Did one missed birdie cost Villegas shot at FedExCup?

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Camilo Villegas won in St. Louis, finished tied for third in Boston ... and missed the cut by a stroke in New Jersey.
September 07, 2008
Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor

ST. LOUIS -- The suspense of the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup may not have disappeared when Vijay Singh drained that birdie putt on top of Sergio Garcia's putt two weeks ago, keeping Singh alive to win the first Playoff event, The Barclays, on the next playoff hole.

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It may not have disappeared when Singh throttled the field in the final round of last week's Deutsche Bank Championship, shooting a brilliant 63 that basically eliminated all but a handful of players.

And it may not have disappeared Sunday when those handful of guys with a mathematical chance failed to take command of the BMW Championship, thus allowing Singh to essential clinch the FedExCup trophy and the $10 million bonus when he shows up later this month and signs his scorecard -- correctly -- after every round of THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola.

As it turned out, the suspense of these Playoffs may have vanished 16 days ago when Camilo Villegas failed to birdie the final hole of his second round at The Barclays, thereby missing the cut by a stroke. That prevented Villegas from accumulating enough FedExCup points to stay within striking distance of Singh when the Playoffs resume at East Lake.

You see, Villegas followed that missed cut in New Jersey with a tie for third in Boston, and now his first win on TOUR in St. Louis. That puts him in second place in FedExCup points behind Singh. But even if Villegas wins THE TOUR Championship and Singh finishes last -- the key word there being "finishes" -- then Singh will still win the FedExCup by 101 points.

Had Villegas made the cut at The Barclays and finished last, he would have received more than 2,000 points. Those points, combined with his points in the subsequent two events, would have given him a shot -- admittedly an outside shot, but still a shot -- at being the only player capable of catching Singh for the FedExCup title.

But he didn't. Instead, those who are attuned to the points system knew the drama that was unfolding Sunday in St. Louis. Would Villegas win to gift-wrap a $10 million check for Singh? Would one of the 23 players in the points standings behind Singh win to keep their hopes alive? Or would Singh slide down the leaderboard far enough to keep others in play?

When Singh finished his round (he eventually tied for 44th), the tournament was still not done, so he wasn't sure where he stood. All he knew was that the Bellerive greens were slower than in the first two Playoff events, his putting wasn't as sharp, and he had the next two weeks off.

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"This was my sixth week in a row," Singh said, "so that's taken a toll ... I'm going to take a week off and then practice hard and get ready for THE TOUR Championship."

Meanwhile, another drama was unfolding -- the quest to get into the top 30 and gain an invite to THE TOUR Championship.

So many players went back-and-forth across that coveted 30th spot cut line Sunday that it seemed like a bad case of stutter steps had broken out.

But when the dust settled, the happiest players were Dudley Hart (who jumped from 67th spot coming into the week to 14th, thanks to a solo second-place finish after his final-round 65) and D.J. Trahan (who moved from 35th to 25th after finishing T5).

"I'm not a mathematician so I didn't know exactly, but I was guessing that I needed to finish fourth solo or better to make it to THE TOUR Championship," Hart said. "I didn't think about it every shot by any stretch, but it was definitely in the back of my mind all week."

The most relieved player? Probably Chad Campbell, who left the tournament on Saturday to be with his wife who had gone into labor. By not getting any points after his withdrawal, Campbell went free-falling, from 14th to -- you guessed it -- 30th. (And really, that's only right. After all, who wants to deprive a new daddy of a guaranteed paycheck?) Bubba Watson, who started the tournament 27th in points, also was glad he dropped only two spots.

The most disappointed players? Well, Stephen Ames finished tied for fifth, moving up 19 spots in points ... to 31st. Geoff Ogilvy, meanwhile, fell two spots, from 30th (in) to 32nd (out). Boo Weekley entered the week just one spot out of the top 30, but couldn't get anything going on Sunday and dropped two spots, too.

And the most perplexing fall? That likely goes to Padraig Harrington. Winner of back-to-back majors, Harrington is a Player of the Year candidate. He began the Playoffs fourth in points -- three spots ahead of Singh. But Paddy couldn't find his game in the last three weeks.

He missed the cut in New Jersey, missed the cut in Boston and tied for 55th Sunday. In his eight playoff rounds, Harrington was a collective 2 under. As a result, he dropped to 50th in points and won't be in Atlanta.

Like several other players, Villegas found it difficult to comprehend that Harrington won't be part of the 30-man elite field. "The guy that has a a great chance of being Player of the Year is not going to play THE TOUR Championship," Villegas said. "I'm sure the FedExCup and the points system will get better for next year."

Harrington, however, didn't pin the blame on the points system. Just like he mentioned earlier in the week, Harrington said his exclusion is entirely his own doing. "It's really a four-week event," he explained, "The guys that do the best in those four weeks should be there."

So, 30 players will be there at East Lake. But only one of them has the knowledge that a $10 million bonus awaits him, as long as he doesn't get hurt and doesn't do anything foolish to anger the golf gods.

Vijay Singh will be raising the FedExCup trophy that Sunday evening -- unless Camilo Villegas can go back in time and find one more birdie in New Jersey.