Five to Watch at East Lake

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Five to Watch at East Lake

And here we are. From a season that started some 11 months ago in Napa, Calif., eventually winding its way from Hawaii to Augusta National to Chambers Bay, off to St. Andrews and back to Whistling Straits, the PGA Tour wraps up things this weekend at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club — Bobby Jones’ old stomping grounds.

It’s not exactly a “winner take all” format for the 29 players involved — Jim Furyk has already withdrawn because of a wrist injury — but for the top five players in FedExCup points, win the Tour Championship trophy on Sunday evening and you’re guaranteed the $10 million title as well.

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With apologies to the rest of the field, those five are definitely this week’s Five to Watch.

5. Bubba Watson

For a former Georgia Bulldog who normally plays very well at Peach State courses — check out his collection of green jackets if you disagree — he’s still trying to figure out East Lake. He opened with a 67 last year, only to follow that up with a 73. And then another 67 and 73 on the weekend to finish 14th behind eventual champion Billy Horschel.

4. Henrik Stenson

Of the top five, Stenson is the only one who knows what it takes to win the FedExCup, doing it in 2013. However, Stenson hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since his victory in East Lake by three strokes over Jordan Spieth and Steve Stricker. He didn’t reach the final event last year, and hasn’t been much of a factor in 2015 — finishing outside of the top 20 in all four majors, although he made it to the weekend in each one. And he finished second to Rickie Fowler at the Deutsche Bank. Amazingly, he could still win the FedExCup even he doesn’t win at East Lake.

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3. Rickie Fowler

A breakout season for Fowler? I guess you could call it that — wins at The Players Championship, Scottish Open and Deutsche Bank so far this season would lead most to that conclusion. But he finished in the top five in each of the four majors in 2014, so it’s not like he came out of obscurity. If not for the seasons Jordan Spieth and Jason Day are having, you’d have to include Fowler in the discussion of Tour Player of the Year. And winning the FedExCup might even place him as a dark horse. He finished eighth in last year’s visit to East Lake.

2. Jordan Spieth

Even if he doesn’t win the FedExCup this weekend, Spieth’s had a year to remember: a Masters green jacket, then the U.S. Open triumph at Chambers Bay, missing the Open Championship by a stroke at St. Andrews and another strong finish at the PGA Championship. That eventually got him the No. 1 world ranking for a couple of weeks. He’s first in scoring average, money earned and putting average.

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The only knock on Spieth’s year might be the back-to-back missed cuts to kick off the playoffs, but he bounced back strongly last weekend at the BMW Championship, including making a hole-in-one in the opening round. Perhaps there’s one last bit of magic in the bag this weekend at East Lake. He was in contention last year until blowing up with an 80 on Saturday.

1. Jason Day

When Spieth cooled off, Day was there to more than pick up the slack. The PGA Championship victory seemed to open the floodgates for the amiable Aussie, who has won four of his last six starts, including two of the three playoff events held. In fact, Spieth seemed to have Tour Player of the Year honors locked up until Day went on this incredible run. Now it's a topic of discussion. 

How good has he been on his way to the world’s No. 1 ranking over the past two months? He’s shot 69 or better in 22 of his past 24 rounds. He’s playing with all the confidence that comes with being at the peak of his game. His ability to drive the ball long and straight is well-noted. But it’s his putting that’s been the deciding factor since Whistling Straits.

And if past performance might be a factor, Day finished fourth at East Lake in 2014, the best of any of this year’s contenders.