(Eds: With AP Photos.)By DOUG FERGUSONAP Golf Writer
If the PGA Tour really wanted to put a positive spin on the playoffs, it could claim that three of the four FedEx Cup champions were voted player of the year.
That would be accurate, although it would require an asterisk.
Tiger Woods was so dominant in 2007 and 2009 that he virtually was a lock for player of the year before the playoffs even started. He already had won five times going into the FedEx Cup both those years, and no one was close to him.
In this era of parity, however, such a statement would no longer be misleading.
For the second straight year, the FedEx Cup is likely to decide who will emerge as the favorite for PGA Tour player of the year. Last season, there were five players who had two wins (no majors) going into the playoffs, and Jim Furyk wound up winning the FedEx Cup and player of the year on the strength of his one-shot victory at the Tour Championship.
This time, it’s more wide open than ever.
Five players again have two wins at the start of the playoffs – Nick Watney, Steve Stricker, Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson and Mark Wilson – and picking up a third trophy, especially the FedEx Cup, would seem to provide an edge.
Bradley would have settled for rookie of the year at the start of his season. He suddenly has much more at stake after his playoff win at the PGA Championship two weeks ago. No one has ever been voted best player and rookie in the same season.
“You only get one shot at rookie of the year, and I really wanted to win it,” Bradley said Tuesday. “I hope I’ve done enough but there have been a lot of great players. As far as player of the year, it’s just an honor to be even talked about in that category. I still feel like I have a little more to go to do that.”
He would seem to be a slam dunk for rookie of the year, unless Masters champion Charl Schwartzel were to win over the next month. That would give the South African a major and a win against one of the strongest fields of the year.
Not to be overlooked is Luke Donald, who happens to be No. 1 in the world.
Donald has won three times this year, but only once in a PGA Tour event – the Match Play Championship. Then again, he leads the money list by about $120,000 over Watney, and he has a slim lead over Stricker in the Vardon Trophy race for lowest scoring average. Donald has finished out of the top 10 only four times in 14 starts on the PGA Tour.
Throw in a FedEx Cup playoffs win and it might be difficult to ignore him.
“I’ve been working very hard the past week, and it’s nice to have certain things to chase after and focus on,” said Donald, who also is in position to become the first player to win money titles on the PGA Tour and European Tour in the same season. “It makes everything a little bit more meaningful.”
So many possibilities. So many contenders.
And so little dominance.
Most of that can be attributed to the demise of Woods over the last two years.
Woods has nine seasons when he won at least five times on the PGA Tour. Only three other players – Vijay Singh, Nick Price and Tom Watson – have won at least five times in a season dating to 1980.
Unless someone gets hot over the next month, this will be the second straight year that no one has won at least four tournaments. That’s how it was in the era before Woods, when golf lacked a dominant player.
A year ago, as Woods was going through the first winless season of his PGA Tour career, 15 players won a tour event for the first time. Of those 15 players, only Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy won again this year.
There already have been 12 first-time tour winners this year, half of them rookies.
How many of them will win next year?
“It’s hard to be dominant,” Padraig Harrington said.
Harrington used the recent run in the majors as an example. This is the longest streak of first-time major champions – seven in a row dating to Phil Mickelson at the Masters last year. Harrington does not believe that’s unusual.
“Most people when they win a major, it is the first time win,” he said. “You can count – 125 people here – I’m sure you can count on one hand how many have won more than one.”
Of the 125 players who qualified for the FedEx Cup playoffs, 17 have won majors. But only five have won multiple majors – Mickelson, Harrington, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.
“It is a rare occasion for a guy to win his second major,” Harrington said. “There’s a bunch of guys that are capable of winning, and they are winning. We will see more unheralded players win, but it’s not for their lack of ability. They are really talented, and you can see that going forward.”
What is a dominant player?
As usual, Woods set a standard that is close to impossible to match. Donald said as much when talking about his ranking. Perhaps one reason some people have an issue with Donald being No. 1 is that they expect all No. 1 players to look like Woods.
Harrington looks for dominance in opportunity – having a real chance to win on the back nine just about every week.
“And if you look at Tiger, four of the last 14 years, every major championship with nine holes to go … he had a chance of winning,” Harrington said. “That’s what dominating is to me.”
That’s what golf is lacking at the moment.
About the only thing this next month of golf will reveal is who wins the $10 million FedEx Cup, and who gets voted player of the year. But even in these times, that’s no gauge on the future.
It’s true that three of the last four FedEx Cup champions were voted PGA Tour player of the year.
It’s also worth noting that for now, the last three FedEx Cup champions – Singh, Woods and Furyk – failed to win a single tournament the following year.