Woods looks to stay in playoffs, earn Ryder pick this week at Barclays

Tiger Woods is 112th in the FedEx standings entering the Barclays this week.
Fred Vuich/SI

The FedEx Cup has never caught on to the extent that the Tour hoped it would, and those ads in which players drone on about its significance are tedious and a classic oversell.

Still, Commissioner Tim Finchem had to do something when his big stars were routinely skipping the Tour Championship, and the end of the season was so woefully lacking in definition.

Thus, the FedEx Cup, now in its fourth year.

The PGA Championship calls itself "Glory's Last Shot," but that slogan is almost as apt for the FedEx, which tries to wrap a tidy bow around the year in golf. Sometimes it even succeeds.

Then again, you could change the marketing to, The FedEx Cup: It's Big-Market Golf.

This week's Barclays at New Jersey's Ridgewood Country Club begins a four-week bake-off in New York (across the Hudson from Ridgewood, but close enough), Boston, Chicago and Atlanta.

A field of 125 players at the Barclays will be pared down to 100 (Deutsche Bank), which will become 70 (BMW), which will finally become 30 for the Tour Championship, Sept. 23-26.

But we may not have to wait that long to answer some of the game's burning questions; tournaments this week may bring clarity to a season that's been hard to reconcile.

Is Tiger finished? Will his long-awaited divorce, announced this week, free his mind and lower his scores? What's with Phil? Does the U.S. Ryder Cup team have a prayer of winning in Wales?

And should we be celebrating the emergence of all of the game's 20-somethings, or just the foreign-born ones?

In Scotland, European captain Colin Montgomerie will keep a keen eye on the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, as it's the last event for Euro hopefuls to qualify on points.

Then again, he'll have to monitor the Barclays, too, because that field will include as yet unqualified European stars Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington and Justin Rose.

Although he has an enviable embarrassment of riches, Monty in some ways has a tougher task than U.S. captain Corey Pavin. (This assumes it's harder to leave players off a team when said players are performing well, like, for example, the Molinari brothers.)

As usual, though, most American fans will focus squarely on Woods, who needs to play well at the Barclays not just because it's been almost a year since he won on Tour (at the '09 BMW), but because if he turns in yet another middling showing in a season full of them he won't qualify for the rest of the playoffs.

He's a lowly 112th in FedEx Cup points, which means he will have to move up at least 12 spots this week. At least he won't have third-seeded Jim Furyk to beat. Furyk was disqualified for missing his pro-am time Wednesday morning.

There's also the matter of Woods needing a captain's pick from U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin, a predicament no one expected to see Woods in for at least another six to eight years.

Phil Mickelson would dearly love to win a tournament whose title sponsor is one of his biggest corporate supporters.

And the Rookie of the Year title is still up for grabs, as is the Player of the Year honor, for that matter.

It's been a trying summer for the golf course, which had to weather the second hottest July on record in New Jersey. A 1929 A.W. Tillinghast design, Ridgewood got raves when it hosted the '08 Barclays. (The '09 event was held at less widely praised Liberty National.) The mostly poa annua greens slope severely, mostly from back to front, and are guarded by deep bunkers.

Mickelson, who played 18 holes at Ridgewood with select Barclays company the week of the PGA, tied for 19th place there in 2008. Given that he tied for 52nd last year, he is likely happy to be back.

Victories in one or more of the FedEx playoff events by any of the five players with two wins on Tour this year (Ernie Els, Furyk, Justin Rose, Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan) would seem to be good enough to merit election as Player of the Year.

Finchem's four-headed FedEx monster has given us a shining moment or two (Camilo Villegas in 2008 comes to mind), and a bit of narrative to take us into the offseason. Let's hope for more of the same this year. Last year's FedEx result, Tiger winning the $10 million first prize the same day Phil won the Tour Championship, seems like such a long time ago.

Here at home, on the banks of the Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., new gem Chambers Bay (2015 U.S. Open) will get its first significant test over five days of match play at the U.S. Amateur.

The sun shines all over the Seattle area, where not only will Chambers be the first muni to host the Amateur, the Champions Tour will drop in for the Boeing Classic at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge.

Nationwide Tour strivers, who will play in the Knoxville News Sentinel Open at Fox Den C.C., are at that point in the season where they have to resist the urge to check the money list hourly. (Not that making the PGA Tour provides a buffer against the game's cruelties. Kevin Johnson, who won in Knoxville last year, has made just four cuts and $63K in 22 starts on Tour in '10.)

The LPGA tour heads north to Winnipeg for the CN Canadian Women's Open at St. Charles Country Club. Suzann Pettersen defends, but her victory last year came at a different venue, Priddis Greens Golf and Country Club.

 

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