NORTON, Mass. (AP) — Bob Estes was on his way to the first tee for a practice round at the TPC Boston on Wednesday when he stopped to look at the FedEx Cup standings.
“First time I’ve seen my name atop a leaderboard in a long time,” Estes said.
That was the good news.
Not so good was that this chart only showed the 10 players – from No. 65 to No. 75 – on the bubble at the Deutsche Bank Championship, the second round of the playoffs when the paring of players starts to get serious.
Only 70 of the 100 players who made it to the TPC Boston will advance next week to Cog Hill outside Chicago.
Estes is at No. 65 for the second straight week. He can’t afford to drop much lower.
A year ago, one tournament into the PGA Tour Playoffs revealed some flaws. The points system was supposed to create volatility, yet it wound up rewarding mediocrity. Anyone who simply made the cut could count on moving up the charts. A missed cut was crippling.
The example of all that was wrong last year was Padraig Harrington. He won two majors and ultimately was voted PGA Tour player of the year, but he missed the cut in the first two playoff events and didn’t even qualify for the Tour Championship.
Harrington hasn’t won any tournaments this year after spending most of the season searching for a swing key. Only in the last month did he start to concentrate on scoring, and the results have been promising. He had a chance to win at Firestone, finishing in a tie for second. He had a chance at the PGA Championship, where he tied for 10th.
In the playoff opener last week at The Barclays, Harrington tied for second.
He started the playoffs at No. 66 and now is all the way up to No. 14, keeping him in contention for the $10 million prize.
“It is interesting that my FedEx Cup this year has improved so much with one event,” Harrington said. “Whereas maybe last year the system didn’t work for me, this year it seems to be working for me.”
It’s working for Tiger Woods. He won five times during the regular season to earn the No. 1 seed, tied for second last week after missing a 7-foot putt that would have put him in a playoff, and remains the top seed.
And it’s really working for Heath Slocum, the surprise winner of The Barclays after making a 20-foot par putt on the 18th hole. Slocum narrowly qualified for the opening event, and now finds himself at No. 3. That’s the reward of winning a playoff event.
“It was a good week. It was a great week,” Slocum said. “And really, I’m just looking forward to the position that it’s put me in, maybe to have a chance coming down the stretch of the playoffs to maybe have another impact.”
Ultimately, it’s all about performance.
Webb Simpson was No. 85 in the standings, two spots ahead of Nick O’Hern going into the opener. Simpson finished eighth at The Barclays and moved up to No. 41, leaving him in good position to advance to Chicago. O’Hern missed the cut and fell to No. 98, meaning he will have to play well if he wants to keep playing.
“I got my text message saying I moved up to 41st, and at first I thought they made a mistake,” Simpson said. “I didn’t realize I was going to jump 40-something spots. But I love the format. It keeps everybody on their toes, and whoever plays best in the playoffs is going to win. I think this year’s system is great compared to last year.”
What one week of the playoffs has revealed is the importance of the regular season. Unlike last year, the standings are not reset until the Tour Championship, so someone like Woods could have three bad weeks and still be in the top 10 going to East Lake. That’s the reward for winning five times and dominating the tour.
Consider three levels of performance:
– Slocum was at No. 124 after a poor season and had to play his best golf in the opening round or go home. Just his luck, he won the tournament. Jeff Maggert was at No. 123 and missed the cut, so he was eliminated.
– Brett Quigley had a good season and was No. 45 before he missed the cut at The Barclays. He could afford one bad week, however, and now Quigley is No. 59 going into the Deutsche Bank Championship. If he misses the cut at TPC Boston, he likely will be out.
– Lucas Glover had a great season, winning the U.S. Open and finishing fifth at the PGA Championship. He also missed the cut at The Barclays, but having started at No. 5, he slipped only two spots. Glover is allowed another bad week at TPC Boston and still will be in Chicago, with a decent chance of going to the Tour Championship.
At some point, everyone will have to play well.
“There’s a lot of buzz in the locker room and player dining, people talking about so-and-so moved up a lot,” Simpson said. “I was on the bubble and I got moved out. So I think it’s exactly what – for a playoff situation – fans want, and us as players want.”