After the Ryder Cup last September European golf was on a massive high but the FedEx Cup play-offs have shown that some of the main characters in the matches against the United States have suffered mental letdown. Only four players from the top 20 in the world rankings have not qualified for the Tour Championship and each played for Europe in the Ryder Cup.
In the seven year history of the FedEx Cup Vijay Singh and Adam Scott are the only winners not born in the United States. The Australian contingent will have their say and Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald are batting for Europe but in identifying potential winners American players are at the top of the list. Of those Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk are well placed to win more than eleven million dollars this week.
When Rory McIlroy won the US PGA Championship last year and was the world number one few would have expected that he would not be one of the 30 best players on the US PGA Tour this season. Last season he won two play-off events but missed out on the big prize after being overhauled by Brandt Snedeker. That player was the third in succession to clinch the FedEx Cup by winning the Tour Championship.
McIlroy missed qualifying for the limited field finale by the proverbial mile, despite recording two rounds in the 60s over the weekend. Many commentators suggested he was unwise to change equipment but few other young men in his position would turn down the fortune he is being paid by Nike to use their clubs.
Lee Westwood still had an outside chance of making the field this week but he was clearly injured at the BMW Championship and never looked like winning the required number of points. He will look back on the season with a sense of disappointment as he wasted a great opportunity to win the Open but can comfort himself with the knowledge that it would have taken an exceptional final round to beat Phil Mickelson at Muirfield.
Ian Poulter was Europe’s talisman at the Ryder Cup and must have embarked on the new season with the confidence to contend in the majors. For 30 minutes on Open Sunday it looked like he was about to post a winning number but didn’t record enough birdies down the stretch to post a score that Mickelson could not beat.
Graeme McDowell won events on both main tours this season, on courses that put a premium on accuracy over distance. However, his form has dipped at the business end of the season and he misses the chance to compete at East Lake this week, a course that is a good fit for his skill’s profile.
Of those eligible for the Tour Championship only the top five in the standings will definitely win the FedEx Cup if outscoring the rest of the field this week. Other players could win but miss out on the bonus because somebody else may muddy the waters by adding enough points to their tally to head the final table. Tiger Woods, Stenson, Scott, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar are the players assured of winning the FedEx Cup if beating the opposition at East Lake.
Stricker has now reached the veteran stage and there were signs during the Ryder Cup that is exceptional short game had dropped a level. There was no hiding place in the matches, especially as he had been chosen to partner Woods on the basis of their good record as a partnership in team golf. Stricker now plays a light schedule but can still be competitive after lengthy breaks as he was when making the payout places in the BMW Championship last week, on a course similar in design to East Lake.
Furyk became unreliable at the business end of key events last season and he faltered over the closing holes of the BMW Championship, just as Johnson was holing two crucial putts. He is a former winner of the FedEx Cup so won’t be intimidated by the prospect of winning 10 million dollars again. East Lake is a course that takes some working out and could favour one of the elder statesmen which brings Stricker and Furyk right into the mix.