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FedExCup known for its unlikely winners

By Ron Borges
Published on

Jordan Spieth has to be the favorite when the FedExCup playoffs begin this weekend at the Barclays, but history says he won't stand a chance. How can that be possible for golf's most dominant player this year?

TEE TIMES: The Barclays

Spieth holds a FedEx points lead of 1,610 ahead of Jason Day (4,169-2,459), he's won four times on tour this year including two majors, and he's finished top 10 in 14 of the 21 events he entered. He was four strokes away from winning the Grand Slam, one away from a playoff at the British Open and runner-up by three to Day at the PGA Championship two weeks ago by without his A-game. That second-place finish at Whistling Straits lifted the 22-year-old to No. 1 in the world, supplanting Rory McIlroy, so surely he's the favorite to win the Tour Championship, no?

No.

While Spieth's pursuit of the FedExCup and its $10 million payday begins Thursday at the Plainfield Country Club in New Jersey, McIlroy will not commence his until the Deutsche Bank Championship on Labor Day weekend at TPC Boston. He's skipping the Barclays to rest and rehab a balky ankle that sidelined him for five weeks and prevented him from defending his British Open championship. Having played once in the past nine weeks, McIlroy will be fresh while Spieth is running on fumes.

Truth be told, the past four winners of the Tour Championship have not been the top-ranked players in the world, and they have a combined zero major titles. There are a number of explanations for this end-of-the-season phenomenon, but first and foremost might be simple exhaustion.

PHOTO FLASHBACK: The 2014 FedExCup playoffs

To win major championships, or to even pursue them as closely as Spieth has all season, is a tiring exercise. The mental demands at the highest level of golf are more challenging than even the physical wear and tear all tour pros are feeling at this point in the season.

Spieth even admitted to being "tired'' after finishing runner-up to Day at the PGA, talking at the time like a guy who had run his race.

"I hope to have a season like this one at the biggest stages again,'' Spieth said. "I hope that we can do this again. It's not easy, it takes a lot out of you.

"I'm tired right now. I mean, I left it all out there. I'm tired from the majors this year because of what it does. It really does wear you out mentally, trying to grind that much. There's a reason I have a receding hairline, and it's because I've got those, that kind of pressure building up and that kind of stress. As much of a thrill as it is, it can wear you down.

"So you've just got to pick your spots to rest, and we just did a great job of picking the right times to put the clubs away, the right times to pick it back up, the right times to really grind the ax and give ourselves a chance.

"Major championships are what we're remembered for in this sport. It's what I imagine all of our dreams were as kids, to play professional golf and to compete and try and win major championships. So to have two of those this year is amazing.

"This year isn't over. I've got a lot of big tournaments coming up, but the four biggest are finished now until April.''

Unlike major American team sports, the playoffs in golf are not looked upon by the players themselves as anything but four more tournaments with big paydays. Certainly the format, which cuts the field from the top 125 to 100 after the Barclays, to 70 after the Deutsche Bank and to the final 30 after the BMW Championship, is exciting. So is the $10 million purse and the five-year PGA Tour exemption to the overall winner, but the process is so confusing many of the players don't understand it, and not even the Tour Championship at East Lake outside of Atlanta carries with it the panache of the majors or even The Players.

Still, for fans, it is four weeks of high-stakes action, the field dwindling each Sunday until only 30 remain. The past four FedExCup winners have been Bill Haas, Brandt Snedeker, Henrik Stenson and last year Billy Horschel. None was No. 1, and Horschel won the final two playoff events to come all the way up from 69th in FedEx points when the playoffs began.

None of those four has won a major, and Horschel's highest finish was T-4 at the 2013 US Open. His best major finish last year was T-23 at the U.S. Open, and this season he was T-25 at both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship.

Will Spieth, Day or McIlroy end that parade of unexpected champions? Don't count on it. Since the playoffs began in 2007, only Tiger Woods began in the No. 1 spot and survived the month-long trek. No one closer than ninth at the outset has found a way to do it in five years.

So if you're charting the field, play the wild cards. Unlike in the NFL, in golf they usually win in the playoffs. 

This article was written by Ron Borges from Boston Herald and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.