Somewhere at the end of the rainbow is the FedEx Cup and a 10 million dollar bonus. It says a lot when the field for the first play-off event this week is stronger than for the Olympics. The Barclays is the first of four post season tournaments which culminate in the Tour Championship and one player increasing his wealth by a fortune but for the next four years Justin Rose will be an Olympic champion.
Golf never seemed a good fit with the ideals of the Olympic Games but it was a huge success in Rio. The winners of the men’s and women’s gold medals were major champions and worthy of the honour. Rose and Inbee Park were committed to the cause and golf enhanced the 2016 Games. Both players can have bragging rights on the range for four years and the value of that is immeasurable. In four years it will be interesting to compare the quality of the fields in Tokyo with Brazil.
Players from the upper echelons of the sport gave a variety of reasons for not travelling to South America. Rory McIlroy not only gave a weak excuse but then mocked the concept. The final round showdown between Rose and Henrik Stenson would be worthy of any major. It brought together the winner of the US Open in 2013 and the current Open champion. The Sunday of the tournament was a sell out and even the players that did not contend will take many positives from the week.
Rose is a professional who makes his living from playing golf. There are huge amounts of cash up for grabs over the next four weeks but mental letdown could be an issue. He stayed in the village but might not have attended the Closing Ceremony. If he did stay on to enjoy the complete experience mental letdown and recovering from travel could be an issue this week and other players are preferred. The field is at major championship level and course form could be key in identifying potential winners.
The format of the playoffs means fields over the next four weeks are progressively smaller in a kind of knockout scenario. Ultimately 30 players will qualify for the Tour Championship which will determine who wins the FedEx Cup and an extra $10 million. Famously when Brandt Snedeker won he said there was no point in buying a new car when he had a perfectly adequate vehicle in his garage. Jim Furyk won the FedEx Cup in 2010 but may not have recovered from shooting 58 three weeks ago.
The FedEx Cup was introduced to the schedule in 2007 and to date Tiger Woods is the only multiple winner. In the last six years the winner of the Tour Championship also won the FedEx Cup. In 2012 and 2015 McIlroy and Jason Day won two of the playoff events excluding the finale but not the FedEx Cup. So in effect the Tour Championship is a final eliminator and just about any player in the limited field can win the ultimate prize pending the finishing positions of other players.
This week’s Barclays is being played on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park. It was the venue for the 2012 renewal which Nick Watney won with a score of 10 under. Bethpage staged the US Open in 2002 and 2009 when the winning scores were 3 under and 4 under respectively. The Black Course is a tough but fair test and those circumstances usually produce a quality winner. Four years ago Watney was tied 15th in fairways hit, third for greens in regulation and third in proximity to the hole.
The course has a par of 71 and at almost 7,500 yards is long for that standard scratch score. Fast bentgrass greens and high temperatures will add to the challenge and the winner should be proven at WGC or major championship level. Good ball striking and a solid all-round game will be required and that brings Stenson right into the mix. However, he has finally won that elusive first major, money is not an issue and other players could be more motivated and will want to get back in the limelight after swerving the Olympic Games.
Dustin Johnson usually excels at this time of the year and may need the cash to maintain his lifestyle with a glamorous celebrity partner. He was tied third on the course in 2012 and is first on Tour in proximity to the hole. He is currently second in adjusted scoring which reflects all-round excellence so Johnson is the player to back against the field and Russell Knox is a big priced each-way alternative.