Will one of the top five pull off the double?Webb Simpson is on a major hot streak -- but can he hold onto the top spot in the FedExCup for one more week?September 21, 2011
Mike McAllister and Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
ATLANTA -- Last year, Jim Furyk needed the right scenarios to fall into place in order to win the FedExCup from the 11th position in points. Two years ago, Tiger Woods claimed the FedExCup without needing to win the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola.
Thus, in the two years of the current points structure, the most advantageous scenario -- that one of the top five players who controls his own destiny wins both the event and the FedExCup -- has yet to occur.
Maybe it will this year.
After all, three of the players inside the top five -- Webb Simpson, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar -- are among the most consistent performers on the PGA TOUR. The other two -- Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose -- have the ability to dominate an event on any given week.
Consider how Geoff Ogilvy, who's 24th in points, looked at his scenarios on Wednesday.
"Webb Simpson must finish 17th or worse, which is probably not going to happen, you wouldn't think," Ogilvy said. "Dustin Johnson has to finish sixth or worse. Justin and Luke have to finish fourth or worse, which isn't going to happen because Luke doesn't finish out of the top three anymore, does he?"
Given all that, it's difficult to imagine that one of the top five will not win the FedExCup on Sunday, especially in a 30-man field.
"With 30 guys, you've got a much better shot than with 120 guys," Kuchar said.
And by controlling your own destiny as the top five do, you have a much better shot of claiming the FedExCup. Here's a look at the First Five:
1. WEBB SIMPSON
WHY HE'LL WIN: He's been the most consistent performer in these Playoffs, with a win and two top-10s (which was preceded, you may recall, by a win in the regular-season finale). Simpson is obviously on a major hot streak. He doesn't seem fazed by the pressure and his belly putter is working wonders. He also thinks East Lake suits his game because "it's a shotmaker's golf course."
WHY HE WON'T: Trying to win for the third time in five starts may be asking too much. Even finishing top-10 again is against the odds -- just two players in the first four years of the Playoffs have ever managed top-10s in each event in a single year. Not to mention, Simpson is making his TOUR Championship debut and East Lake is a course where experience is key.
QUICK QUOTE: "My goal starting the FedExCup Playoffs was to be in the top 5 coming in here. That's kind of the magical spot, 1 through 5, and to come in here being No. 1 is great. It's what we worked for all year, and it's just exciting, and looking forward to teeing off tomorrow."
2. DUSTIN JOHNSON
WHY HE'LL WIN: He seems to have this Playoffs thing figured out with wins in each of the last two years and two other top-10s. He followed his win at The Barclays with a great tee-to-green performance at the Deutsche Bank. He promises to be refocused after admittedly losing interest at the BMW Championship. He's also been fine-tuning his short game. Johnson's length should be an asset, too, as long as he can find the fairways, which is sometimes problematic.
WHY HE WON'T: That closing 77 at Cog Hill doesn't exactly inspire confidence or fuel momentum. And as we saw at TPC Boston, his domination from tee-to-green means nothing if he can't putt. His record at East Lake isn't great, either, with a tie for 22nd his best finish in two previous starts and only two sub-par rounds here. Johnson said driving it in the fairway "is huge at this golf course" but he ranks just 136th in driving accuracy this year.
QUOTE: "This week is all about putting yourself in position to win on Sunday. There's a lot at stake, the FedExCup champion, obviously winning the TOUR Championship and obviously, then a there's big bonus for that, too."
3. JUSTIN ROSE
WHY HE'LL WIN: He certainly has momentum after opening with a 63 at Cog Hill last week and owning at least a share of the lead after every round. He showed last year he knows how to ride the wave after winning twice in a span of three tournaments. "I got hot and I managed to keep it going for a few good weeks," Rose said, "so hopefully can do more of the same."
WHY HE WON'T: Winning consecutive tournaments is a big challenge at any time on TOUR -- but particularly when the stakes are as high as they are at East Lake. And if opens with a 74 like he did last year, he may be too far behind to catch up.
QUOTE: "I'm viewing this as an opportunity rather than now trying to worry about my position and trying to think about it from the perspective of nothing to lose once again. I haven't been in this situation all year, so just let it ride."
4. LUKE DONALD
WHY HE'LL WIN: He's been the most consistent player on the planet this year with 12 top-10s in the 15 cuts he's made -- including fourth or better in the last two Plaoffs events. Not to mention, he finished second last year at East Lake (and fifth in 2006 before the TOUR Championship became the Playoffs finale) so he should be confident at Bobby Jones' old stomping grounds. And perhaps he's viewing this as an opportunity to validate his No. 1 ranking in the world.
WHY HE WON'T: That enviable string of top-10 finishes can also be viewed as an inability to close the deal. Donald lost in a playoff at The Heritage and tied for second at Firestone; his only win on TOUR this year came in a match-play format. He said he was overgolfed leading into the U.S. Open; that probably won't be a concern this week, but you never know.
QUOTE: "Top 5 is pretty important; gives me a lot more control going into this week. I know exactly what I need to do, and the higher up you are on the list, the better your chances are."
5. MATT KUCHAR
WHY HE'LL WIN: He's familiar with East Lake from his standout days at nearby Georgia Tech. He's also more focused this year and has made a conscious decision to concentrate on the tournament rather than reconnecting with old friends. And frankly, he's due -- he's the only member of the top five who hasn't won a TOUR event this year.
WHY HE WON'T: He didn't play well a year ago at East Lake when he came to the TOUR Championship ranked No. 1 and finished the tournament in a tie for 25th. And a little like Donald, Kuchar has been putting together top-10 finishes like they were going out of style -- a total of 20 over the last two years -- but only has one win to show for it, so closing the deal remains an issue.
QUOTE: "It's exciting for me to be back, still in the top 5, still knowing if I win the TOUR Championship I'll win the FedExCup. ... This is really the one you want to play your best in."
First Five: TOUR rankings Here's how each of the top five players ranks in some of the key TOUR categories
Driving distance 40th 3rd 100th 147th 132nd Driving accuracy 83rd 136th 62nd 44th 47th Greens in regulation 10th 17th 8th 31st 35th Sand save percentage 37th 159th 8th 16th 6th Strokes gained-putting 37th 170th 84th 2nd 21st Scoring average 2nd 45th 31st 1st 4th