FedEx Cup playoff fever, and all the math that comes with it

August 24, 2017

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. (AP) — The Northern Trust might be one tournament that can change a player’s season without even having to win.

Sean O’Hair fits into that category.

A year ago at the FedEx Cup playoffs opener, O’Hair closed with a 66 at Bethpage Black and wound up in a tie for second. That shot him up from No. 108 to No. 15 in the FedEx Cup, and he did just enough to remain in the top 30 and get to the Tour Championship. More than picking up a $190,000 bonus, he got into all four majors.

The best example was Heath Slocum , who actually won at Liberty National after narrowly qualifying for the PGA Tour’s version of a postseason. Winning what then was called The Barclays moved him up to No. 3, and he still was in the top 5 when he reached the Tour Championship.

Something along those lines is sure to unfold this week at The Northern Trust, which moves this year to Glen Oaks.

The top players – Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson – are thinking about $10 million at the end of this lucrative month of golf. The ones in the middle – O’Hair starts this year at No. 54 – have reasonable hopes of contending, or at least getting to East Lake.

Those at the bottom have nothing to lose, and someone typically has a lot to gain.

It all starts on Thursday, when the PGA Tour becomes as much about math as birdies and bogeys.

Geoff Ogilvy feels like the happiest player at The Northern Trust, mainly because there was no guarantee he would even be here. Just six days ago, he was at No. 125 in the standings and on his way to a missed cut when he birdied four straight holes, had a strong weekend at the Wyndham Championship and moved up to No. 116.

Does he have a chance? Ogilvy doesn’t need to ask O’Hair or Slocum. He knows by experience. Three years ago, Ogilvy missed the cut in the playoff opener and faced elimination until Brendon Todd made a 15-foot putt on the last hole that assured Ogilvy slipped only to No. 100 and advanced to the next playoff event. Then, at the TPC Boston, he shot 65-65 on the weekend to tie for second. That sent him to the Tour Championship.

Besides, Ogilvy might not feel the most relieved. Floating on clouds is Martin Flores , who appeared certain to finish out of the top 125 last week until he made an ace on the 16th hole, a birdie on the 18th hole and moved to No. 118.

Now, everything is up for grabs.

The tournament has a new name (it used to be The Barclays) on a new course. Glen Oaks drops into the rotation because Liberty National is hosting the Presidents Cup.

The playoffs will help decide who gets to the Presidents Cup, too. The playoffs determine a lot of things.