The first round of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoff series is in the books, and it’s “Up Jason”, “Down Jordan” as 2015 PGA Championship winner Jason Day dusted a field composed of the top 125 players on the PGA Tour by six strokes and wrested the top spot in the playoff race away from Jordan Spieth. The Barclays, played August 27 to 30 at Plainfield Country Club in Edison, New Jersey, turned into a walk in the park for the young Australian, who combined length and accuracy off the tee with an infallible sense of the breaks on the notorious Donald Ross-designed greens to run away from the rest of the field.
Day’s performance off the tee this week at Plainfield CC reprised the long hitting that helped him on the way to a record-setting 20-under victory at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits two weeks ago, but it was his near-magical touch on the greens which really set him apart. Day’s stats show that he gained just over two strokes on the field on the greens, compared to second-place Henrik Stenson’s margin of just over a half stroke on the remainder of the field.
CBS on-course commentator Peter Kostis reminded viewers more than once during the telecast that the greens at this venerable 1916 Donald Ross design were laid out at a time when greens were cut with a push-mower, and were designed to be played at a speed of 5 on the Stimpmeter rather than the modern-day speeds of 10-12. Day routinely made putts of 25 to 35 feet, or lagged to tap-in or near-tap-in range, taking 15 putts on the front side and only 13 on the back side on his way to an 8-under 62.
Day’s closest pursuers, 2013 FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson and 2012 and 2014 Masters champion Bubba Watson, couldn’t match the blistering pace he set in the final round. Stenson, who closed out the weekend with a 4-under 66, had started two shots behind Day going into the final round, at 9-under, while Watson had been one stroke back of the Aussie at 10-under.
Stenson was brought down by the combination of fast, highly contoured greens and difficult Sunday hole locations, and wasn’t helped by a day-long tendency to end up just off the fairway in the non-graduated rough off the tee. Approach shots from the deep, sticky rough made good position on the greens difficult to obtain, and putting from above the hole proved to be a sure path to high scores on Plainfield’s greens.
Watson, another long hitter, also found trouble off the tee, and though scrambling from poor position and bad lies is a hallmark of his game, the man who wields a booming, bright pink Ping driver couldn’t buy a putt. A three-putt bogey from 18 feet on the first hole set the tone for Watson’s day on the greens, and another three-putt green at the eighth hole, a par-4 – from inside of four feet this time – resulted in a double-bogey six. He gave up just under a stroke every two holes to the field on the greens, watching Jason Day recede into the distance (figuratively speaking) while he struggled to a 1-under 69 which was, nevertheless, good enough for solo 3rd place.
In the tale of the tape for the FedEx Cup race, the results of the first round of the playoff series were significant. Day’s victory vaulted him to the top of the standings going into next week’s event, the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston, but even this lopsided win would not have been enough had long-time top man Jordan Spieth been in the field for the weekend. Spieth, who had traded up to a new set of prototype Titleist 716 AP2 irons between the PGA Championship and The Barclays, shot 74-73 to miss the cut, which landed at +2, by five strokes, leaving his 1,710-point lead vulnerable to a high finish by Day, who was in second place coming into the week.
Adding insult to injury, Spieth also relinquished his short-lived reign atop the Official World Golf Rankings by failing to make the cut at The Barclays and thus failing to add any points to his total. Thanks to the vagaries of the OWGR’s rolling two-year window, his tenuous .0521-point advantage over former World # 1 Rory McIlroy vanished – even though McIlroy wasn’t even in the field for The Barclays – allowing the Northern Irishman to regain the numerical top spot.
Henrik Stenson’s second-place finish, as unsatisfying as it might have been to him in one way, served the purpose of strengthening his position in the FedEx Cup race, vaulting him 37 spots up the board to the #4 spot. Bubba Watson remains solidly entrenched in the 3rd-place spot, 1,002 points behind Spieth and 1,015 points ahead of Stenson.
Among NorCal players, the four men from the Bay Area and Central Valley regions who were among the 125 in the field for The Barclays will all be teeing it up next week in Boston in the second round of the playoff series. Alameda’s James Hahn came into the week at #35, and though his T-58 finish this weekend slipped him down the rankings, he is still firmly in the field, at #42. Sacramento’s Spencer Levin had an up-and-down week, shooting 65-71-67-72–275, but his T-16 finish was good enough to play him inside the Top 100, as he jumped from #115 to #80 in the standings. With 70 players advancing from next week’s tournament to the third round, the BMW Championship at Conwy Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Illinois, Levin will have his work cut out for him if he wants to advance to the third round.
Another Sacramento native, Nick Watney, also slipped in the rankings but will still advance to play next week. Watney dropped 11 spots in the rankings, from 52 to 63, after failing to make the cut at The Barclays. Fresno’s Kevin Chappell strengthened his position in the FedEx Cup standings with a T-22 finish at The Barclays, moving up 23 spots to #68 from 91st position coming into the week.