O'Connell's Corner: Strong Field at Plainfield

by Andrew O'Connell
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Barclays set to tee off tomorrow

In the golfing world, late August and September used to seem rather calm, a time following the season’s four majors when fans could temporarily put the game on the back burner before either the Tour Championship or the Ryder Cup brought their minds back to golf.  But since the establishment of the FedEx Cup in 2007, a formerly serene couple of weeks has been replaced by the frenzied pace of a winner-take-all tournament, and the average fan should be ever thankful for the turmoil.

Beginning this Thursday with The Barclays at Plainfield Country Club in Edison, NJ, 125 of the world’s best players will begin the fifth edition of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.  Featuring four tournaments in the span of just five short weeks, players will compete for points with the final leader in the standings taking home a ten million dollar purse following The Tour Championship.  To make matters more exciting, the potential field of FedEx Cup winners will become shorter following each successive tournament.  The 125 man field at the Barclays will shrink to 100 after Sunday.  After the Deutsche Bank Championship 30 more players will be cut, and 40 more will pack their bags following the BMW Championship.  This will set a final field of 30 for the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club.  While the points that accrued during the year still hold significance in the current standings, over the next four tournaments points will be worth five times the value they had during the season up to this point.  In other words, any one in this field could walk away in five weeks times with a pretty hefty purse in their pocket.

“I think it has a lot of the characteristics of a playoff, that everyone has a chance,” said Luke Donald, the current number one in the World Golf Rankings.  “And there’s certain things I like about that and certain things I don’t, but if you want to gain a little bit of excitement with the fans, then I think there needs to be that little bit of volatility.”

Perhaps no one portrays this volatility than the FedEx Cup’s defending champion Jim Furyk.  Following an alarm clock mishap that caused him to miss the pro-am at last year’s Barclays and garner a disqualification from that tournament, Furyk won two of the next three events to take home the FedEx Cup in Boston.  And while he proved last year that a player could still win the playoff despite taking a week off, Furyk seemed focused on not missing anything this go-around.  Entering this year’s Barclays ranked 60th in the FedEx Cup standings, Furyk admitted that he must employ a different strategy than last year.

“Before I was kind of maintaining my position and trying to move up and get ready for the re-seed at The Tour Championship,” Furyk said.  “This year, you know, it’s going to be a fight.”

And given the lay out of Plainfield Country Club, this year’s fight should be an exciting one.

One particular part of the course that seemed to catch the attention of players and media alike was the par 4 18th.  A short finishing hole at only 292 yards, the sharp dogleg left that moves steeply uphill as the player approaches the green should provide for some exciting golf should the tournament come down to the 72nd hole on Sunday.  Surrounding the putting surface are a series of challenging bunkers, most notably a trap on the left-hand side about forty yards short of the green that looks like it should be in Scotland rather than Central Jersey.  Standing guard to catch drives that draw a little too much or fall way short of their intended target, this trap could turn a drivable hole into a scramble for par for even the most skilled golfer.

“I’ll love it if I can reach it,” Furyk said, referring to the 18th.

“The green is pretty severe,” said Matt Kuchar, the defending Barclays champion.  “I’m not sure if you lay up how close you can get on an approach shot.” 

And while the 18th may have been the talk of the course on Tuesday, it is not to say that the finishing hole is the only thing worth chatting about.  Playing well over 7,000 yards with rolling hills, several blind tee and approach shots and many undulating greens, this course should make for a great week of golf.

“The course looks like a fun golf course to play,” Kuchar said.

Speaking about the course’s architect Donald Ross, current FedEx cup leader Nick Watney pointed out the peculiarities of the course that make it a classic Ross track. 

“This place is I think what made him pretty famous,” Watney said.  “The greens are interesting to say the least.”

Take these difficult greens, a couple of reachable par 4’s and 125 of the world’s best, and the next few days should produce a quality of golf that rivals any major tournament.

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