Featured Group: Simpson, Johnson

September 21, 2011
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

At each PGA TOUR event this season, a featured pairing will be highlighted prior to the first round. Here is the featured group for Thursday at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola.

Webb SIMPSON, Dustin JOHNSON RD. 1 tee time (No. 1): 1:55 p.m. ET Golf Channel

ATLANTA, Ga. -- They were born on opposite sides of the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, a little more than a year apart. They played against each other in amateur events growing up and with each other at the 2007 Walker Cup.

On Thursday two of the game's most talented young players -- Webb Simpson and Dustin Johnson -- will share the spotlight once again at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola. Since they're ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the FedExCup the duo will play in the day's final pairing at East Lake, teeing off No. 1 at 1:55 p.m.


At stake in the finale of the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup is the eye-popping $10 million bonus. Either Simpson or Johnson could win it with a victory at the legendary Bobby Jones' old stomping grounds. Not to mention, a TOUR Championship victory would be worth another $1.44 million.

"This week the zeros definitely catch your attention," Johnson said with a smile. "There's a lot of money. Definitely that's enough for you to think about."

While a win at East Lake guarantees either Simpson or Johnson the ultimate prize, there are other scenarios, too.

Simpson has a reasonable chance of winning the FedExCup should he finish fifth or better at the TOUR Championship. He even has a mathematical chance should he finish 29th but that's leaving an awful lot to chance.

Johnson's reasonable chance, meanwhile, exists with a top-three finish while his mathematical shot hinges on sixth or better. But the key is that both control their own destiny at East Lake, along with Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar, who round out the top five in the FedExCup standings.

Simpson enters the TOUR Championship with considerable momentum after winning the final event of the Regular Season and the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks later to seize the No. 1 spot in the FedExCup. He kicked off the Playoffs with a tie for 10th at The Barclays and finished fifth a week ago at the BMW Championship.

Simpson may know how to get hot at the right time but his entire year has been pretty darn impressive.

He's played in 23 events and has 10 top-10 finishes -- including a playoff loss and another second to go with those two wins. Take out that missed cut at the PGA Championship, and Simpson has finished 16th or better in his last 11 starts.

Johnson also has a Playoffs win, his second during that stretch in the last two years, and the fifth TOUR win overall in his career. He also has runner-up finishes this year at the British Open and the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship among his six top-10s.

But after that win at The Barclays, shortened to 54 holes with Hurricane Irene fast approaching, Johnson has experienced a bit of a letdown. He tied for 42nd at the Deutsche Bank Championship and shared 65th at the BMW Championship last week -- making 23 bogeys and two double bogeys against just 11 birdies and one eagle there.

Johnson has put that all in the past, though.

Statistical comparison
Key stats from Simpson, Johnson from the 2011 season (TOUR rank in parentheses)

Driving distance 297.8 (T40th) 314.5 (3rd)
Driving accuracy 62.35% (83rd) 58.13% (136th)
Greens in regulation 69.19% (10th) 68.49% (17th)
Strokes gained - putting .302 (T37th) -.489 (170th)
Scoring average 69.27 (2nd) 70.43 (45th)
Career at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola
  Webb Simpson Dustin Johnson
Appearance 1st 3rd
Cuts Made/Missed n/a 2/0
Wins 0 0
Top-10s 0 0
Top 25s 0 1
Best Finish n/a T22 (2010)
Last Appearance/Finish n/a 2010/T22
Scoring Avg. n/a 71.50

"This week is all about putting yourself in position to win on Sunday," he said. "There's a lot at stake -- the FedExCup champion, obviously winning the TOUR Championship, and then obviously there's a big bonus for that, too."

EXPERT PREDICTIONS: We asked some of our PGATOUR.COM experts to predict which player will fare best this week at East Lake:

Stan Awtrey: Webb Simpson. This may come down to who can master the tricky East Lake greens. In that case I'm taking Simpson.

Craig Dolch: Webb Simpson has been the most consistent player on the PGA TOUR the last two months. DJ too up and down lately.

Melanie Hauser: Simpson. Nailed it last week, will nail it again. When you get on a roll like he's on and you're that good, you ride it.

FANTASY INSIDER: PGATOUR.COM fantasy columnist Rob Bolton is bullish on Webb Simpson, ranking him third in this week's Power Rankings for the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola.