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Packing a punch

Jim Furyk
Getty Images

As disappointed as I was with the decision to end The Barclays after 54 holes, nobody should be disillusioned when it comes to the FedEx Cup playoffs in general. The series is in its fifth year, still flawed in a world where perfect barely exists, so we should accept the postseason for what it is. Better than what we had before, obviously. A four-week stretch of premium-field events that should bring the year to a close but doesn’t.

But hey, no need to sweat the small stuff. The golf has been very good, the tournaments etched in suspense, several of them featuring down-the-stretch duels between top-shelf players. Last week’s Dustin Johnson-Matt Kuchar tilt might have happened a day early, but in this game, you take what you can get. From Steve Stricker’s triumph in the inaugural playoff gathering (Westchester, 2007) to Johnson’s hurricane-shortened victory at Plainfield, the only duds have come at a Tour Championship or two, mainly because the overall winner already had been determined.

Just two of the 17 tournament winners came out of nowhere: Heath Slocum over Tiger Woods at the 2009 Barclays and Charley Hoffman at last year's Deutsche Bank. After a couple of early no-shows by the superstars, attendance has been strong – and the best players have carried the product. Those two things had to happen for the playoffs to have any credibility, but until the PGA Tour makes the format sexier, only hardcore fans will understand the concept, much less embrace it.

That said, here are my top five postseason finishes – this list was no gimme despite the FedEx Cup's youth. It might not be a real “playoff” as much as it is a payoff, but if you love golf, the FedEx has, ahem, delivered.

5. 2008 Tour Championship (Villegas over Garcia): This one ranks because it involved two young stars in a sudden-death playoff, which ended on the first hole, but also because it exposed a huge problem in the postseason format. Villegas won the last two events but never had a chance to claim the overall crown because Vijay Singh had won the first two – so much for the crescendo effect.

You would think all that money would buy the Tour a decent mathematician, but Camp Ponte Vedra likes to do things their way. The points-allocation formula was soon overhauled to include a ton of back-end reward, but that doesn't change the fact that the wrong guy won in 2008.

4. 2009 Barclays (Slocum over Woods): The end of the Dynasty, although most would cite Tiger's loss to Y.E. Yang at the PGA Championship two weeks earlier as the official end. Regardless, Woods was beaten by a nobody in back-to-back starts – Slocum holed a 20-footer on Liberty National's 18th, starting the clock on his 15 minutes of fame. As for Red Shirt, he was about to become infamous, but he did win the BMW and his second FedEx title before losing to the fire hydrant.

3. 2010 Tour Championship (Furyk over Donald): Let's not get carried away here. Yes, Furyk had to get up and down from a greenside bunker on East Lake's 18th to edge Donald in a FedEx photo finish for all the marbles, but the two weren't paired together and the weather was absolutely miserable, which made it hard to watch. Still, the bunker shot was as clutch as it gets – it was the first time the season-long title came down to the final hole.

The problem was that Donald came within a whisker of that $10 million despite not winning a tournament all year. Sanity prevailed, however, and believe me, they don't get any saner than Jim Furyk.

2. 2008 Barclays (Singh over Garcia): A true overtime thriller at Woodbridge CC, which got the event after the Tour dumped longtime host Westchester – the 2008 media guide lists the deposed club as the tournament site. Sergio and Vijay holed bombs on the first extra hole, but if Garcia spent that summer running out of gas 50 feet before the checkered flag, this was a fitting sequel to the British Open and PGA losses to Padraig Harrington. Add the sudden-death loss to Villegas three weeks later, and it's no wonder Sergio has spent the last three years picking up the pieces of a broken heart.

Singh, meanwhile, trampled the field in Boston a week later, knocking in 40-footers like Chevy Chase in 'Caddyshack.' That appears to be his last hurrah, but the $10 million he picked up (instead of Villegas) will buy you a lot of good memories.

1. 2007 Deutsche Bank (Mickelson over Woods): One of the best final rounds I've ever covered – and that includes the majors. The electricity running through TPC Boston that Labor Day was off the meter, a current powered by two primary sources: New England sports-fan intensity and the Tiger-Phil pairing in the second-to-last group. Both guys played well, with Mickelson's 66 matching low round of the day, one better than Red Shirt. The W vaulted Philly Mick to the top of the FedEx standings, where Woods had resided before skipping The Barclays a week earlier.

As if to prove he's as open-minded as any superstar on the planet, Mickelson announced during his post-round TV interview that he wouldn't be playing the following week in Chicago. Tiger won there, then again by eight in Atlanta. Phil didn't like the way the playoffs were structured. Not that it mattered back then.