As August nears a close, with the heat index creeping back down into double figures and the training camp injury reports in full bloom, a sport fan’s interest also naturally turns to …
With all the majors out of the way, the PGA Tour will try to squeeze one more month of interest out of its audience during the mathematically perplexing, financially stupefying FedEx Cup Playoffs. The four-tier postseason begins Thursday in New Jersey, with the field reduced each step of the way (from 125 to 100 to 70) until the last 30 standing show up at East Lake Golf Club on Sept. 24-27 for the Tour Championship.
From No. 1 in points (Jordan Spieth) to No. 125 (Jeff Overton), they all hope to squeeze four tournaments into the next five weeks, a rate that, heaven forbid, nearly puts a professional golfer in working stiff territory.
A few notes on the current incarnation of the Tour’s big finish:
Yes, they’re still playing in high cotton. Sure, the stock market is tanking, but that doesn’t derail the FedEx Cup money train. Each tournament has an $8 million purse, with a $35 million bonus pool awaiting at the end. Ten million of that pool belongs to final points champion.
Given that the Tour Championship coincides with the college football season, there’s usually plenty of old school chatter in the gallery. Don’t know how the field for East Lake will shake out, but ample former Georgia (nine) and Georgia Tech (five) players are entering the playoff grinder this week. Thus, there is decent potential for a few making it out and inciting a polite rivalry or two.
Among the former Yellow Jackets who made the cut of 125 was 2009 British Open champ and Alpharetta resident Stewart Cink. He has two chances to win at East Lake. First, on Sept. 10, there is the Playoff Grill-Off, in which his competition barbecue team — Que School — faces off against three other Southern powerhouses to help raise money for the East Lake Foundation. If he’s still alive in the playoff hunt, he’ll try to get the sauce off his hands in time for the third leg and a shot at playing in the Tour Championship for first time since 2009.
There are nine playoff first-timers going to the Barclays this week. Since only six rookies ever have advanced to the Tour Championship since 2007, we’ll not bother actually naming the new nine.
This also is the time of year when you’ll hear about golfers being bone-tired, assuring us that what is a vacation to the rest of the world is a demanding vocation for them. The FedEx Cup schedule forces the survivors to play a far more compressed schedule than normal and you will hear the yelps along the way.
They are better off adhering to the advice of last year’s FedEx Cup/Tour Championship winner Billy Horschel:
“I heard a lot of guys say they were tired last year and I looked at them, thinking, ‘Hey, I played six events in a row.’ You can’t think about being tired. It’s like being in the Super Bowl, being in the NBA playoffs or anything like that. You got to put the tired part out of your mind and just realize this is the end of the season, give it everything you have.
“We’re all tired; there’s just no reason to mention it. Get over it and move on.”
And, finally, while Tiger Woods may not have shot his way into the playoffs Sunday at the Wyndham Championship, there was another, fairly intriguing addition.
Sea Island’s Davis Love III threw a new wrinkle — well, several wrinkles, but who’s counting? — into the postseason by becoming the third-oldest player to ever win a PGA Tour event Sunday. He bolted so far up the FedEx Cup point standings (No. 76) that he is in good shape to make it through at least the first two upcoming tournaments.
The 2016 Ryder Cup captain will have plenty of opportunity to get in some golf while first-hand scouting a future pick or two.
Love is not the kind of guy who likes to look too far past his next shot. In fact he told the story on that topic Sunday. After an eagle on No. 5, Love needed to gather himself. He detoured to a rest stop — “Because I’m 51, it was time to go to the bathroom,” he chuckled — and took that opportunity to lecture himself on staying in the moment. The Port-O-Let pep talk worked like a charm.
So he’s not real keen on looking a month down the fairway at the outlandish proposition of a man his age hanging out with the limber-backs at East Lake.
Still, he is psyched. “I was planning on going to (a 50-plus Champions Tour event) next week, so this is an upgrade,” Love said.
And, as goes the unofficial motto of this event: You just never know.
“Now you shift gears. East Lake is the goal,” Love said.