The lure of a World Cup berth at Metropolitan Golf Club in November shapes as the spark that could ignite Cameron Smith’s season as the young Queenslander begins his FedEx Cup Playoffs run at the Northern Trust Open this week.
No Australian has ever won the FedEx Cup and we enter the 2018 incarnation with just four live chances, the spectre of the World Cup on home soil looming large in the distance.
Given the imminent arrival of his third child, the likelihood of Jason Day returning to Melbourne remains uncertain which would put Marc Leishman in position to have his choice of teammate as the next highest-ranked Australian player.
Having previously stated that he would lean towards the player next highest in the rankings, Smith shaped as Leishman’s probable playing partner until Adam Scott’s resurgence at the US PGA Championship resulted in a rise to 44th in the world rankings, five spots ahead of Smith.
Sources close to Smith insist the 24-year-old is at his best when he has something special to strive for, and after watching him reel off an effortless round of 63 on the Valley course at TPC Sawgrass last week expect to see his game go up a notch this week at Ridgewood Country Club.
Entering the week 53rd in the FedEx Cup rankings, Smith hasn’t recorded a top-20 result on the US PGA Tour since he tied for fifth at the Masters in April, enduring a run of five missed cuts before he tied 78th at the Open Championship, showing signs of life at the WGC–Bridgestone Invitational where he was 23rd.
Ranked 167th on tour in driving accuracy and subsequently 182nd in greens in regulation, Smith has had to rely on his putter to hold his rounds together, sitting 30th in overall putting average and 10th for three-putt avoidance.
Of the other Australians lining up in the FedEx Cup opener this week, perhaps no one in the field is more comfortable with the return to Ridgewood than Jason Day.
Only eight players in the field this week have made the cut in the three previous FedEx Cup visits to the New Jersey layout and none boast a better record than Day, who was tied for 31st in 2008, tied for fifth in 2010 and equal second in 2014.
In 12 rounds at Ridgewood, Day has been under par on eight occasions with an accumulated score of 23-under and has an excellent opportunity to improve on his position of sixth heading into the Playoffs.
When The Barclays event was played at Ridgewood in 2014, seven of the top-10 finishers were the leaders in strokes gained putting, the statistic in which Day has been the pacesetter all season.
Buoyed by a Sunday to remember at Bellerive Country Club a fortnight ago, Scott can also call on fond memories of Ridgewood, having finished tied for 15th in The Barclays in 2014 and tied ninth in 2010, his second round of 82 in 2008 after an opening 68 one he’ll be eager to forget.
Ranked 22nd to start the Playoffs, Leishman has made visits to Ridgewood previously in 2010 and 2014, finishing tied for 36th in his maiden appearance and missing the cut four years ago.
Although Scott is the lowest-ranked of the four Aussie hopes in the FedEx Cup, his current points tally of 623 will be enough to advance to next week’s Dell Technologies Championship where the top-100 face off. The 38-year-old has two chances to improve on his current position of 73rd and move within the top-70 prior to the third playoff event, the BMW Championship.