Commentary

Half the field has little chance at $10 million payday

Originally Published: August 18, 2008
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

Anything is possible. Just not probable. That is the key distinction heading into the PGA Tour's second season of "playoffs," a stretch that begins at The Barclays this week.

Five To Watch

So who has a good shot to catch some lightning in a bottle and rocket up the FedEx Cup points list? Bob Harig shares a few of his players to keep an eye on.

Rank/Player Analysis
12. Sergio Garcia A FedEx Cup title would give him two of the PGA Tour's biggest honors, but would $10 million be worth more than a major championship?
21. Steve Stricker One victory at The Barclays got him in the mix last year, and he needs a good start to the FedEx Cup playoffs to catch U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger's eye.
24. Adam Scott Despite a victory in Dallas, it's been a disappointing year for the Australian, who could erase a lot of it with a climb to the top.
28. Ernie Els It's been a tough year for the Big Easy, but the $10 million bonus would make that move from England to Florida a lot easier.
34. Woody Austin If nothing else, Woody is used to playing multiple tournaments in a row. If he gets hot, it would be some story.

In theory, any of the 144 players who qualified for this four-tournament stretch of golf that will conclude in six weeks at the Tour Championship could walk off with the FedEx Cup trophy and a $10 million bonus.

But theory and a bunch of bogeys also can leave you at home counting your pennies -- or in the case of even those at the bottom of the FedEx Cup list, plenty of money to get by.

Reality suggests that the big money is far more likely to go to a player who is right now sitting among the top 30.

The system, although tweaked this year, is still meant to reward those who have performed the best over the course of the 37-event PGA Tour "regular season." That is why the term "playoffs" is misleading.

And that is why Lee Janzen shouldn't be counting that $10 million just yet.

Not to pick on the two-time U.S. Open champion, but Janzen squeezed into the final FedEx Cup playoff spot at No. 144 after finishing tied for 15th at the Wyndham Championship on Sunday. His points, along with those of the rest of the playoff participants, have been reset to start the playoffs. Tiger Woods, who led the season-long competition despite playing in just six tournaments, starts with 100,000; runner-up Kenny Perry begins with 99,500; and third-place Phil Mickelson has 99,250 -- all the way down to Janzen at 92,070.

With Woods out for the year after knee surgery, his point total will remain the same and he will be passed by a slew of players. He could even be passed this week by Janzen, who would earn 11,000 points and vault to 103,070 if he were to win at Ridgewood Country Club.

Of course, Janzen has not won a PGA Tour event in 10 years and had just a single top-10 in 2008 -- a tie for 10th at the PODS Championship way back in March.

These playoffs are far different from the kind we are used to in team sports. The Major League Baseball teams with the best record in their league get a one-game home-field advantage in the division series and the LCS. That's it. The top seed in the NCAA basketball tournament gets a weaker first-round opponent, but it still must win six games to capture the national title.

This isn't even match play in golf, where each player starts out equal on the first day and upsets are the norm in a format that has a way of evening the playing field.

The Playoffs

FedEx Cup playoffs consist of four events whose fields shrink after each tournament.

Date Field size
The Barclays Aug. 21-24 144
Deutsche Bank Championship Aug. 29-Sept. 1 120
BMW Championship Sept. 4-7 70
The Tour Championship Sept. 25-28 30

In the PGA Tour playoffs, Perry has a 7,430-point advantage over Janzen. If Janzen finishes second this week and Perry misses the cut (earning no points) Janzen is still 30 points behind Perry.

Of course, there is a reason Janzen is 144th, Jesper Parnevik is 139th and Chris DiMarco is 138th. They didn't play that well throughout the year. Perry, meanwhile, won three times and had a total of seven top-10 finishes. His reward is a big advantage over a player who tries to come out of nowhere.

Now, against some of the best fields of the year, do we think any of these guys who struggled just to make the playoff field can rattle off a victory or even a couple of top-5 finishes to get into the mix?

What is more likely, and probably more realistic for any of those players at the bottom, is to hope to move up enough so they can qualify for next week's Deutsche Bank Championship.

Players to Watch

For more Playoffs coverage visit PGATOUR.com

WATCH VIDEO: A look at the players to watch at The Barclay's this week.

And that is much more possible in Year 2 of the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Only the top 120 in points move on after The Barclays, and only two players made that jump a year ago. But the PGA Tour made two revisions this year: narrowing the gap between players' point totals at the reset before the playoffs begin, and adding 2,000 points for all playoff events. Last year, a victory was worth 9,000 points. In 2008, it's worth 11,000 points.

So if this year's formula had been used in 2007, 11 players who started outside the top 120 in points would have advanced instead of just two.

Using that same reasoning, 17 players would have moved on from the Deutsche Bank Championship to the BMW Championship, where only the top 70 get to tee it up, compared with just two who made the leap in 2007.

As for the Tour Championship, eight players who were outside the top 30 in points would have reached the 30-player field, instead of just three, had the 2008 system been in place last year.

So a player potentially could move up from a low starting point in the standings to win the $10 million top prize. But for those outside the top 100, perhaps even the top 75, it is going to take something they've been unable to produce all year: a victory, a couple of high finishes in a row and consistent excellence.

Take Paul Goydos, for example. He is 72nd in points, and his total has been reset to 94,950. A 10th-place finish this week would earn him 3,350 points and could move him as high as ninth in the standings, depending on what others do.

Nice, right?

Well, Goydos has just two top-10s this year, one his runner-up finish to Sergio Garcia at the Players Championship, the other a tie for 10th at the Crowne Plaza Invitational. In his other 18 events, Goydos missed eight cuts, withdrew from a tournament and didn't have a finish higher than a tie for 25th.

So if he has a good week, Goydos could be in the mix for the FedEx Cup trophy.

But even if he does, he's going to have to do something pretty special again -- and again and again. Something he's been unable to do all year.

Possible, yes. Probable, no.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com