A look ahead at the FedEx Cup Play-Offs

Justin Thomas, left, and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, shake hands after final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at the Quail Hollow Club Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

So it begins. All season long the players not only play for prize money each week, but also FedEx Cup points to ensure that they secure a spot in the play-offs. At the end of the four play-off events, the leader in the ranking will win a cool $10m bonus.

The play-offs have a new look this year as we say goodbye to two title sponsors, The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship, which are replaced by the Northern Trust (not to be confused with Northern Trust Open) and the Dell Technologies Championship (not to be confused with WGC Match Play). The Dell Technologies is just the new title sponsor for the Deutsche Bank Championship and remains at TPC Boston, whilst the Northern Trust is going to be played at a new course this year. This event, unlike the other three in the FedEx Cup play-offs changes course every year however this is the first time it will be hosted at Glen Oaks Golf Club. Since 2008 the host course for this event has rotated between Ridgewood Country Club (hosted three times), as well as Bethpage Black, Liberty National and Plainfield Country Club all hosting twice each.

As we have seen in the past, some players are consistent all year long, whilst others get hot at the right time.

The best example of this was Billy Horschel who did not play his best during the 2013-14 season (the first TOUR Season to span two calendar years, known as the wrap-around). Horschel was struggling to follow up his 2013 breakout season and was sat at No.69 in the FedEx Cup standings at the start of the play-offs and also went on to miss the cut at the first play-off event, The Barclays. This continued a run stretching two months since his last top-40 finish. After missing the cut at The Barclays, Horschel went on to finish T2 at the Deutsche Bank Championship and then win both the BMW Championship and TOUR Championship, enough to claim the $10m bonus.

The last seven winners of the FedEx Cup have also won the season-ending TOUR Championship, so a good performance at East Lake is clearly vital. To get there though you need to make it into the top-30 by the time the fourth and final play-off event comes around.

Once the players arrive at East Lake, the points get reset so that the #1 in the standings gets 2000 points, #2 is allocated 1800 and then right down to #30 who is allocated 168 points. This means that there is a scenario no matter how slim that each of the 30 players can win the FedEx Cup with a win at this event. For the #30 at the start of the week to win the FedEx Cup though takes what can only be described as a miracle.

Take last year for example, the #30 heading into the TOUR Championship was Charl Schwartzel. Schwartzel needed #1 Dustin Johnson to finish T29 or worse, #2 Patrick Reed to finish in a 3-way tie for 6th or worse, #3 Adam Scott to finish T4 or worse, #4 Jason Day to finish T3 or worse, #5 Paul Casey to finish in a 3-way tie for 2nd or worse and #6 Rory McIlroy to finish T2 or worse.

As we can see it was virtually impossible for Schwartzel to win the FedEx Cup, even if he won at East Lake but for those in the top-10 of the rankings, it was much more realistic.

To win the FedEx Cup in 2016, Rory McIlory (#6) needed to win the TOUR Championship and Dustin Johnson to finish T2 or worse, but McIlroy also had a mathematical chance of winning the cup if he finished 2nd at East Lake.

For those that were fighting to keep their TOUR Card, making the 125 ensured they kept their playing privileges for next season, which is almost a win in itself for some of these players.

Being inside the top-125 gets you into this week at the Northern Trust but you will need to be inside the top-100 to make it to next week, the top-70 the week after and finally as we know, the top-30 to get into the season-ending TOUR Championship. The top-70 and ties will make the 36-hole cut in the first two play-off events, as they would each week but the last two events will not feature a cut, so players can bounce back from a bad start, particularly at the BMW Championship.

Those that just snuck in last week will have some work to do to make it to the Dell Technologies Championship next week, before they can even think about the BMW Championship and the TOUR Championship, so will need to be part of the 70 and ties that make the cut this weekend.

Likewise, you cannot afford to rest on your laurels unless you are right up there given the amount of points on offer in these events. A couple of bad weeks can see those at the tail-end of the top-30 slip out of that magic number, so you need to stay committed and focused to make it to East Lake.

Previous FedEx Cup winners Tiger Woods (2007 & 2009), Vijay Singh (2008) and Jim Furyk (2010) will not be playing in this year’s play-offs. These three players won the first four FedEx Cups between them, ranking 1st, 8th and 3rd respectively in the FedEx Cup Career Earnings standings. Furyk and Singh have played limited schedules this season and struggled, whilst Woods has not be playing at all.

The last six winners of the Cup have all finished inside the top-125 this season and have been highlighted in bold.

Here are the top-125 entering The Northern Trust. Should any players withdraw this week, there will be no alternatives and the field will just be reduced.

1) Hideki Matsuyama

2) Justin Thomas

3) Jordan Spieth

4) Dustin Johnson

5) Rickie Fowler

6) Jon Rahm

7) Brooks Koepka

8) Daniel Berger

9) Kevin Kisner

10) Brian Harman

11) Charley Hoffman

12) Pat Perez

13) Adam Hadwin

14) Marc Leishman

15) Matt Kuchar

16) Brendan Steele

17) Kyle Stanley

18) Paul Casey

19) Russell Henley

20) Jason Dufner

21) Charles Howell III

22) Sergio Garcia

23) Henrik Stenson

24) Billy Horschel

25) Webb Simpson

26) Gary Woodland

27) Wesley Bryan

28) Tony Finau

29) Jhonattan Vegas

30) Kevin Chappell

31) Francesco Molinari

32) Justin Rose

33) Xander Schauffele

34) Mackenzie Hughes

35) Louis Oosthuizen

36) Bill Haas

37) Hudson Swafford

38) Patrick Reed

39) Ollie Schniederjans

40) Cameron Smith

41) Si Woo Kim

42) Zach Johnson

43) Bryson DeChambeau

44) Rory McIlroy

45) Sung Kang

46) Keegan Bradley

47) Jamie Lovemark

48) Ian Poulter

49) Jason Day

50) Luke List

51) Phil Mickelson

52) Charl Schwartzel

53) James Hahn

54) Sean O’Hair

55) Lucas Glover

56) Danny Lee

57) Martin Laird

58) Kelly Kraft

59) Ryan Moore

60) Russell Knox

61) Anirban Lahiri

62) Bud Cauley

63) Chez Reavie

64) Brandt Snedeker

65) Scott Brown

66) Adam Scott

67) Graham DeLaet

68) Patrick Rodgers

69) Grayson Murray

70) Rod Pampling

71) Chris Stroud

72) Kevin Tway

73) Chad Campbell

74) Rafa Cabrera Bello

75) Kevin Na

76) Stewart Cink

77) Jonas Blixt

78) Patrick Cantlay

79) Robert Streb

80) Morgan Hoffmann

81) Jim Herman

82) J.B. Holmes

83) Kevin Streelman

84) Nick Taylor

85) Scott Piercy

86) C.T. Pan

87) Patton Kizzire

88) Emiliano Grillo

89) Cody Gribble

90) Branden Grace

91) J.J. Spaun

92) Whee Kim

93) William McGirt

94) Jason Kokrak

95) Michael Kim

96) Byeong Hun An

97) Chris Kirk

98) Camilo Villegas

99) Robert Garrigus

100) Seung-Yul Noh

101) Jimmy Walker

102) Scott Stallings

103) David Lingmerth

104) D.A. Points

105) Ryan Blaum

106) Brian Gay

107) Luke Donald

108) Richy Werenski

109) Brandon Hagy

110) Steve Stricker

111) Derek Fathauer

112) Tyrone Van Aswegen

113) Bubba Watson

114) Harris English

115) Dominic Bozelli

116) Geoff Ogilvy

117) Nick Watney

118) Martin Flores

119) John Huh

120) Blayne Barber

121) Ben Martin

122) Rory Sabbatini

123) Harold Varner III

124) Vaughan Taylor

125) J.J. Henry

It is tight at the top of the standings, with 2017 major winners, Spieth and Thomas chasing down current leader, Matsuyama. It looks to be a thrilling finale, and there are plenty of others outside of these three players who can make a run at the $10m and will use the next four weeks to prove so.

At the other end, Geoff Ogilvy was sitting right on the number (125) last week but solidified his spot in the standings with a T16 finish at the Wyndham Championship. Martin Flores climbed 21 spots to finish inside the number, thanks to his T7 finish last week, whilst Rory Sabbatini (T4), Harold Varner III (T10) and J.J. Henry (T16) also relied on good finishes at the Wyndham to secure their card and spot in the play-offs.

Their are some notable players a fair way down the list at the moment, including World No.4, Rory McIlroy sitting at 44th, who will play this week despite his rib injury that he said may keep him out for the rest of the season.

Just below McIlroy at #49 is Jason Day, who has struggled for consistency all year but looks to be playing some better stuff at the right time.

Major winners, Phil Mickelson (#51), Adam Scott (#66) and Bubba Watson (#113) have also had lacklustre season and Watson in particular has some work to do, to progress further into the play-offs.

2012 FedEx Cup champion, Brandt Snedeker has some work to do, firstly to get fit in time to participate in the play-offs but also improve on his current ranking of #64. At this stage, it looks as though he may well miss out, and shut it down for the rest of the season.