The PGA Tour’s Fedex Cup Playoffs are in full swing, and the end-of-season race to claim the Cup (and the cool ten million that accompanies it) help maintain the attention of golf fans as both pro and college football get down to business.
It’s not easy to sway the attention of sports fans from the NFL and CFA, not to mention the looming baseball playoffs, so pro golf does its best with a ‘race to the finish.’ Fields get winnowed week after week, and only the top thirty points-earners make it to Atlanta and the season-ending Tour Championship.
First up is the Northern Trust on Long Island, (fly into LaGuardia or Kennedy and grab your National Rental Car) followed by the Dell Technologies Championship in Boston, (Logan Airport’s the gateway) then the BMW Championship in Chicago, (stroll National’s Emerals Aisle at either O’Hare or Midway) then the Tour Championship at Atlanta’s famed East Lake. (Hartsfield International is just a short drive from the course.)
There have been some stellar moments in the playoffs over the first decade of its existence. (The format began in 2007, so there have been ten events held thus far.) Here are some random highlights from a decade’s worth of playoff events. It’s worth noting that when the format began it was met with a healthy dose of skepticism, but it has slowly-but-surely become ingrained in the consciousness of golf fans. Plenty keep close watch from week-to-week, hoping their favorite players survive and advance, perhaps making it to Atlanta, and claiming the ultimate prize.
It seems only fitting that Tiger Woods, then at the apex of his power, won the inaugural Cup in 2007. He not only won the Tour Championship, but won the week prior, and came in second the week before that. Talk about a dominating performance, and a torrid stretch of golf.
One of the single most memorable moments in Fedex Cup history was courtesy of 2010 champion Jim Furyk. He got up-and-in from a greenside bunker on the final hole of the Tour Championship to claim the Cup, but that’s not even the best part. After a wonderful bunker shot and before attempting a four-foot putt for victory, Furyk curiously turned his baseball cap around, wearing it backwards. “It was drizzling pretty hard,” recalls the 2003 U.S. Open champion. The rain was dripping off the bill of my cap, and it was distracting me, so I turned it around to make that last putt.” It might’ve looked odd, but we’d all do something somewhat out-of-character to put ten million in our pocket.
The degree of difficulty for the shot Bill Haas pulled off in 2011 absolutely dwarfs the relatively straightforward putt Jim Furyk made to win the year prior. In the first-ever sudden death playoff for the Cup, Haas stunned the golf world (not to mention his playoff opponent, Hunter Mahan) when he blasted a shot out of shallow water to less than a foot in the midst of their playoff. His approach shot had trickled into an adjacent greenside pond, the ball was mostly submerged, and the odds were overwhelming that Mahan would emerge victorious. But playing it much like a bunker shot, Haas blasted the ball to tap-in range, and he won the Cup on the next hole. The odds of pulling off such an unlikely shot, even for a Tour pro, were high, but Haas hit the shot of his life when he needed to most.
Henrik Stenson became the first European winner of the Cup in 2013, his win at the Tour Championship the capstone to an incandescent run of golf through the last month-and-a-half of the season. To wit: He took solo second at the Open Championship (AKA—The British Open) then tied second at the prestigious WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Then he took third at the PGA Championship, and once the Fedex Playoffs began, won the Deutsche Bank Championship before emerging victorious at the season finale at East Lake, capturing the Cup, and ten million reasons why it’s beneficial to get hot late in the season!
While many Cup winners are true blue-chippers, (Tiger twice, Vijay Singh, the aforementioned Furyk and Stenson, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, etc.) there have been some out-of-nowhere winners also. Billy Horschel is a great example. In 2014 he didn’t finish inside the top forty in any event for more than two months prior to the playoffs, and missed the cut in the Barclays, the first playoff event. Then lightning struck. He took second in the Deutsche Bank, then swept the final two events, winning both the BMW Championship, the Tour Championship, and the Cup. It’s instructive to note he’s only won one additional event in the three years since his unlikely stretch run.
Finally, Jordan Spieth put a cherry on the sundae at the end of his magnificent 2015 campaign. He won both the Tour Championship and the Fedex Cup, but what made it a season for the ages was what transpired in the months prior. Victory at the Masters. Victory at the U.S. Open. Finishing one shot out of a playoff at the British Open. Two other Tour victories besides his pair of Majors. A record twelve million in prize money, which doesn’t even include the ten million dollar bonus he banked at season’s end. For many Fedex Cup winners hoisting that gleaming trophy is the season’s highlight. But for Jordan Spieth in 2015, it was just the final jewel in a glittering year.