Almost Playoffs time: These are the good old days

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August 15, 2012
Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Ah, the good old days. Only in this case, the days weren't that good or that long ago.

Remember a half-dozen years ago. Players would essentially shut down their schedules following the PGA Championship. The season's last major also meant the last chance to see a full field of star players. Yes, there was the TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola, but that would not take place until October and definitely lacked intensity.

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That all changed with the FedExCup Playoffs.

There is a buzz this week at the Wyndham Championship. It's an intensity among the players you can sense as soon as you walk onto the property. Only 125 players qualify for The Barclays and the first round of the FedExCup Playoffs and if you are not qualified for the Playoffs, you are not playing golf. If a golfer is not in the top 125 of the FedExCup standings, then he is about to begin an unwanted six-week vacation.

My first year broadcasting for PGA TOUR Radio was 2007 and you would hear players talking on the range.

The conversations went like this:

'How did you play last week?'

'I finished 35th but picked up those FedExCup Points,' usually followed by some giggles.

Nobody is laughing now.

What started as an experiment has turned into an intense period of competition on the PGA TOUR and it starts this week.

For several players, the elimination rounds start on Thursday at the Wyndham Championship.

Do you think Boo Weekley, Trevor Immelman, Jason Bohn, Jhonattan Vegas and Rod Pampling have a casual attitude this week? No, they have a sense of urgency. That group of five players is ranked 121 to 125, respectively, in the FedExCup standings.

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FedExCup standings
The PGA TOUR enters the last week of the regular season with this week's Wyndham Championship. The FedExCup Playoffs start next week at The Barclays, with the top 125 players in points making the Playoffs. Here are the top five players:
1 Tiger Woods
2 Rory McIlroy
3 Jason Dufner
4 Zach Johnson
5 Bubba Watson

How about John Daly, Stuart Appleby, Camilo Villegas and Justin Leonard? They all sit outside the top 125.

There will be scoreboard watching this week and not just for the Wyndham results. Players will be watching FedExCup standings as a tournament inside a tournament unfolds.

The Playoffs also have a residual effect. The United States has not lost a Presidents Cup competition since the FedExCup Playoffs began. Players are no longer rusty prior to the international competition. The United States team may or may not win the Ryder Cup this year but it won't be related to rust.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are about to begin their busiest stretch of golf this season.

You can feel the intensity at Sedgefield Country Club.

We will correctly look back and call these the good old days.

Observations:

Adjustments: For the third week in a row, players have to adjust to a different putting surface. There were bent grass greens at Firestone Country Club, there were paspalum greens at The Ocean Course and this week we have champions bermuda putting surfaces. The putting surfaces at Sedgefield Country Club were grassed just three months ago on May 28. Champions bermuda is a heat tolerant strain that will provide a great surface but will be a learning experiment this week. Competition is all about making adjustments on the PGA TOUR and this week will test that ability.

Changes: The greens at Sedgefield are not the only improvements taking place since 2011. McConnell Golf purchased the club and immediately started pouring money into the property. It's readily evident in the landscaping, with some additional bunkers and a new practice green. There is also a new fitness center at the players' disposal this week.

Backward: The Donald Ross design is listed at 7,130 yards but it plays shorter than the number indicates. This week is all about angles into the greens and position off the tee. The newly grassed greens may not be as firm as some on the PGA TOUR but they are undulating and most are sloped from back to front. There is also the Ross signature of "inverted saucers" with balls running off edges into collection areas. It's more important to be on the correct side of the fairway this week than to hit a booming drive.

Winner, winner: This week is all about giving yourself chances to make birdies and nobody does that better than Jason Dufner. He is ranked 19th in hitting fairways and seventh in greens in regulation. His Strokes Gained-Putting is a pedestrian 84th but he gets so many chances to make putts he is still fifth in birdie average on TOUR. Expect a fast start out of Dufner as he leads the TOUR in scoring average before the cut. I think this week he leads the Wyndham Championship in scoring average by Sunday evening as well.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, [click here]

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