ATLANTA (AP) — Just being among the 30 players at the Tour Championship should be enough for Geoff Ogilvy.
Only 16 days ago, Ogilvy was on the verge of being eliminated from the FedEx Cup playoffs. Needing a par-birdie finish at the TPC Boston, his tee shot on the 17th hole finished in a crevice behind a rock and he had to take a penalty drop.
What followed is still hard to fathom.
Ogilvy rolled in a 20-footer for par, then holed a 6-foot birdie putt to narrowly advance to the next playoff event outside Chicago. Then, he finished alone in third at Cog Hill – a two-way tie for third would not have been enough – to book a trip to East Lake.
“I definitely wasn’t thinking of being here when I was in that hole,” Ogilvy said Wednesday. “So the fact that I am is pretty nice.”
He is No. 24 among the 30 players who reached the Tour Championship, and while mathematically they all have a shot at the $10 million bonus for winning the FedEx Cup, the higher seeds have the greater odds.
Webb Simpson is the top seed, followed by Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar. If any of them win, they are assured golf’s richest prize.
Ogilvy’s hopes require a little more math. It starts with him winning, and the odds got even longer the more he studied the other scenarios that must unfold.
“Webb Simpson must finish 17th or worse, which is probably not going to happen, you wouldn’t think,” he said, reading from a chart. “Dustin Johnson has to finish sixth or worse. Justin and Luke have to finish fourth or worse, which isn’t going to happen because Luke doesn’t finish out of the top three anymore, does he?”
That’s when he shifted to a prize that might be just as meaningful.
“I’d love to win this golf tournament,” Ogilvy said. “That would be nice because people are forgetting this one of the tour’s special golf tournaments – The Players Championship, the Tour Championship, the Tournament of Champions. It’s still the Tour Championship, and it would be pretty special to have a Tour Championship on your mantle.
“I guess I’ll view it like that and try to win,” he said. “And if the right things happen, that would be great.”
The FedEx Cup is finishing up its fifth year, and while some promotional bluster created more skeptics than supporters in the early going, it is hard to find fault with what the playoffs have produced – four straight tournaments with the strongest fields, with only the best walking away with the $10 million prize. Tiger Woods has won twice, with Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk the other cup champions.
“I think the system has been validated because it’s had the biggest names in golf as its champions,” Kuchar said.
The leading five candidates this year all are among the top 20 in the world, including top-ranked Donald.
There is reason for others to hope, however, and all that requires is a chat with Nick Watney.
A year ago, Watney narrowly got into the Tour Championship at No. 28 and was 12 shots behind going into the weekend. In the final hour, he was one shot off the lead and had a legitimate chance to win the FedEx Cup until a bogey on the 16th hole.
“I was thinking I had no chance,” Watney said. “Kuchar was leading the FedEx Cup, and he was playing so consistently. They said I had to win and he had to finish worse than 25th or something. There were so many mathematical scenarios. It was like the BCS.”
His message for the guys ranked toward the bottom of the FedEx Cup list was to think about winning – not the FedEx Cup, but a season-ending tournament that still packs some prestige.
“I think that big crystal with the dude on it is pretty special,” Watney said of the Tour Championship trophy. “The FedEx Cup is great, but I mean, there’s a lot to be said for that trophy. It gets lost in this sometimes, at least pre-tournament.”
And that’s from a guy who is No. 7 this year and has a far better chance at $10 million.
Kuchar is the only player who mathematically could capture the FedEx Cup without having won a tournament this year. That nearly happened last year with Paul Casey until he faded over the last few holes.
Adam Scott is No. 19 and thinking about only one trophy – the crystal one with the dude on it.
“It’s just a tournament for me,” Scott said when asked about his chances in the FedEx Cup. “If I go home to Australia next week being a winner at a World Golf Championship (Firestone) and the Tour Championship, I’ll be pretty proud of my year. I’m so far back, I can’t concern myself with money. But I can win the tournament. There’s only 30 guys.”
That might not be bad advice for the guys who do have better odds in the FedEx Cup.
“If you think about money, then you’re not thinking about golf,” Scott said.
Simpson has won two of his last four tournaments, and the fact one of them was a playoff event (Deutsche Bank) is the reason he comes into East Lake as the No. 1 seed. This is his first trip to the Tour Championship, and if none of the top six seeds win, whoever has the highest finish is likely to go home very rich. Or much richer.
“It’s hard not to think about where you stand and the money that comes with playing well from FedEx,” Simpson said. “That being said, we want to focus that much more on the golf course and the conditions we’re going to face, because we feel like the more we can get lost in the golf course and not think about where we’re going to end up in the FedEx Cup, the better we’ll play.”