GREENSBORO, NC — At first glance, the Wyndham Championship's spot on the golf calendar looks like a black hole, played one week after the PGA Championship and competing for TV viewership up against some guy in Beijing named Phelps.
For Phil, Padraig, and Sergio, that means a weekend off. But for the majority of those who are here the pressure feels like golf life or death…because it is.
The tournament formerly known as the GGO is the last event of golf's "regular season". Next weekend's event, The Barclays, marks the beginning of the four-tourney shootout for the FedEx Cup. The top 144 in the FedEx Cup standings will be invited to New Jersey next week to participate. Number 145 and below? They can start working on next year's putting stroke.
"For a guy like me, it makes your year," admits Kevin Stadler. The son of the Walrus came to Greensboro ranked 145th, potentially the last guy without a chair when the music stops. "We all want to be playing for the win on Sunday, but the real fight will be between the guys trying to get above that FedEx cut line. For us, there are two cuts this weekend."
Of the 155 guys that teed off on Friday morning, 83 were ranked somewhere between 100th and 200th in points, each with the mathematical ability to either play their way into the golf's postseason or end up at home watching it on TV like the rest of us.
"Even if you haven't had the kind of year you expected to have, you can salvage it here," said Lee Janzen, sitting 154th, ten spots from the golden ticket. "We learned that from what happened in this tournament last year."
Last year the drama surrounding Shigeki Maruyama was perhaps the most attention ever paid to a guy who finished tied for seventh in a mid-August tournament. When he saved par on the 72nd hole of the weekend, it boosted him from 162nd in points to 140th and a golden ticket to play with Tiger and Co. four days later.
On the flip side, Eric Axley eagled number 13 to seemingly lock up his invitation to The Barclays, then bogeyed 16 to finish tied for 27th for the weekend and missed the FedEx Cup playoffs by one spot. "If its okay with you," the Tennessee native said politely on Friday morning, ranked a somewhat safe 96th, "let's not talk about that this weekend."
"It's a lot to keep track of," admitted a CBS Sports producer, already sifting through a mountain of FedEx Cup explanation paperwork. "No one seems entirely sure how the points system works, not even the players. But we'll be discussing the rankings live all weekend. Don't ask me how. The computer does it."
So, while most folks here at Sedgefield Country Club will be focused on Vijay, Zach, Bubba, and even Daly, the real drama lies with Scott McCarron, Robert Garrigus, and Thursday co-leaders Martin Laird and Bob Heintz. And, oh by the way, local hero Davis Love III and one-time Tiger rival Chris DiMarco are also on the Cup bubble. If you need them on Sunday, they'll be crowded around the standings posted by the giant clubhouse leaderboard, rubbing rabbit's foots and saying prayers to the ghost of Bobby Jones.
"A lot of the big guys may not be here," says defending champ Brandt Snedeker, who hopes to grab the attention of Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger with a big weekend, "But they'll be watching. The drama is too good not to."