A Ten Million Dollar first prize awaits the winner of The FedEx Cup Playoffs. The Top-125 players in the standings get things underway in the first of four-year end events this Thursday at The Barclays.
Just as football season is kicking off again, The FedEx Cup Playoffs, in the spirit of things, are about to begin their first quarter. Famed Bethpage Black in Long Island, New York will host The Barclays this week and provide the first stanza of this four-week road to The Tour Championship. By the time we make it though the Labor Day holiday, The FedEx Playoffs will have two events in the books, nearly half the field eliminated, and it'll be halftime. One can't win the 10-million dollars in the first week but they sure can lose it.
Bethpage Black is arguably the best and most difficult, public municipal golf course in the country. Like Black Diamond ski runs that publically warn the lesser skilled snowbirds, Bethpage Black too has a sign near the first tee box, warning that the golf course is only for highly skilled players. The Top-125 players in The FedEx Cup Standings as of this Monday, qualified to tackle this nearly 7500-yard beast and get the playoffs started with a bang.
Designed, on paper at least, by A.W. Tillinghast, Bethpage hosted The U.S. Open in 2002 and did again in 2009. It also hosted The Barclays in 2012 and will do so again in 2021. Long, straight driving of the golf ball along with a heavy splash of ball striking have proven to be key ingredients here. Tiger Woods, Lucas Glover, Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Graham DeLaet, Louis Oosthuizen all fit this mold and have all either won or contended at Bethpage Black.
Being a municipal course, the greens are not volatile and the putting ought to be somewhat neutralized. They are smaller than average greens and scrambling will be very important. Despite the hot, dry weather in the area this summer, the golf course maintenance crew has been soaking the course and trying to get the rough to a solid, thick, three or better inches. Bethpage has some recent history for checking course form but one can also look to other Tillinghast influenced courses for indicators - just a few weeks ago, Baltusrol for The PGA Championship, for starters.
Finally, this will be the last week to earn points for The United States Ryder Cup team, so look for American players on the bubble to give it their best shot. Quite a few factors in play here as we head down the home stretch of the golf season. Let's see what the oddsmakers think..
Jason Day (7-1) Tough to argue Day as the top dog. He has a 1st and a 2nd at The Barclays the last two years albeit at different courses. He finished 24th in 2012 at Bethpage and is also coming off of a 2nd place at The PGA Championship - which was his last event as he's been enjoying a nice four week break.
Dustin Johnson (9-1) The world number two has taken a break as well, since missing the cut The PGA. DJ also has an excellent history at this tournament with four Top-10 finishes, a win in 2011 and a 3rd in 2012, the last time it was here at Bethpage Black.
Henrik Stenson (10-1) The schedule has been a bit more hectic for the world number four as he took the silver medal in Rio at The Olympics. A good schedule though as Stenson has not finished lower than 13th in two months and that includes two victories. His track record here is decent but his current form is probably tops on the planet.
Hideki Matsuyama (25-1) If the greens at Bethpage are any easier than what Hideki has seen lately, he'll be one happy man. Matsuyama's putting has been atrocious his last two times out, at The PGA Championship and at The Wyndham - and he has still managed to finish 4th and 3rd respectively. His ball striking ought to take him a long way again this week.
Brooks Koepka (25-1) Koepka laid to rest any doubt about the health of his ankle by finishing 4th at The PGA Championship and then 9th the very next week at The Travelers. His position on The Ryder Cup team is not in jeopardy but I believe his game is very well suited for this course. It will be his first time playing it.
Bubba Watson (30-1) Bubba's Ryder Cup status is a bit shaky as he is currently 10th on the points list. A big week here will make things an awful lot better for him. He may need to win in fact to earn a spot on Captain Love's team and he has the history to do it with an 18th here at The U.S. Open in 2009 and a 10th in 2012 at the last Barclays played at Bethpage.
The Long Shots
Jim Furyk (30-1) Second to Stenson, Furyk is likely the player on the next best tear right now and is gunning hard to get on that Ryder Cup team. He currently ranks 15th in points and has missed the cut in two out of the last three events at Bethpage Black. Current form is fantastic but will the length of the course be too much for him - again?
Rickie Fowler (40-1) The 8th ranked player in the world should not be 40-to-1 and a long shot but that is the reality with Rickie Fowler's game right now and really it's been the case since about The Masters in April. We'll see what he can muster up this week as he sits 12th on The Ryder Cup points list.
William McGirt (100-1) McGirt doesn't drive the ball especially long but he is very efficient off of the tee and he is definitely a ball striker. He finished 10th here at The Barclays in 2012 and also 10th at The PGA Championship, another Tillinghast track, back in July. At 17th in The Ryder Cup standings, you will get his best effort.
Louis Oosthuizen (40-1) While the South African will not be in the mix for any Ryder Cup story lines, I believe the lack of that pressure could be what vaults the sweet swinging Oosthuizen into the winner's circle. He finished 5th here at Bethpage for the 2012 Barclays and was 1st that week in Greens In Regulation.
When Tiger Woods won The U.S. Open in 2002, he was 1st in GIR and when Lucas Glover won in 2009, he was 4th. Louis is an excellent driver of the golf ball and has been on a nice run, really all year long with a 2nd at The Match Play, a 15th at The Masters, 28th at The Players, 23rd at The U.S. Open, 22nd at The PGA, and finished 17th in his last time out at The Travelers three weeks ago. I'll take a guy flying a bit under the radar as my betting pick to win the first leg of The FedEx Playoffs and advance easily into round two in Boston.