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Picking a FedEx Cup Playoff winner and a long shot

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The FedEx Cup Playoffs begin this week at The Barclays. Considering past playoffs haven't always gone according to script, GolfChannel.com writers pick their FedEx Cup champion plus a long shot who could take home the $10 million bonus.


By REX HOGGARD

Winner: Tiger Woods

The 2013 FedEx Cup is Tiger's to win or lose, and not just because of his 766-point lead heading into the post-season opener this week in New Jersey.

With five wins and top-10 finishes in more than half his starts this season (seven), the world No. 1 is the most dominant player in golf regardless of his record the last five years in major championships.

And while that massive lead in points will be mitigated by the PGA Tour’s built-in reset before the Tour Championship, Woods’ playoff history is almost as dominant as his regular-season play.

He finished second at The Barclays the last time it was played at Liberty National, hasn’t finished outside the top 11 at TPC Boston since 2006, has made a career winning events in Chicago (site of the BMW Championship), and in his last five starts at the Tour Championship has finished second, second, first, second and tied for eighth.

Long shot: Hunter Mahan

As for the longshot – remember Brandt Snedeker won the cup and a cool $10 million after beginning last year’s post-season 19th on the points list – Mahan (at No. 21 on the points list) is the most likely candidate.

Mahan has advanced to East Lake every year since the playoffs started in 2007 and finished runner-up there in 2011. 


By JASON SOBEL

Winner: Zach Johnson

This one doesn’t seem to make sense for a few different reasons. First, Johnson ranks only 18th on the points list entering the playoffs. And second, he’s skipping the first one to serve as best man at his brother’s wedding this weekend.

However…

If we’ve learned anything about the system in recent years, it’s that a player doesn’t need to be ranked very high coming into the playoffs to still find success. As for missing the first one, that could light a bit of a fire under him, sort of like a player who bogeys the first few holes out of the gate and spends the remainder of the day playing aggressively. Hey, it worked for Jim Furyk a few years back.

Despite some great play as of late, Johnson still doesn’t have any hardware to show for it. But with some good courses coming up for him – including East Lake, where he once shot 60 – he may not only claim some hardware, but a few big-time paychecks, too.

Long shot: Luke Donald

You say Donald isn’t a great pick because he’s struggled at times this year. I say he is a great pick, because he’s too good to struggle for too long.

At 55th on the points list, behind the likes of David Lingmerth, Chris Stroud and David Hearn, the former world No. 1 hasn’t had a stellar season. Of course, that should speak more to his abilities than his results, because four top-10s in just 13 starts doesn’t exactly qualify as failure.

Donald also has a little ace up his sleeve. The third playoff event will be held at Conway Farms, which serves as his home course. Most other players in the BMW Championship field know little about the venue, if anything at all. That inside knowledge could prove valuable for Donald, who could parlay a big week at home into a big week at East Lake, where he’s finished in the top three each of the past three years.


By RYAN LAVNER

Winner: Webb Simpson

It’s too easy to go with Tiger here, so we’ll go down the list and take Simpson, who is 17th in points and fits the mold of the last three good-but-not-great FedEx Cup winners. More than that, though, he enters the playoffs in good form, with three consecutive top-25 finishes. The last time The Barclays was held at Liberty National, in 2009, he led midway through the tournament before finishing solo eighth. Looking ahead, his last two starts at TPC Boston are promising (T-18 and win), most players are getting their first crack at Conway Farms, and Simpson was T-5 a year ago at East Lake, host of the Tour Championship. Remember, all it takes is one well-timed victory to win the FedEx Cup.

Long shot: Rory McIlroy

At No. 49 in the standings, Rory has work to do just to make it to East Lake for the Tour Championship. His T-8 at Oak Hill was his most encouraging performance since his runner-up in San Antonio in April. His stats this season are better than his position indicates – 22nd in adjusted scoring, T-23 in all-around – and he’ll have good vibes at both the Deutsche Bank, where he won last year, and the Tour Championship, where he shot three rounds in the 60s. Sure, there may have been swings-and-misses in the majors this season, but there’s still time to salvage his year.


By RANDALL MELL

Winner: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson has yet to win the FedEx Cup, but if he is ever going to do so, this is set up as the year.Yes, picking Lefty to consistently contend in four consecutive events is asking much, because he can run so hot and cold. But with all the tools that have come together for him this year, here’s betting that he runs hot through this FedEx Cup’s post season, to finally win the playoffs in his seventh try. He’s fourth in the FedEx Cup standings. Yes, he didn’t follow up his back-to-back victories at the Scottish Open and British Open with much last month, but the thinking here is that he’s rested up to make this the best year of his career with a major and a FedEx Cup title giving him his first PGA Tour Player of the Year award.

Long shot: Jonas Blixt

He is way down at No. 29 in the FedEx Cup standings, but the guy has won twice in the last year and is coming off a fourth-place finish at the PGA Championship.


By WILL GRAY

Winner: Henrik Stenson 

As Rory McIlroy proved last year, the season’s best player does not necessarily win the FedEx Cup. So while he hasn’t lifted a trophy yet this year, Stenson has played some of the best golf this summer of anyone on the planet and is certainly capable of stealing the show in Atlanta. He enters the playoffs ranked ninth in points, on the heels of four consecutive top-three finishes worldwide and boasting a tee-to-green proficiency that is almost unrivaled this year. Just check the stat sheet – the Swede ranks second on Tour in GIR percentage this season, third in total driving and sixth in fairways hit. Stenson is in the midst of a meteoric return through the world rankings, a rise that will be further buoyed by a FedEx Cup title at season’s end.

Longshot: Lee Westwood

Westwood begins this week in 35th place in the FedEx Cup standings, a position determined more by his lack of starts than by poor play as the Englishman has made just six PGA Tour appearances since The Players Championship. A year ago, Westwood began his first career playoff run in 51st place and made it all the way to East Lake, finishing 10th in the final standings thanks to top-15 finishes in each of the first three events. With top-10 finishes this year at TPC Sawgrass and Augusta National to go along with his near-miss at the Open Championship, Westwood can still compete at a high level against the game’s best, a trend that should continue across the next four events.