The PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs are poised for a thrilling season finale

[PHOTOS: Getty Images]

Should you be one of those people who occasionally looks at the calendar and wonders where the time has gone, ask yourself this: how must hundreds of PGA Tour players feel, given that this time of year signals that the FedEx Cup Playoffs are basically at the threshold and many of them are in danger of missing out?

For some heralded names – most notably Rickie Fowler and Jason Day – the approaching playoffs mean they can smile and feel hugely satisfied. That’s because at 34 and 35, respectively, they can take enormous pride in a resurgence, of sorts.

Fowler ranked outside the top 125 in 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, though he did squeak into the playoffs last year thanks to a rash of moves when some players withdrew their memberships. It felt like a gift when Fowler was able to tee it up at the Playoffs opener, but no gift is needed this year. The man who favours orange was sitting eighth when early July came around.

Day, meanwhile, sat 14th in the standings entering the John Deere Classic and with only six weeks to accrue more points, the FedEx Cup picture is looking quite sweet to the former world No.1 from Queensland. Not that Day has missed the playoffs like Fowler, but he limped into post-season play ranked 124th a year ago and he’s been a far cry from the dominant force of 2013 to 2018.

In fact, instead of the attitude Day had a year ago when he snuck into the Playoffs and grew tired of answering reporters’ questions in late June and early July – “It does nothing for me to look ahead” – he is in cruise control and can count on making it to the Tour Championship.

Winning, of course, helps change your fortunes on the PGA Tour, and Fowler (Rocket Mortgage Classic) and Day (AT&T Byron Nelson) achieved their first wins since 2019 and 2018, respectively. But remarkable consistency has also paid off – Fowler has a runner-up and six other top-10s; Day has piled up seven top-10s – for these two comeback kids.

With golf being the challenge that it invariably is, for every resurgent story there is one of surprising struggles. So while we have Fowler and Day returning to the positive side of the FedEx Cup Playoffs cutoff, we have a foursome of names who are gritting their teeth at the approaching finale, that will be played out in this manner:

• August 10-13 – FedEx St Jude Championship

• August 17-20 – BMW Championship

• August 24-27 – Tour Championship

Adam Scott has made the Playoffs every year since they began in 2007, but when July arrived, he was on the outside looking in, lodged in 78th position. The story is slightly better for Keith Mitchell (62nd) and Justin Thomas (68th), as they are just inside the new top-70 cutoff.

Just don’t tell either one of them that they can breathe easier.

Thomas, 30, most certainly knows he cannot. In fact, after he squeezed out a T-9 at the Travelers Championship, Thomas was asked if he was headed home to rest, having played five tournaments in eight weeks, he shook his head sombrely.

“I’ve never had to add tournaments at the end to make sure I got into the Playoffs,” he said. “But unfortunately, that’s where I’m at this year. So I’m going to Detroit.”

Alas, it was a short stay in Detroit as Thomas missed the cut at the Rocket Mortgage Classic; it was his third weekend off in four tournaments, including at heavyweight tournaments, the Memorial and the US Open. Throw in an early departure at the Masters (thanks to a bogey at the 36th hole, no less) and you have Thomas where he knows he belongs – fighting for his Playoffs life.

For Mitchell, the slide down the standings has been steady since the northern spring. A rock-solid 35th at the Players Championship in March, Mitchell has no top-10s in his past 10 starts and his best finish is a T-20 in that stretch.

You wouldn’t be hitting the panic button for Jordan Spieth either, but you might want to throw up the caution flag. Earlier this year, he had piled up five top-10s in eight starts to sit in 14th place in the standings. But he’s fallen to 29th.

Worried? Not Spieth. Though momentum is something you want on your side with the FedEx Cup Playoffs approaching. That’s exactly what a parade of stalwart names are relying on as their games are quite solid, thank you, on the eve of the playoffs.

Jon Rahm, the 2023 Masters champion, currently tops the points list and he’s done it with four wins, a second, a third and three other top-10s. Quality stuff, and those who follow him in the current top 10 – Scottie Scheffler, Max Homa, Wyndham Clark, Keegan Bradley, Victor Hovland, Rory McIlroy, Fowler, Tony Finau and Nick Taylor – have had consistently superior seasons.

All of which is how the executives would draw it up – pretty much the entire list of top-ranked players on the Official World Golf ranking are somewhere in the top 15 in the FedEx Cup standings with the season winding down.

Does that translate into thrilling Playoffs? Not necessarily, but you’d have to like the odds that it will. Just having McIlroy, currently seventh, in the mix provides reason for excitement.

All he did a year ago was close with 66 to finish at 17-under to leapfrog Scheffler (73 for 10-under) and win his third FedEx Cup title. It was perhaps more impressive than the three-way playoff he won in 2016 and matched his inspiring rally of 2019 (starting the Tour Championship five shots behind Thomas, McIlroy outscored him by 10 and overpowered East Lake for his second FedEx Cup).

Then there are those who’ll still circle the 2018 Tour Championship as the iconic one to remember. Then 43 and walking gingerly throughout, Tiger Woods finished at 11-under to win by two and was ushered onto the 72nd green by tens of thousands of fans.

That Woods won’t be in the FedEx Cup line-up of playoff events is always disappointing. But it is couched significantly by knowing that a parade of marquee names will be.