GREENSBORO, N.C. – The Wyndham Championship has attracted one of its best fields, partly out of desperation from some players.
The final tournament before the start of the PGA Tour’s playoffs offers one last chance for players to climb the FedEx Cup rankings and claim a spot in The Barclays.
Several could use a big week in North Carolina. Ernie Els, who enters at No. 126, wrote on his official website that this is “last-chance saloon.” Padraig Harrington is No. 130, four points behind No. 125 Camillo Villegas in the race to make golf’s postseason.
“I hope that I’ll be the fairy tale story, but any of us guys who are slightly outside the FedEx Cup at the moment, if we qualify, we can go on and win” the playoffs, Harrington said Wednesday. “That’s the whole idea … that anybody who is in the top 125 has a chance of winning it outright and being the best player of the year. So, if myself or Ernie or any of the guys actually make it in, and we hit our A-games for four weeks, all of a sudden, we can be the FedEx Cup champion.”
Meanwhile, No. 106 Retief Goosen and reigning playoff champion Jim Furyk want to solidify their spots in the standings.
They’re all a big part of what tournament director Mark Brazil has called the event’s best field in 20 years.
The playoffs “are obviously playing a role in the fields of tournaments, and this is a perfect example,” Bill Haas said. “I think it’s great to see. It shows the competitive nature of all the players out here. Everybody wants to play in these playoff events, and give themselves a shot, because anything can happen.”
Harrington will tee off Thursday morning as part of one of the tournament’s more intriguing groups. He’ll be joined by two other big names who also are looking to play their way into the postseason – No. 142 Justin Leonard and No. 147 Paul Casey. The threesome has combined to win four majors.
Harrington had a family vacation in the Bahamas scheduled, but when he wound up on the playoff bubble, his wife urged him to sign up for Greensboro.
“If I do qualify, I’m really looking forward to the fact that I can be the underdog and come through and win it outright,” Harrington said. “I suppose that’s what the FedEx Cup was designed for.”
Jason Dufner certainly could use a strong showing at the par-70 Sedgefield Country Club to move forward after his late five-shot lead evaporated at the PGA Championship last week and Keegan Bradley beat him in a three-hole playoff.
“I think it’ll make me a better player,” said Dufner, who at No. 25 doesn’t have to worry about making the playoff field. “I feel like there’s been more guys who have lost leads or lost tournaments in that situation and then have had greater finishes in the future than guys that have lost leads and you never heard of again.”
Two local favorites – Haas and Webb Simpson, who played their college golf at nearby Wake Forest – are safely in the playoff field. Simpson enters 12th on the points list with Haas three spots behind him.
“It’s about the time of year when the FedEx Cup playoff buzz starts going, and I think we’ve got a bunch of good names here because of it,” Simpson said. “I think I’m in a position where I can make a nice run at the playoffs and try to win. This week, I don’t think I can really hurt myself. I can definitely help myself with a good week.”
For Haas, no trip to Greensboro is complete without a return to his college town. The 29-year-old said he’ll make the 30-minute drive to Winston-Salem at least once to take a spin around campus “and just feel like I’m younger.”
“It was the best time of my life, without question,” Haas added. “I would trade everything I’ve done on Tour to go back to college for four more years.”
One player in the field can return to school in the fall after he makes some PGA Tour history.
Olafur Loftsson, a rising senior at Charlotte, won the Cardinal Amateur across town to earn a sponsor’s exemption into the Wyndham. That will make him the first player from Iceland to play a Tour event.
“People over there are very pleased to see me have some success,” Loftsson said. “Very excited to be able to represent Iceland here and kind of show the world that we do play golf in Iceland and we can be pretty darn good.”