Just as a home-plate umpire is invisible when calling a fair game, even in the postseason, the absence of criticism in the wake of the tweak in the advance of last year’s FedExCup Playoffs should be embraced.
After its first two editions when it was still finding its footing, the points structure for the four-event series went unchanged from 2009-2014. For most intents and purposes, it worked, but there was still room for a modification to enhance the value of the PGA TOUR season that determined the field of 125 for the Playoffs. So, points earned in the Playoffs were slashed by 20 percent in 2015, but they were still four times the value of a stand-alone non-major and non-World Golf Championship. Suffice it to say that the mission was accomplished and with little or no fanfare, exactly the objective.
Only four of the golfers who began the 2015 FedExCup Playoffs outside the top 30 in points advanced to the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola. In no small measure due to the reduction of points distributed, this deviated significantly from each of the previous six years when seven or eight survived the first three rounds of elimination after beginning outside the top 30. Furthermore, at 46th in points entering The Barclays last year, Daniel Berger was easily the worst seed of the lowest-ranked qualifiers to advance to East Lake as compared to every edition from 2009-2014.
Perhaps the best example of the impact of the scaled-back system is Daniel Summerhays. He opened last year’s Playoffs slotted 66th in points, and then went a respective T6-T9 in the first two events. Ranked 26th at the BMW Championship, he finished T41 and finished first 31st, or on the outside looking into the field at East Lake. Indeed, a stronger regular season would have been rewarded with his sparkling play in the Playoffs. Case in point, Jordan Spieth entered as the top seed, which was as good as insurance. He needed it since he missed the cut at The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship. After a T13 at the BMW to retain his new position at No. 2, a victory in the finale secured the FedExCup. Unchanged is the fact that the title of FedExCup champion rests in the fate of any of the top five at East Lake. A win guarantees it.
All of the opening top 20 advanced to the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola in 2015. That happened only once (2012) from 2009-2014, but all of the top 13 have advanced during the entire six-year period. Meanwhile, in part due to the revised structure in 2015, Stewart Cink set the record for highest finish (T39) at The Barclays without advancing to the Deutsche Bank Championship. Under the previous points system, every golfer who had placed 42nd (or better) in the lid-lifter survived.The last time Bethpage State Park Black Course last hosted The Barclays in 2012. (Chris Condron/PGA TOUR)
The FedExCup Playoffs opens in the Northeast, just as it did in its first nine years and as it will for the foreseeable future. Both of the first two stops include 36-hole cuts, but for the second consecutive year, the 54-hole/MDF provision is waived in the Playoffs. (It wouldn’t have been needed in 2015.) None of the events have alternates, so any pre-tournament withdrawals merely reduce the field accordingly.
Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in Farmingdale, New York, leads off. At 7,468 yards, it remains the same since its last turn as host of The Barclays in 2012 and it’s no bargain as the second-longest par 71 of the season. Nick Watney prevailed by three at 10-under 274 four years ago.
The top 100 in FedExCup points at the conclusion of The Barclays will make the jaunt to TPC Boston, which is the only site the Deutsche Bank Championship has known. The par 71 will play 7,297 yards this year, an increase of 55 yards, all at the par-4 fourth hole.
Once the remaining 70 golfers are determined, they will battle for position in the top 30 at the BMW Championship. Carmel, Indiana’s Crooked Stick Golf Club hosts for the second time. Like Bethpage for The Barclays, Crooked Stick made its Playoffs debut in 2012. The par 72 has also been overhauled and extended by 70 yards, so it now tips at 7,567 yards. After damp conditions yielded seriously low scoring at Crooked Stick in 2012, the course is antsy to prove that it can be a stern test.
After a scheduled week off, the top 30 in FedExCup points will then make the annual trek to East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Course designer Rees Jones, who renovated the course prior to the 2008 edition of the Playoffs finale, returned to update bits and pieces in the past year, but the headlining narrative is that the nines have been reversed. Instead of the par-3 finishing hole, No. 18 is now a par 5.
Just as the Power Rankings for The Barclays dove into the details of Bethpage Black, the Power Rankings for the final three tournaments will examine what those fields will face. In the meantime, the ranking below projects the field at East Lake and overall finish at the conclusion of the Playoffs. It incorporates trends mentioned above.
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 1 Dustin Johnson 2 Henrik Stenson 3 Jason Day 4 Brooks Koepka 5 Hideki Matsuyama 6 Justin Rose 7 Jordan Spieth 8 Rory McIlroy 9 Brandt Snedeker 10 Phil Mickelson 11 Matt Kuchar 12 Branden Grace 13 Adam Scott 14 Patrick Reed 15 Kevin Kisner 16 Russell Knox 17 Emiliano Grillo 18 Daniel Berger 19 Justin Thomas 20 Jason Dufner 21 Rickie Fowler 22 Bubba Watson 23 Bill Haas 24 Jimmy Walker 25 Kevin Na 26 Sergio Garcia 27 William McGirt 28 Jhonattan Vegas 29 Si Woo Kim 30 Kevin Chappell