The FedexCup Race Starts Early
Posted by: mike November 21st, 2017
By Jeff Shain
Golf Insiders contributor
ST. SIMON’S ISLAND, Ga. – Kevin Kisner can attest that there’s more than one path to East Lake.
Two years ago, the South Carolina native parlayed his first World Golf Championships invitation into a runner-up finish in China, won two weeks later and took the FedExCup lead into the holiday break. It ended in his first trip to the Tour Championship.
Last fall took a different turn. He managed just one top-30 finish in three starts, stood 118th heading into the break and didn’t hit his stride until March. It worked out in the end, though, teaming with Scott Brown for a runner-up finish at New Orleans and winning at Colonial.
“So I’m not sure the best way,” Kisner concluded.
There is a fairly clear consensus, though – better to take some fall points into the break.
“We feel an obligation to play certain events in the fall now,” said Brandt Snedeker. “You feel like you’ve got to get out and get (points), because you don’t want to be starting January 1st too far behind.”
Five years after the introduction of the PGA Tour’s wraparound schedule, it’s hard to find anyone not trying to pick up a few points in the fall. Even those at the top of the food chain.
Even though world No.1 Dustin Johnson blew a six-shot lead on the final day of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, his share of runner-up honors was enough to place him inside the FedExCup’s top 25 heading into the holidays.
Defending FedExCup champion Justin Thomas didn’t play in China, but made a title defense in Malaysia and won the tour’s first standard event in South Korea. He’s already at No.6.
Rickie Fowler sat out until the OHL Classic, fell just short of chasing down Patton Kizzire on a rainy weekend in Mexico and stands 16th.
Even Phil Mickelson, once notorious for going into golf hibernation from the Ryder/Presidents Cup until Hawaii, has teed it up twice. Two top-15s later, he’s just behind DJ and Brooks Koepka on the chart.
Bubba Watson, who swore he was taking the rest of the year off after a disappointing 2017, turned up in Mexico and Sea Island after all.
“Now it’s game on,” said Ben Crane, “and the guys who play well in the fall can take some pressure off themselves for the rest of the season. Those FedExCup points are so important.”
Of the top dozen players in the world rankings, all but three have played at least one FedExCup event this fall. Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia opted to focus on the end of the European Tour season, with McIlroy eventually shutting down to rest a nagging rib injury.
The third? That would be Jordan Spieth, which might bear watching once the season cranks up again at Kapalua.
It’s the same pattern he undertook a year ago, laying low until flying to Australia (their Open) and the Bahamas (Hero World Challenge). If he can replicate last year’s West Coast start – three top-3s in four starts, including a win at Pebble Beach – the layoff is moot.
Then there’s the tale of Adam Scott three years ago.
To be precise, the Aussie’s long layoff actually took place after New Year’s, sitting out the entire West Coast Swing after playing just one fall event. But he struggled to find his form upon returning, never rising higher than 80th in the FedExCup standings.
Though he was No.13 in the world rankings, Scott was out after one playoff event.
“It’s taken a couple of years to understand what it means to be (too) far behind,” said Snedeker. “I’ve had a couple of years where I might have made two cuts, didn’t play particularly great, then all of a sudden I’m in 125th place.”
Snedeker’s own rib woes, which shut him down in mid-June, kept him on zero until making his comeback at the RSM Classic. He tied for 29th, with the 24 FedExCup points moving him into the top 150. Not great, but not zero.
Likewise, a couple of scuffling top-10 players can’t complain much about their current standing. Two fall starts still garnered 113 points for Hideki Matsuyama and 130 for Jason Day. Hey, that’s one-third of what’s typically needed to make the playoffs.
“It can be a little stressful when you start seeing yourself get way back in the rankings,” said Sam Saunders. “You have to keep reminding yourself that it’s a long year.”
The fall also has its share of payoffs. Eight men went home winners, including four who were first-time victors on the big stage. FedExCup leader Kizzire and No.2 Pat Perez already can plan for three playoff events. Nine others know they’re good for at least two.
Call it a little early holiday joy. And all it might have taken was adding a favorite course or locale to the travelogue. Between Napa, Las Vegas, Sea Island and the Yucatán Peninsula – or Asia – the options aren’t exactly a grind.
“Obviously the Number One thing to do is play well,” Kisner said, “and the way I play well is go to places that I love to play and play well at those courses.”
Not only did Kisner’s first PGA Tour win come at Sea Island, he’s been coming since his college days at Georgia. No surprise, then, that his lone start of the fall came on the Georgia coast.
A share of fourth gave Kisner 109 points to take into the break. Mission accomplished.
Jeff Shain is a former Orlando Sentinel golf writer, part of nearly two decades covering the sport that includes other stops at The Miami Herald and The Island Packet in South Carolina. He's also a digital contributor to PGATour.com and Pro Golf Weekly, and co-hosts the Prime Sports Golf podcast at PrimeSportsNetwork.com.