FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — The FedEx Cup was all about the $10 million bonus when it began in 2007 because there was nothing left to decide.
Tiger Woods was the best player in golf, and everyone knew it.
He already had won five times that year, including the PGA Championship at Southern Hills. He already had earned $7.8 million on the PGA Tour, making it impossible for anyone to catch him without winning all four playoff events, which was bordering on impossible. There was no debate on player of the year.
Golf is more unpredictable these days.
And that’s what makes the FedEx Cup playoffs, which start this week at Bethpage Black, more compelling than $10 million to the winner.
Thanks to changes that former U.S. captain Paul Azinger brought to the Ryder Cup – specifically waiting three weeks to decide the captain’s picks – the next two tournaments will serve as an audition for a half-dozen players trying to get on the team.
Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson are two of them, and they played together Tuesday during a practice round at The Barclays. Not only were they linked as possible picks, they were partners in a game against Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.
“You guys playing a match?” one of the fans called out to Mickelson from behind the ropes.
“Just for funsies,” Mickelson said, with a laugh that made it clear that more was at stake.
The prevailing thought is that Davis Love III has a good idea on three of his four picks. Hunter Mahan barely missed out qualifying and finished ninth, which shows the quality of American play this year because he won two times, including his win over Rory McIlroy at the Match Play Championship. Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk also appear to be logical picks, leaving Love with one more choice.
Fowler? Johnson? Brandt Snedeker?
Winning at Bethpage Black this week, or at the TPC Boston next week in the second playoff event, could make it tough for Love to leave any of them out.
“If I play well the next two weeks, I would hope that I’d definitely be in consideration,” said Johnson, who has won every year since his rookie season in 2008. “But I think I’ve had a good year, other than I didn’t play for three months. But hopefully, the captain knows that, and he’ll make the right decision.”
PGA Tour members vote on player of the year. The ballots aren’t due until after the final event in November.
The leading candidate for player of the year going into the FedEx Cup playoffs is McIlroy, who won the Honda Classic and the PGA Championship, setting a record with his eight-shot margin.