Beginning with this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational the languid pace of the PGA Tour’s new wrap-around schedule – a lineup that began last October in California – transitions to professional golf’s version of the 2-minute drill.
Across the competitive spectrum players are quickly finding themselves on the clock, whether they are trying to secure a spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs, which begins in three weeks at The Barclays, or a place on what is already shaping up to be a crowded Player of the Year ballot.
With a World Golf Championship, the year’s final major and all four post-season events still remaining much can change in the PoY picture, but history suggests the main characters have likely already been identified.
While Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., tends to cede such arguments to its FedEx Cup champion, more times than not in the playoff era – four out of the last seven Player of the Year Awards didn’t go to the FedEx Cup champion – the Jack Nicklaus Award hasn’t dovetailed with that reality.
In fact, for the last three seasons the Player of the Year was not the FedEx Cup champion, with last year’s vote proving to be particularly close between Tiger Woods (a five-time winner in 2013), Adam Scott (the Masters champion), Phil Mickelson (the Open champion) and Henrik Stenson (the FedEx Cup winner).
Woods won last year’s POY hardware in what many players considered a polarizing vote, and this year’s race is shaping up to be an even more crowded field.
With seven big weeks remaining in the season, here’s your Player of the Year primer (players listed alphabetically):
• Martin Kaymer
However you want to slice this, the German has two “major” titles on his resume this year (the U.S. Open and The Players) and one of those was an eight-stroke masterpiece at Pinehurst.
While Kaymer hasn’t exactly been the model of consistency away from TPC Sawgrass and the No. 2 course, he would likely be the leader in the clubhouse heading into the year’s final major for the POY award.
• Rory McIlroy
The 2012 Player of the Year still has some work to do if he is going to complete the front end of the even-year POY slam. As impressive as his victory was at Royal Liverpool it is his only Tour title in 2014 and overseas victories (even the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event, which the Northern Irishman won) don’t seem to hold much weight with the circuit’s rank-and-file come voting time.
• Patrick Reed
To be accurate, “Mr. Top 5” would be considered a dark horse for the POY award, but he is the only other player with multiple victories in 2014 (two), and his triumph at the WGC-Cadillac Championship was impressive.
Still, he has more than three times as many missed cuts as victories and would need a big finish to secure his status as a true contender.
• Adam Scott
While the Australian would also be considered a long-shot for the season-ending honor, he did ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking this year, and he punctuated that honor with a playoff victory at the Crowne Plaza Invitational.
Scott also has seven top-10 finishes in 11 Tour starts this season, a run that includes the last two majors (T-9 at the U.S. Open and T-5 at the Open Championship).
• Jimmy Walker
He was the hottest player in golf through the first four months of the season, winning three times before March, and he has continued to be consistent through the dog days of summer with top-25 finishes in all but four of his last 14 events.
He’s also posted top-10 finishes in two of his three major starts in 2014, but his understated demeanor may prompt some to overlook him when it comes time to vote.
• Bubba Watson
He's No. 2 on the FedEx Cup points list and No. 1 in many fans’ hearts following his second victory in April at the Masters.
His victory at the Northern Trust Open will also give him some street cred among those who say he is a one-trick player (Augusta National), but he missed the cut in the next two majors and hasn’t posted a top 10 since early June.
Rickie Fowler, the only player with top-5 finishes in the year’s first three majors, and Matt Kuchar, who has pieced together another stellar season, could also join the conversation with a few solid starts the next few weeks.
There is still plenty of time on the clock for someone to separate themselves from the Player of the Year pack, but if history, and the currently crowded field, holds the Tour electorate will face another tough decision this fall.