McIlroy Leads FedEx Cup Hopefulls

This time last year, the eventual FedExCup winner, Bill Haas, was treating the golf world to a spectacular and unexpected run. By surg-ing from 25th in FedExCup points to number one in the span of a week, Haas shocked the field and took home first prize on the second playoff hole of the season’s final tournament. It looks like this year’s FedExCup Playoffs could have just as exciting of a finish, as five players – Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeck-er – can all claim the outright title with a win at the Tour Championship next Thursday.

McIlroy, who sits over 3,000 Cup points ahead of the second-place Woods, won his second consecutive FedEx Playoff event this past weekend, shooting a five-under-67 in the final round of the BMW Champion-ship in Carmel, Ind. He beat Lee West-wood and Phil Mickelson by two strokes in the process and, by birdying four of his last 10 holes on Sunday, McIlroy put himself in historic company, becoming just the third player (along with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus) to win at least six tour events before the age of 24. The win was McIlroy’s third in his past four starts after winning the PGA Championship last month and the Deutsche Bank Championship on Labor Day Monday, and it places the Northern Irish-man at the top of the FedEx heap – at least for now. The Tour Championship, which will be held at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta for the ninth year in a row, will be the setting for the final test of the FedExCup Playoffs; if McIlroy doesn’t keep his guard against Woods and company, he could fall off that heap in a hurry.

While the top five players will be going head to head in Atlanta, the rest of the field will look to sneak their way to a title. Only 30 players remain in the FedExCup Playoffs after 40 were eliminated following the BMW Championship. Louis Oosthuizen, Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood, Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner round out the top 10, but there are a few intriguing names lower on the list that could make some noise next week.

Keegan Bradley, the 26-year-old 2011 PGA Championship winner, currently sits at 14th in the playoff standings, but don’t be too surprised if you see him right in the mix by the 72nd hole. Even if he did win the Tour Championship, for Bradley to win the FedEx-Cup playoffs he would need Woods to finish in a tie for fourth or worse and McIlroy to finish in a tie for eighth or worse – both results that are not unfathomable.

Further down the list, but also mathemati-cally eligible for a FedExCup title, is Ernie Els. The 42-year-old South African appears to be enjoying a bit of a career resurgence af-ter winning the Open Championship in July and entering the playoffs in 11th place. As al-ways, Els will be of interest at East Lake, and for those of us who’ve always loved watching “The Big Easy,” it should be a joy to watch.

The FedExCup was introduced in 2007 as the overall championship trophy for the PGA Tour. Currently in its sixth year of exis-tence, the Cup has seen its fair share of format changes, but it looks as though the PGA has finally gotten it right – next week, McIlroy will be able to control his own destiny. With a win at the Tour, the 23-year-old can become just the second non-American to win the outright FedExCup title in its history, which would only be fitting for the current world number one.

Contact Ben Glassman at [email protected].