career. A much-needed couple of weeks off should help, too, after Horschel got burnt out during the second half of last season.
Rob Bolton, Fantasy Columnist: Zach Johnson. It’s always difficult to know who’s going to play how often during a specific stretch, but he’s exempt into the WGC-HSBC Champions and supports The McGladrey Classic, so we’ll see him probably a couple of times at least. I'm relying on him to extend his tremendous form that led to seven top 10s in his last eight starts in the 2013 season.
John Swantek, Host, On The Tee: Gary Woodland. Produced his best golf in two years over the last six weeks of the season, winning the Reno-Tahoe Open and finishing second at The Barclays. Healthy and armed with an improved short game, he'll carry the trend into this season. Woodland finished 23rd in the FedExCup standings in 2013, making the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola for the first time since 2011.
Amanda Balionis, Host, PGA TOUR Today: John Peterson. The LSU alum (and fanatic) probably doesn't remember what it feels like to finish outside of the top five since it hasn't happened since early August. The quick turnaround will definitely be an advantage to the Web.com Tour Finals money leader, as he has had time to celebrate earning his PGA TOUR card, but not enough time to lose his momentum from the last month.
Chris Dunham, Site Producer: Brendon de Jonge. It's so hard to tell who will and won't be playing early on so I'll go with de Jonge, who seems to play every week. He had top-5 finishes at the CIMB Classic and McGladrey last year, so I expect a strong start.
Bryan Mullen, Site Producer: Brendon de Jonge. The Zimbabwean plays a ton of events, and he plays most of them well. His average finish during the FedExCup Playoffs was 16th, and he will be coming off a fine year after competing in The Presidents Cup and his first TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola. He hasn't missed a cut since June, finishing the season by making the weekend in nine consecutive events, including top-20 finishes in all four FedExCup Playoffs events.
Ryan Smithson, Site Producer: Jimmy Walker. This guy is going to win, and soon. Plays a lot of events and is a good pick to win at either TPC Summerlin or Cordevalle. Walker has good history in the fall events, as well. He was T-10 at last year's Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and T-4 at the Frys.com Open.
John Schwarb, Site Producer: Sean O'Hair. He sounded re-energized about his game and demeanor after playing the Web.com Tour Finals, so look for the four-time PGA TOUR winner to regain winning form early and take the FedExCup lead into the holidays. He had top-20s in three of the four Web.com Tour Finals events, including a T-8 at the Web.com Tour Championship.
Bill Cooney, Site Producer: Jonas Blixt. The two-time PGA TOUR winner won the Frys.com Open and was third in Las Vegas last season. He had an inconsistent 2013, but he's one of the best putters on TOUR. He needs to flip his tee-to-green game, though, after ranking 172nd in total driving and 173rd in greens hit in 2013.
Anne Detlefsen, Site Producer: John Peterson. There isn't anyone entering these starting events with more momentum than John Peterson. The LSU grad hasn't finished outside the top 5 in his last five starts and was the leading money earner during the Web.com Tour Finals.
Sean Martin, Events Editor: Nick Watney. He turned around a tough season in the FedExCup Playoffs, collecting three top-15 finishes, including a runner-up at the BMW Championship. Watney also has a good record in the fall events. He won the 2012 CIMB Classic, has three consecutive top-10s at the Shriners Hospitals Open in his former hometown of Las Vegas and finished 16th in last year’s WGC-HSBC Champions. Perhaps he’ll even add The McGladrey Classic, since it’s at the home base of his new instructor, Todd Anderson.