The Playoffs: Who’s Who?

This week, beginning Friday and ending Monday (Labor Day), the Deutsche Bank Championship kicks off at the TPC Boston in Norton, Massachusetts. We’re down to the last 100 standing.

One of the great things about the playoffs is that the players’ tee times are determined by their FedExCup points ranking. During the regular season, the better players are paired together, but the hierarchy is never as clear as it is here.

For example, here are the top 21 players by their ranking and their Thursday and Friday pairings:

  • Nick Watney (1)
  • Brandt Snedeker (2)
  • Tiger Woods (3)
  • Rory McIlroy (4)
  • Zach Johnson (5)
  • Jason Dufner (6)
  • Bubba Watson (7)
  • Dustin Johnson (8)
  • Carl Pettersson (9)
  • Sergio Garcia (10)
  • Matt Kuchar (11)
  • Hunter Mahan (12)
  • Keegan Bradley (13)
  • Luke Donald (14)
  • Justin Rose (15)
  • Steve Stricker (16)
  • Phil Mickelson (17)
  • Ernie Els (18)
  • Rickie Fowler (19)
  • Webb Simpson (20)
  • Louis Oosthuizen (21)

You go through that list and there’s not one outlier; these are the guys. And the thing about these guys is that they know that they’re the guys. One of the joys for them — although everybody on the Tour can play — is that these guys can really play. And one of the nice things for them is to be paired with others who can really play.

They are not intimidated because they’re the guys and they know they’re the guys. They like being paired with the best because there are fewer problems to interfere with the flow of the round. And they also know than when one of them gets hot, that frequently drags the other guys with him. It’s very rare in this group that two guys would be 6-under and the third guy would be 4-over.

These guys are all comfortable with who they are as players. Now that Tiger has come back down to earth, few among them are intimidated by any of the others. Oh, they might show deference to what Tiger once was and the threat that if he ever gets things sorted out with his instructor, Sean Foley, he will be again. But for now, they’re not afraid of him.

As a matter of fact, Tiger is building quite a reputation as one of the best playing partners you could have. He’s routinely been reported recently to be quite collegial, funny, very communicative and very supportive of young players who have been thrust into his limelight.

So since these are the best, they interact with each other as peers. They are comfortable in these pairings. They feed off of these pairings. And they yearn to be in them when their game gets a little off and they end up falling down the standings. “I better get to work so that I get to play with the better players again.”

On the flip side, the guys in the 75th to 100th spots enjoy playing in the less threatening groups while they continue building their playing chops. They get to do that on the other side of the golf course in front of virtually no one. I shouldn’t say no one. In front of the “hole campers” who pick a hole and just stay there all day so that they can see the entire field go by.

From that place of “comfortableness,” they begin to have those really low rounds every now and then that rocket them up the leaderboard. And then to have them more frequently. So they are in residence in the school of learning how to play. And as they tap in to that comfortableness more and more often, they begin to realize that it’s replicable. And once they realize that it’s not random but systemic, they begin to relax. And when they begin to play from “relaxed,” that’s when the really low rounds begin to consistently show up.

And as they begin to rise up the food chain, the good ones forget who they used to be and instead begin to accept who they’ve become.

That’s all the PGA Tour is about: finding your genius and then accepting that that’s who you are.

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