With one tournament remaining before the Tour Championship in Atlanta in two weeks, over the weekend of September 24 to 27, the number of players who are still in the hunt for the PGA tour’s FedEx Cup title and its $10 million payout is down to 70, and of those 70 players, three hail from Northern California. A field of 100 players came to the Deutsche Bank Championship, September 4 to 8, at TPC Boston, but for 30 of those players the season is over. With a full field the size of the weekend field at a normal PGA Tour event, the second-to-last tournament in the playoff series, the BMW Championship, coming up September 17 to 20 at Conway Farms Golf Club near Chicago, will be a little quieter than your normal week-in, week-out PGA Tour event.
The FedEx Cup playoffs began two weeks ago when a field consisting of the top 125 players in the PGA Tour standings teed it up at the Barclays, at Plainfield Country Club in New Jersey (though four players who were eligible, including Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, sat out for various reasons). The top 100 in the rankings – not the top 100 finishers in the tournament – moved on to the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston over the Labor Day weekend, where the playoff field was cut to 70.
It’s this aspect of the selection system that gives fans the most trouble – a player’s FedEx Cup point total is what counts now, and with enough points in the bank a player can move on to the next event in the playoff series event though they didn’t make the cut in a playoff event (see Jordan Spieth), or didn’t even play (see Sergio Garcia).
The three NorCal worthies who are still in the hunt, at least for another week, are James Hahn, Nick Watney, and Kevin Chappell. Hahn, a 2003 Cal-Berkeley grad who nabbed his first PGA Tour win earlier this year at the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, is the NorCal leader with 1,058 points – which is currently good for 53rd place in the standings.
Hahn can give much of the credit for his current position in the FedEx Cup race to that win – which must seem like ages ago given the NTO’s late-February California-Swing time slot – because it was the highlight of a fairly mediocre season. His tally over 27 events includes only one other top 10 finish, a T6 at the Greenbrier Classic in July, and only three more inside the top 25: at the McGladrey Classic (T17), the Humana Classic (T20), and the RBC Canadian Open (T11).
Moving on from the BMW to the Tour Championship will be a challenge given Hahn’s current position. Missing the cut at the Deutsche Bank dropped him 11 spots in the FedEx Cup standings, from #42 to #53, and with only 1,058 points in his account he will probably need a top 10 finish at the BMW, as well as some help in the form of poor performances from some of the players above him in the rankings, to crack the Top 30, extend his season by another week – and give himself a shot at that $10 million prize.
NorCal’s two remaining players in the FedEx Cup race face even longer odds. Fresno’s Kevin Chappell moved up from #68 to #57 in the FedEx Cup rankings on the strength of his T12 finish at the Deutsche Bank Championship on Labor Day, but with 1,002 points, and the current 30th-place player, Louis Oosthuizen, sitting on 1,309 points, Chappell needs a solo 9th or better (and some help…) to move on. Nick Watney, who hails from Sacramento, needs a solo 6th (and help) or better to move up from his current 64th spot into the Top 30 and a spot in the field in Atlanta.
The good news for these three NorCal men, and all the players who are looking to move up in the FedEx Cup race, is that they have some time to rest, recuperate, and work on their games without the pressure of competition before stepping back into the traces. The PGA Tour has a rare – in fact, unique – by-week after the Deutsche Bank: the schedule skips a week, going to Conway Farms for the BMW Championship on Thursday, on September 17.