The now annual denouement to the golf season on the PGA Tour is the FedEx Cup, a series of play-off events where the best 125 players based upon the rankings system are eventually whittled down to the top 30, who then battle it out for the big trophy and even bigger paycheque at Atlanta, Georgia’s most famous course, East Lake.
It is a tournament that has produced some unbelievable golf this past decade, and with a prize of a cool $10 million up for grabs to the winner of the Tour Championship, and thus the FedEx Cup, it’s no wonder that the event has also been tinged with some nervy conclusions as well.
The bookmakers favourite for the 2017 FedEx Cup, which kicks off on Thursday, is Jordan Spieth, who knows a thing or two about trouser-shredding pressure after his Masters meltdown at Augusta in 2016. But he regrouped and showed enormous bottle to claim the Open Championship crown in the summer – especially after shanking one of his drives on the latter holes even further east than the temporary seating.
Spieth will be hoping to produce a display this week that ranks him amongst this elite company:
Haas Gets Wet and Wild
If the pressure of playing for $10 million would turn most Johnny Big-Cajonés into shrinking violets, imagine having to do so under the pressure of a play-off situation.
That’s exactly what happened in 2011 when Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan had to go toe-to-toe for the right to win the Tour Championship, and henceforth be crowned FedEx Cup champion.
They tied the first play-off hole, but at the second Haas found the water just to the side of the green. With Mahan well placed to make par, the folically-challenged Haas needed to come up with a moment of magic to keep the contest – and his hopes of banking the cheque alive. Here’s what he came up with:
Rory’s Balls of Steel
There is a theme of play-offs in the FedEx Cup, which are golf’s equivalent of the penalty shootout. The 2016 edition also descended into extra time when Rory McIlroy, Kevin Chappell and Ryan Moore could not be separated at East Lake.
These days the play-offs are played out on the Par 5 eighteenth East Lake; a hole that offers plenty of low-scoring opportunities.
And that’s exactly how McIlroy found himself putting for eagle to win the 2016 Tour Championship and FedEx Cup, despite largely having a season to forget up until that point.
But the Irishman rolled his five-footer past the hole – a real sign of nerves, and most onlooker thought that was his chance gone. So often in play-offs the man who misses the first chance to win goes on to lose.
However, a half-chance would present itself to McIlroy on the very next hole, but a tight and testy 15-footer awaited. Could the Irishman dust himself down from the disappointment of the last?
You bet he could, and the celebrations that followed were the sheer personification of the pressure valve being released. As the commentator in this video noted, previous FedEx leader Dustin Johnson could only watch on as $10 million disappeared in front of his very eyes….
Furyk Says Yes! To Victory
In this day and age, most sportsmen and women sign lucrative sponsorship deals with some of the biggest apparel and equipment manufacturers on the planet.
The world of golf is hugely competitive on that front, with dozens of brands seeking deals with the great and the good of the sport.
After a career packed with highlights, Jim Furyk is certainly one of the finer players on the planet, and in 2010 he was very much in the mix for the FedEx Cup after a consistent campaign.
But the ‘Bald Eagle’ was not satisfied with the clubs in his bag, and rather than phoning up his sponsor to have a new set sent out he actually went down to his local sports shop to peruse their selection.
Furyk eventually picked up a second hand (yep, really) Yes! Branded putter and paid $40 for the privilege. Ironically, that was the exact word he cried as his winning putt at the Tour Championship entered the cup.
The Eagle Soar Again
The 2010 Championship would not be the last time that Furyk made his indelible mark on the competition.
He was in the hunt again in 2013, and it was at the BMW Championships at Conway Farms where the Bald Eagle would swoop.
Furyk carded just the sixth ever round of 59 on the PGA Tour – that’s 12 shots under par, to fire his way up the leaderboard and get himself into contention for the title.
Unfortunately Mr 59 could not complete the job, as Zach Johnson got home by two shots from Nick Watney and three ahead of Furyk.
Phil Bites Back at Tiger
Unfortunately, in life it often takes a tragic event for us to gain some kind of perspective on life.
When both Phil Mickelson’s mum and wife were diagnosed with cancer, presumably golf was the very last thing on his mind.
But a lot of sportsmen have noted through the years that doing the ‘day job’ can actually take their minds off problems elsewhere, and that’s exactly what happened at the 2009 Tour Championship.
Mickelson was locked in battle with his old rival Tiger Woods at East Lake, and found the strength and character from somewhere – aided by his fantastic short game – to hold off the greatest player the game has ever seen to win in style. Tiger may have won the war – he became the first player to win two FedEx Cup titles – but Phil certainly won the battle.
That was just the start of an emotional rollercoaster for Lefty, who would watch his loved ones undergoing treatment before clinching the third Masters title of his career in 2010.