Ernie Els has been atop the FedExCup standings for the last five months, ever since he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his second PGA Tour win of the year. He knew all along he would be playing in The Barclays.
Scott Piercy was among the late arrivals.
He was in dire need of a good finish last week at the Wyndham Championship just to get into the top 125 in the FedExCup standings and be eligible for the first round of the PGA Tour playoffs. Piercy shot 68 in the final round, moving into No. 125 with two points to spare.
Perhaps it was no surprise, but the first question he faced Wednesday was how well he knew Heath Slocum.
A year ago, Slocum's performance at The Barclays raised hope for everyone who narrowly made the playoffs, a group this year that includes Tiger Woods. He held off a world-class list of challengers and won with a birdie on the final hole, changing his fortunes quickly and dramatically. One week after barely getting into the playoffs, Slocum was assured a spot in the season-ending Tour Championship, and all four majors the following year.
"I'm really excited that I'm actually getting to play," Piercy said. "Hopefully, I can play two or three or four -- all of the playoff events -- and keep this little run going."
The fourth year of the FedExCup playoffs gets under way on Thursday at Ridgewood Country Club with hope for all, assurances for the few who have played the best this year.
Els is the top seed for the first time, followed by Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson. The points are quintuple the value they were during the regular season, with the top 100 advancing to the second round in Boston and the top 70 moving on to the third in Chicago. After that, the points are reset for the top 30, who will play for the $10 million prize at the Tour Championship.
"Totally different ball game the next four weeks," Els said. "It's very important for me to play well, like it is for everybody else."
But it's especially true for Woods.
In a year of turmoil off the course, it hasn't been much better inside the ropes. Woods is winless for the first time in his career this late into a season, and time is running out. With only two top 10s -- and two tournaments he didn't even finish -- Woods showed up at The Barclays at No. 112 in the standings.
He was No. 1 to start the playoffs the past three years, even in 2008, when he only played six tournaments. The first year of this playoff system, Woods was so far ahead he didn't even bother playing in The Barclays.
This time, he had no choice.
"As of right now, I'm only guaranteed one," Woods said. "So I need to play well to move forward."
Furyk isn't going anywhere, at least this week, except back home. His cell phone died overnight, which is notable because Furyk uses it for his alarm clock. He woke up at 7:23 a.m., leaving him no chance to get to Ridgewood on time for his pro-am. Players who miss their pro-am time are no longer eligible for the tournament, even in the playoffs.
Mickelson called it a "ridiculous" policy. Furyk blamed only himself. Either way, he is seeded so highly that he probably won't fall out of the top 10 this week and can put back on his playoff face next week at the TPC Boston.
Mickelson won the Tour Championship a year ago and finished second to Woods in the FedExCup. Not only does he have a good chance this year for the $10 million prize, he gets another opportunity at No. 1 in the world.
It's been that way since The Players Championship, with the odds of that happening moving more in his favor the worse Woods plays.
"I've been trying real hard to accomplish that. I just haven't played well enough yet," he said. "But hopefully, I'll be able to put it together this week. I feel like I'm playing much better golf. "
This is the time to do it.
The majors are over, but Mickelson can see the finish line. He has four playoff events over the next five weeks, then the Ryder Cup.
For Woods, the end might come much sooner.