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Garcia's unintentional message could alter playoffs

Sergio Garcia, left, will need a finish of no worse than third this week at the BMW Championship while Jason Day, right, already has secured his spot at East Lake after his victory at the Barclays last month. Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Sergio Garcia is strutting around Conway Farms Golf Club this week sporting a late-summer tan. He appears rested, relaxed, refreshed -- all of which he confirms with a casual smile. His newly grown beard, more than just a little stubble, is flecked with grey.

It is not, he assures with a laugh, his version of a playoff beard.

Garcia is here at the BMW Championship, the third event in this year's FedEx Cup playoff series, fresh off a summer vacation. He spent time in Spain and Switzerland, worked on his game and enjoyed plenty of downtime.

None of that would be newsworthy, if not for the fact that his vacation happened to overlap the first two playoff events, each of which he decided to skip after earning enough regular-season points that he was guaranteed to qualify for the third one.

"I was a little tired," he explained Wednesday, echoing a sentiment of many peers. "It's a long season, and I had the possibility of doing it because I was in a good situation, so it was nice to be able to do it."

This wasn't Garcia trying to send a message to the PGA Tour about a potentially flawed system. It wasn't an attempt to prove anything about the playoffs.

And yet, with his two-week absence, Garcia has a chance to change the game.

That's because, at 54th in the points standings entering this week, he can still win the $10 million first-place bonus at the end of next week's season finale.

Let that one digest: A player who eschewed the first two playoff events can win the entire playoffs.

Twice before -- Tiger Woods in 2007 and Jim Furyk in 2010 -- a player missed one playoff event and still won the overall title. (Furyk was disqualified from the Barclays during his winning year for missing his pro-am tee time.) Never before has a player attempted to skip two and still win it all.

It would be the ultimate egg-on-face scenario for the PGA Tour.

Granted, it's not likely. Garcia needs at least a third-place result this week just to guarantee a spot in the Tour Championship field and will only move as high as sixth overall if he wins.

There remains, though, a possibility that he parlays his summer vacation into two solid weeks, rendering the efforts of every other player during the first two weeks essentially null and void.

"It could happen, for sure," he acknowledged. "If I win here and next week, then I most likely can win the thing. But I'm not trying to prove anything or anything like that."

Even if he's not trying, Garcia could pave the way for a new strategy for competing in the playoffs.

In some respects, he already has.

Look at it this way: He earned as many points during the first two events as erstwhile points leader Jordan Spieth, who toiled his way to two missed cuts without the added benefit of any downtime in Spain and Switzerland.

Plenty of competitors have lamented the combination of physical and mental exhaustion toward the end of a season that never really ends. Garcia is the lone player who countered those pangs of fatigue by taking action.

"I've been here for 16 years and I'm not getting any younger," he said. "People don't realize how much it takes out of you when you're traveling as much as I do. If I just played the PGA Tour and I was living here in the U.S., it's different. But when you're going back and forth, it's a lot of traveling and it takes a bit out of the body. The summers are always very hectic; we play a lot of tournaments and don't get to really disconnect that much."

This isn't the first time Garcia has enjoyed such a self-imposed break.

Five years ago, he skipped the final months of the golf calendar in favor of similar downtime away from the game. When he returned, he not only didn't regret the respite, he credited it for rejuvenating him.

With five more tournaments upcoming before the end of the year -- six if he reaches next week's Tour Championship -- Garcia is hoping for another revitalization.

"I definitely feel fresher," he admitted. "A little bit rusty, I guess, but it's good. I'm excited about this week."

If that excitement leads to a few leaderboard-topping events, Garcia's break just could turn out to be a game-changer for fellow pros this time of year.