Playoffs mode: Final week to make top 125

Greenwood/Getty Images
Jerry Kelly ranks 120th in FedExCup points, but has had recent success at the Wyndham Championship.
August 15, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Brendan Steele isn't waiting until next week.

This week's Wyndham Championship marks the end of the PGA TOUR's Regular Season but Steele is already taking a post-season approach. That's because he ranks 126th in the FedExCup standings -- just 25.403 points shy of qualifying for the four Playoff events that will determine the winner of that eye-opening $10 million first prize.


"The Playoffs really start this week for me," Steele said simply.

The same can be said for all those players near that 125 mark, but inside and outside the cutline. In each of the five previous years of the FedExCup Playoffs, at least one player outside the top 125 has played his way into the post-season at Wyndham. Last year, it was three players -- Ernie Els, William McGirt and Padraig Harrington -- who kept their seasons alive here.

Rod Pampling is the man squarely on the bubble this week, sitting 125th in points. The Australian has only missed the Playoffs one time but understands his position is a precarious one right now -- especially with players like Steele, Heath Slocum, Y.E. Yang and Gary Woodland all close behind him in the standings.

"I am on the right side of the bubble, which is good because people have to go past me," Pampling told an Australian newspaper. "But obviously all I can do is go out and play golf and what will be will be. I know I'll be passed if I miss the cut so sure if I need to go for something I will."

"Step one is to get the cut mark out of the way but I don't really look at that," he added. "I go in trying to win a tournament. There are too many variables to worry about it because I could go out and get my job done with a top 20 but then three guys behind me top 10 and go past me. So I just can take care of myself and hope it's good enough for a spot in the Playoffs."

Steele actually is pleased to be in the position he is. Heading into the Reno-Tahoe Open, which was his last start, Steele ranked 136th in the FedExCup. He tied for eighth there, just his third top-10 of the season, and despite there being fewer points available since the Reno-Tahoe Open was played opposite the British Open, Steele still managed to move to No. 125.

Steele didn't get to play in last week's PGA Championship -- just a year after he took a share of the lead into the final round at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Steele was the third alternate at Kiawah Island but even with him being idle, his FedExCup standing only dropped one spot.

"So that was kind of a bummer," Steele said of missing the season's final major. "But I'm excited for this week. The Playoffs start now. ... Hopefully I can play well this week and get myself going."

Steele speaks for a lot of the players entered in the Wyndham Championship. A total of 74 of the players competing at Sedgefield Country Club this week are ranked inside the top 125 and looking to protect, or improve, their standing. That means nearly half of the field -- not counting a handful of club pros, amateurs and non-PGA TOUR members -- is on the outside anxiously looking in at the FedExCup like Steele.

Six players ranked inside the top 30, which is the number needed to advance to the Playoffs finale at historic East Lake in Atlanta, are competing in the Wyndham Championship. One of those, Jason Dufner, who picked up his first two PGA TOUR wins earlier this year, could supplant Tiger Woods as No. 1 in the FedExCup with a third win or a runner-up finish at Sedgefield on Sunday.

There will be a lot more focus around the 125 bubble, though.

Heath Slocum is another player, who, like Steele, knows how quickly things can change.

FedExCup standings
The PGA TOUR enters the last week of the regular season with this week's Wyndham Championship. The FedExCup Playoffs start the following 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

Slocum comes to Greensboro this week ranked 128th in the FedExCup. In 2009, though, he was waiting anxiously at home in Alpharetta, Ga. -- his wife monitoring the projected standings on PGATOUR.COM -- to see whether he kept his spot in the top 125. Slocum did, barely, at No. 124, and then went on to win The Barclays at Liberty National the following week on the way to an eighth-place finish in the FedExCup overall.

Slocum knows what he needs to do this week. But he's trying to focus on getting the most out of his game rather than looking at the permutations of the FedExCup rankings.

"It's there," Slocum said. "There's no avoiding it. I'm trying to play well this week regardless. So I figure if I play well then it will take care of itself. But it's there. It's not going away. ... If I play good golf and play the golf I know I can play I'll be fine."

On the other hand, Jerry Kelly is on the right side of the 125 threshold -- but just barely -- at No. 120. He knows he can't let up this week but at the same time, Kelly should have confidence at Sedgefield, where he tied for ninth in 2008 and finished with a share of fourth a year ago.

"So if I want to be in the Playoffs -- which I do -- I have to play well," Kelly said. "(The FedExCup) is always right in front of my brain. There's no way for me to put things like that out of my mind. It's why I've done well sometimes and poorly other times. I don't have the consistent focus just on my game.

"I tend to put it on goals and things like that and it doesn't work out. What it comes down to, you still just got to perform."

Jhonattan Vegas, who is playing in Greensboro for the first time, is also trying to avoid the projections. He ranks 124th in the standings and knows obsessing about that number will only make it more difficult to accomplish his goals.

"It is on your mind the whole time," he said. "Every shot you hit, you know that you're 124 and you have to make it the next week but, at the same time, I mean I decided to make it fun. I have to go there and play good and make things happen and ... I think it gets a little bit easier and more fun.

"... Things move so quick that (if) you (are) just worrying about I'm 124, 125, you can really lose what you're doing here."