NORTON, Mass. – Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth shook hands on the 18th green, and then traded text messages later in the night after providing high drama and plenty of star power in the opening FedEx Cup event.
Spieth said he texted him: “Man, congrats. That was a good battle. Let’s do it again next week.”
Johnson’s reply: “Absolutely. I had a good time. That was my turn.”
For the opening act of this lucrative FedEx Cup series that leads to a $10 million prize, the PGA Tour couldn’t have asked for much more. Johnson is the No. 1 player in the world. Judging by the slight spike in television ratings, Spieth is becoming among the most popular.
The Dell Technologies Championship has a tough act to follow.
The second playoff event starts Friday on the TPC Boston because of the traditional Labor Day finish. Johnson, Spieth and Justin Thomas will be in the same group for the opening two rounds because of their standing in the FedEx Cup. And it just so happens they are the three leading candidates for PGA Tour player of the year.
There remains a long road ahead before the deciding of a FedEx Cup champion and player of the year.
The TPC Boston also might pay immediate dividends, though it has little to do with a big cash prize. This is the final week for 10 players to make the Presidents Cup team before U.S. captain Steve Stricker and International captain Nick Price get two wild-card selections.
Kevin Chappell is at No. 11 in the U.S. standings and 23 points – the equivalent of 56th place – behind Charley Hoffman. Chappell would love to be on the team, though his obsession is more on his golf than wondering if he’ll make the team.
If anyone is feeling pressure, it’s Phil Mickelson. He has never missed a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup dating to 1994. Lefty would need a runner-up finish to qualify for the team, and he might need to simply show some good scores to give Stricker a reason to pick him.
Bubba Watson would have to win to be on the team, but he has other goals. At No. 72 in the FedEx Cup, he has to finish among the top 70 after this week to advance to the third playoff event outside Chicago in two weeks.
Watson, Mickelson and Hoffman are the only three players who have made it through to the third playoff event every year since the FedEx Cup began in 2007.
So there’s a big tournament offering $8.75 million in prize money. There is a race to make the Presidents Cup team. And for some players, there is simply the goal of not having their season ending earlier than they want.
That’s a lot on the plate, and Thomas knows the feeling.
He missed out on the Tour Championship by one putt in 2015. A year ago, Thomas was still in the hunt for a Ryder Cup captain’s pick. He missed the cut.
“It’s hard, it really is,” Thomas said. “The Ryder Cup definitely last year, it’s so hard to get out of the back of your mind. I was playing without thinking about it that much, but before the week starts, it always creeps in the back of your head. ‘Well, if I play well here, something may happen.’ You always have that ‘if’ scenario. I think that makes it tough.”
The view is much better this year.
Thomas is a four-time tour winner and PGA champion. He is No. 3 in the FedEx Cup and practically assured of being among the top five seeds at the Tour Championship, the ideal spot because those five players only have to win at East Lake to claim the $10 million prize. He already clinched a spot in the Presidents Cup.
“At the end of the day, you just have to focus on what you’re doing,” he said.
Rory McIlroy is the defending champion after making up a six-shot deficit in the final round last year to win. His only pressure is winning, because he has never gone a year without winning somewhere in the world since 2008. He is No. 43 in the FedEx Cup and would like to have a few good weeks to get back to East Lake.
Johnson’s playoff victory over Spieth in the Northern Trust was his first since March, and now he’s looking for more.
No one has ever won more than two playoff events in a year.
“You can’t win them all if you don’t win the first one, right?” Johnson said. “Yeah, it’s definitely possible. Is it going to happen? I have no idea. I’d love to say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to win all four.’ But the odds are not in my favor.”
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