It's a big week on the PGA Tour with the start of the playoffs and the conclusion to U.S. Ryder Cup qualifying.
Who will win the FedEx Cup and who, if anyone, will play their way into the top eight and automatically qualify for the U.S. Ryder Cup team? Our writers answer both questions:
By REX HOGGARD
Pick to win the FedEx Cup: If history holds it won’t be Jason Day hoisting the big check and trophy in five weeks at East Lake. Just three times in the nine years since the playoffs were started has the player who began the post-season atop the points list finished the season there – and on two of those occasions that player was Tiger Woods (2007 and ’09). Although Day has had a great year, winning the FedEx Cup is almost as much about timing as it is having the best year, and Henrik Stenson has proven himself adept at a classic playoff peak having won the season-long race in 2013. Expect the Swede to be back in the hunt this post-season.
Who plays their way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team: As for the final push to qualify for this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team, don’t expect any changes to the top 8 after this week’s Barclays. Patrick Reed currently holds down the last qualifying spot at No. 8 and he hasn’t been playing his best golf of late, but the players behind him – J.B. Holmes, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler – haven’t been in their best form, either. The automatic qualifiers will remain unchanged, which means it will be time for captain Davis Love III to start making the hard decisions on his four picks.
By RYAN LAVNER
Pick to win the FedEx Cup: Henrik Stenson. Sure, we could play the “hot hand” card here – no one has been better of late, with a pair of wins worldwide this summer and a silver medal – but there’s more to it when it comes to these playoffs. Stenson has a great history at both TPC Boston (a win and a runner-up) and East Lake (a win and a T-2 in his only two appearances) throughout his FedEx Cup career. He’s 14th in the standings entering the postseason, but figures to climb quickly thanks to his red-hot play and reconfigured points structure. Once he’s inside the top 5 for the finale, he’ll be the man to beat at a course that he’s owned in the past.
Who plays their way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team: Matt Kuchar (currently No. 11). Is there such a thing as the Olympic bump? We’re about to find out with Kuchar and Justin Rose, who shook up quiet 2016 campaigns with rousing performances in Rio. Kuchar trails fellow Team USA member Patrick Reed by less than $200,000 for the eighth and final qualifying spot, and his tee-to-green precision should be rewarded at penal Bethpage Black. Throw in the Olympics, and Kooch has seven top-10s in his last 11 starts – none of the other Ryder Cup contenders ahead of him in the standings are even close.
By WILL GRAY
Pick to win the FedEx Cup: I’ll go out on a (small) limb and peg Daniel Berger as the FedEx Cup champion. At No. 22 in the regular-season standings he’s certainly ceding some ground to the frontrunners, but keep in mind that Billy Horschel began the postseason at No. 69 just two years ago and still left with the hardware. Berger already has a win under his belt this year, and he let another golden opportunity slip away in his most recent start when he surrendered the 54-hole lead at the Travelers Championship. Berger is on the fringe of the discussion for Ryder Cup picks entering The Barclays, but as he demonstrated last year he is able to rise to the occasion in the postseason: T-12 finishes at the Deutsche Bank Championship and Tour Championship sandwiched around a runner-up at the BMW Championship at Conway Farms. Last year, Berger used an impressive run through the playoffs to net Rookie of the Year honors. This time, a similar feat might bring with it the final spot on the American roster at Hazeltine.
Who plays their way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team: While Bethpage is certainly the type of burly layout that should suit J.B. Holmes, at the end of the week I believe Holmes will fall just short and the final qualifying spot for the U.S. Ryder Cup will go to Patrick Reed. Reed is in the midst of a busy stretch, playing the fifth of seven straight events in a run that will include 12 of 13 weeks from the U.S. Open through the BMW Championship. But Reed has displayed a knack for playing through similar stretches in the past, and the tantalizing incentive of a Ryder Cup berth will spur him on this week on Long Island. Reed’s lead is less than $31,000 over Holmes, but it’s Holmes who will be feeling the most pressure after three straight missed cuts. Reed, more likely than Holmes to be added as a pick by Davis Love III if he falls to ninth, has had a quietly impressive season that includes nine top-10 finishes. Needing one more big week to clinch a trip to an event he dearly covets, Reed will do enough to keep at bay the likes of Holmes, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar.
By RANDALL MELL
Pick to win the FedEx Cup: Jason Day didn’t claim any of the four most coveted prizes this year, getting shut out in the trophy grabs in the majors, but he’s going to take home the biggest bundle of cash this year and put an exclamation mark on another Player of the Year run. It may take the FedEx Cup to tilt favor away from Dustin Johnson in the POY race. After winning three times in the first half of the year, it hasn’t been a bad summer for Day. He was T-8 at the U.S. Open, T-3 at the WGC Bridgestone and made a brilliant run at winning the PGA Championship before finishing T-2. He won a pair of FedEx Cup events last year but didn’t get the big jackpot. He remedies that showing how even more well-rounded his game has become this year.
Who plays their way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team: If J.B. Holmes is going to make the team, he is probably going to have to make it on points. Yes, he’s only ninth in points now, falling just outside the top eight cutoff this past week, but he’s been going the wrong direction in a hurry. He has missed four of his last five cuts. Still, he’s basically only $31,000 behind Patrick Reed now. He is in the best position to make this late move. Plus, his career is defined by what he has overcome. He can do this with his big game a match for the big ballpark that is Bethpage Black.