TOURNAMENT HISTORY

The Fedex Cup starts here, with the first of four play-off events. Before getting to this week’s action, a quick re-cap of the format. The leading 125 players on the Fedex Cup points list, earned up until last week’s end of the ‘regular season’, line up at the Barclays, with the points already earned reset to reflect their place on that list. That number is whittled down gradually with each event, with the top-100 qualifying for next week’s Deutsche Bank Championship, then 70 for the BMW Championship, before the leading 30 head to the decisive Tour Championship. Ahead of that finale, there is another points reset, to ensure that everyone left in has a mathematical chance of becoming Fedex Cup champion and claiming the $10M first prize.

The Barclays Classic, previously played at a variety of venues, returns to the course that hosted the 2008 renewal. Then, the outcome was a three-way play-off, with Vijay Singh beating Sergio Garcia and Kevin Sutherland. Even apart from the play-off, that renewal produced a memorably exciting final day, with 30 players finishing within five of the lead.

COURSE AND KEY STATS

Ridgewood is known as a ball-strikers’ course; a championship layout that has hosted various seniors and amateur majors. The general consensus is that it requires patience and smart shot selection, but I would be wary of forming too many strong conclusions.

Because the leaderboard was so closely bunched in 2008, it is hard to define the specific skills required for success here. For every short and straight type like fourth-placed Ben Curtis, there’s a Bubba Watson in 12th. The one thing we do know is that driving accuracy was of little significance, with far greater emphasis placed on approach shots and scrambling. Greens in regulation and scrambling tend to be important stats at most championship venues, so I’ll stick with them.

SELECTIONS

3pts ew STEVE STRICKER @ 18/1 (GENERAL, 20/1 CORAL)

Stricker never got in a blow when carrying our cash at Whistling Straits, with a top-20 performance mirroring his previous effort at Firestone. In both events, his long game stats were superb, but his putting was ineffective. As short-game brilliance is usually his forte, I expect normal service will resume soon, and he rates the man to beat in the Fedex Cup for my money. Stricker was only beaten by four shots at Ridgewood two years ago, and will be defending champion next week.

1.5pts ew MATT KUCHAR @ 35/1 (GENERAL, 40/1 SPORTINGBET)

It is more or less a year to the day since Kuchar’s magnificent run, easily the best of his career, began. To recap, the figures for the last twelve months read; 25 completed strokeplay starts, yielding 21 top-30 finishes, including 12 top-tens. The only downside has been a failure to win yet in 2010; a stat which could well change over the next month. While Kuchar retains this level of form, 40/1 is simply too big.

1pt ew SEAN O’HAIR @ 50/1 (GENERAL, 55/1 SKYBET)

Missing the cut at Whistling Straits was seriously disappointing, given O’Hair’s impressive prior returns of seven top-15s from nine starts. Perhaps it was a reaction to blowing the final day lead at Firestone. Whatever the reason, Sean rates excellent value at 50/1 on his wider summer form, and looks a live candidate over the next month. I reckon he needs a tough course to show his best, and that will be the case with all the Fedex Cup venues.

1pt ew BO VAN PELT @ 66/1 (GENERAL)

A second PGA Tour title looks long overdue for Van Pelt, whose relentlessly consistent run continues, now extending to 12 straight cuts, including seven top-15 finishes. If this carries on, the next month should be very lucrative, and third place at the WGC-Bridgestone shows he isn’t frightened of taking on the world’s best. Bo wasn’t far away for three days at Ridgewood in 2008 either, when in nowhere near the form of 2010.

1pt ew TIM CLARK @ 80/1 (GENERAL)

He’s never been my favourite player, (thanks to some disastrous front-running efforts), but I simply cannot see how Clark is an 80/1 chance. It appears bookies have over-reacted to disappointments at the WGC-Bridgestone and USPGA, on courses which experienced Clark-watchers will know were never likely to suit him. The South African is far better judged on his previous fourth place in the Canadian Open, or indeed his career-best win at Sawgrass.

MAIN CANDIDATES

PHIL MICKELSON

While I’m not about to break the habit of a lifetime and back Phil, Ridgewood is a far more suitable layout than those where he’s failed since finishing third at the US Open. His core weakness in 2010 has been inaccuracy off the tee, which will matter less here than usual, and there are few finer scramblers than Mickelson, if any.

TIGER WOODS

How times have changed. In previous Fedex Cups, Woods could afford to miss one of the early play-offs and still be runaway favourite, such was his dominance. Now I suspect he’s going to be up against it just to qualify for the latter stages. He did at least improve at the USPGA on that shocking Firestone performance, but Tiger is still unrecognisable from his former self.

RORY MCILROY

Rory was quite magnificent at the USPGA, when finishing third for the second consecutive major. I felt he was a little unlucky having missed so many chances on Sunday, but in truth, that has been the one shortcoming of his career to date. World domination awaits, though I wonder whether we’ll ever see a good value price about him again. 14/1 is simply too short for a player with only two professional victories.

ERNIE ELS

Thanks to those consecutive victories back in the ‘Florida Swing’, Ernie begins the play-offs in pole position of the Fedex Cup race. I certainly wouldn’t write him off for the $10M bonus, because his record on championship courses through the years has been impeccable. The long game is still there, but with Ernie nowadays, everything depends on the putter.