After the Majors and before the Ryder Cup, top-level golf goes through the mill that is the Fed Ex Cup playoffs, with big cash prizes – to the small tune of $3.5 million for the winner after the Tour Championship – and lucrative tour cards up for grabs for the coming season; Not to mention the tasty idea of a Ryder Cup spot for a lucky few players.
We start with the Barclays, the first of the playoff events – it has been since 2007 – played around Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. There are three separate courses at Ridgewood, all of them designed by the great AW Tillinghast all the way back in 1929. There are three Rigewood courses, East, West and Central, and Barclays combines the toughest holes from all of them for a vicious test.
Most notable for its popularity with the players – there isn’t a bad world to be said about the layout – the fairways are lined by dauntingly thick Oaks and the rough around the fairways is also especially punishing; Approach play is vital with the especially small bentgrass greens here and their notable undulations and it’s no surprise to learn that the two renewals to be held here since it was changed to a Fed Ex Cup event have putting the key stat although the all round rankings has proven to be a sharp pointer to potential success.
Thankfully for such a unique course there is plenty of recent form with renewals held here in 2008 and 2010 and Tillinghast courses sharing notable similarities between them, including those that majors have been played on in recent years.
Two of those courses are Bethpage Black and Winged Foot, both courses where Phil Mickleson has excelled in US Open’s, coming within touching distance at Winged Foot and then being one of very few to make an under par total at Bethpage in 2009 as Lucas Glover took the title.
It’s no surprise that Mickleson, with his top class short game, has excelled around difficult Tillinghast courses in the past and while he is yet to win since landing The Open last year he has overcome a particularly barren start to the year with his all round game and putting have both deserted him but barring the US Open he’s posted 4 top 25 finishes in his last 5 tournaments, including a superb second at the USPGA. That followed a closing 62 at Bridgestone to grab a top 15 finish there and over the USPGA, what was so notable was his brilliant third and fourth shots to set up numerous eagle and birdie opportunities – the putter was never letting him down. The worry is that his driving can be off, but rough is especially punishing at Valhalla and he overcame his mistakes throughought the week (there were few) with aplomb.
Motivation is a potential issue – he is still without a win this year but has talked about focusing on the next two years, as there is the chance for him to play in the Olympics in Rio in two years time – but he looks well worth chancing.
There should be no doubts about Brandt Snedeker’s motivation, with a Ryder Cup spot up for grabs, and the 33 year old looks ideally placed to make a bold appeal to Tom Watson this weekend. A Ryder Cup spot would have looked a pretty forlorn possibility during the middle of the season but since the US Open he has started working with Butch Harmon – the same man who has helped Rickie Fowler build upon his startling potential – and he’s since played in nine events and has finished in the top 25 in all bar one of them, and this is a different test to The Open Championship for him to take on.
He’s a previous winner of the Fed Ex Cup – denying one fresh-from-a-major winner Rory McIlroy – and this looks to be his level – he has 6 PGA Tour wins, including the Tour Championship to take the 2012 Cup, and placed finishes at Plainfield and Bethpage speak well for him handling Tillinghast courses whilst the fact that he ranks fourth in putting is a big endorsement of his game’s shape.
Second at the Wyndham Championship was Bill Haas, another prolific winner who had no form beforehand but is another previous Fed Ex tournament winner – he won the 2011 Tour Championship and has won golf tournaments in 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010 – and one who hasn’t missed a tour cut all season.
Last week his drive at the 18th hit the shoe of a bystander and went out of bounds, and the double bogey cost him the Championship – Camillio Villegas won by just a shot – but he shot 62 that day and sits just 22nd in the all round Tour stats, impressive considering how quiet he’s been this season. The worry is that he two course appearances have not set the world alight but he has experience of the layout and it may be worth chancing him repeating his recent form.
Going back to those who last played in a major, and it could be worth jumping on Canadian Graham De Laet. A consistent player who is yet to win on the PGA Tour, his hot streaks tend to last and he played some superb golf on the way to 15th at Valhalla for the PGA Championship. The time before he’d finished seventh in his home Open and would have been in the shakeup had flu not struck him after impressive rounds of 67 and 69 at Bridgestone – he posted a 76 before quitting – and he tends to thrive at this level, having finished fifth and second in the last two renewals of this tournament when played elsewhere, and he ranks third for greens in regulation, something that has proven so crucial around this course in the past.
There are a whole host of players – let’s call them the majors bunch – who could prove far too good for this field in Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler – with the last named of those making the most appeal here. Fowler was a close third at the USPGA and if he’s bounced back from the disappointment of leading and then being nosed out he can continue the very hottest of hot streaks, having not been outside the top 15 since June; The worry is that his best finish in a Fed Ex Cup since 2010 is 18th and he doesn’t have a huge amount riding on this week (already playing the Ryder Cup).
As for the rest, they are either short for an event of this nature, lack the course form, or the potential motivation. Rory McIlroy could make this a procession hut he’s a general price of 4/1 and that makes no appeal.
The average price of those who have played at Ridgewood has been a massive 125/1 so looking for outsiders is not the worst policy here. Vijay Singh won here in 2008 and while he’s not had form of any note this season it’s worth remembering that closely on such a unique setup, but one player who could have gone well under the radar is Brendon Todd. One of my picks for the Open, the fact that he made the cut was an achievement for him and while he’s missed cuts since, Firestone is a hellish place for debutants and the length of Valhalla may not have suited his game. He had top eight finishes in five of his last 6 starts before and was also 17th in the US Open – he wilted after sitting second at halfway – but it proves that the talent is there and he is in the top 10 for scrambling and putting, two standout elements at Ridgewood in the past.
It’s been an awful long time since I mentioned my first golf love Bo Van Pelt but the big hitter’s had a good time of things in the last month, finishing seventh in the John Deere Classic and 14th at the Wyndham Championship. He’s worth considering but his accuracy off the tee can waver and that’s a no-no here.
1 pt each/way Phil Mickleson (25/1 general)
1 pt each/way Ricike Fowler (25/1 Coral)
1 pt each/way Brandt Snedeker (35/1 Bet365)
1 pt each/way Bill Haas (50/1 general)
1 pt each/way Graham DeLaet (60/1 general)
1 pt each/way Brendon Todd (125/1 general)