PARAMUS, N.J. — The volatility of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoff format was on full display Sunday afternoon outside the pro shop at Ridgewood Country Club. Thanks to a final-hole bogey, Troy Merritt lost his spot among the players who were projected to advance to the Deutsche Bank Championship next weekend.
Not to worry. Without hitting a shot, Merritt was suddenly back in, courtesy of a few bogeys by players still on the course, which rearranged the Barclays leaderboard — and the tour’s points standings — with almost every shot.
Merritt’s status took the form of a yo-yo: He was No. 102 after 16 holes (only the top 100 players qualify for the DBC, which starts Friday at TPC Boston in Norton). Out. After a birdie at No. 17, he was up to 97. In. The bogey at No. 18 dropped him to 101. Out. While meeting with the media after his round, Merritt was interrupted twice by a PGA Tour official: He was No. 100, then up to 99th. In.
“He always plays better when he’s off the course,” said Merritt’s brother and caddie, Tim Merritt.
That post-round surge was short-lived, though. In the end, with his work day complete and so much golf left to be played by so many others, Merritt finished on the wrong side of the cut-off. Barely. At No. 101 on the points list, Merritt’s playoffs are over. He finished 2 points behind Geoff Ogilvy, who missed the cut at the Barclays, but still earns the last DBC spot.
“Obviously my fate’s in the hands of others,” Merritt said after his round. “It’s never the situation that you want as a golfer, but nonetheless it’s where I am.”
As the feeder tournament into the DBC, the Barclays always makes news on two fronts: Who wins the tournament — for the record, it was Hunter Mahan, by two shots over Jason Day, Stuart Appleby, and Cameron Tringale — and who either plays their way into the top 100, or falls out.
Add a new category this year: Who is safely inside the top 100, but is still choosing not to play in Norton, despite being eligible for the $8 million tournament. That group includes at least six players. The absence of Dustin Johnson (who’s taken a leave from the tour) and the expected absence of Jason Dufner (neck injury) have been known for some time. They’ll now be joined by at least four others: Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell, and Paul Casey. There’s no alternate player rule in effect so, barring any more defections, the DBC will have just 94 players in the field.
There’s a chance there could be more. Phil Mickelson flew home to California on Saturday and wasn’t sure if he’d play the DBC. Rory McIlroy, the top-ranked player in the world who was looking to win his fourth straight tournament (he tied for 22d instead), confirmed that he will play at TPC Boston, where he won two years ago.
McDowell and Casey share the same reason for not playing: Their wives are about to give birth, both via cesarean section. McDowell’s wife is scheduled to deliver on Monday morning, and Casey’s wife one week later, which comes on the day of the final round at the DBC.
“I’ll send my apologies to the Deutsche Bank Championship, but there is a good reason,” said Casey, who actually began the Barclays at No. 118 on the points list, then improved to 85th after a tie for 22d.
Said McDowell, now 39th on the points list: “We planned it for the Monday of Deutsche Bank to give myself as much breathing room to perhaps play Boston. Mathematically, I knew I was kind of guaranteed Colorado [the BMW Championship, the third playoff event, is in Denver, with only the top 70 players eligible]. I’ve decided to give myself the week off and be with the family.”
There is another factor why eligible players are voluntarily skipping the DBC. This is a Ryder Cup year, and Rose and Garcia — likely McDowell as well — will be on Europe’s team. With no off week scheduled between any of the four playoff events, skipping one gives those Ryder Cup participants extra rest. Expect a few players to bail on the BMW Championship using the same strategy, especially if they’ve solidified their place in the season-ending, 30-player Tour Championship. The FedEx Cup champion earns $10 million.
So who else played their way into the top 100, besides Casey? A group of six: Bo Van Pelt (who began the week No. 104), Stewart Cink (109), Andres Romero (110), Danny Lee (116), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (119), and Morgan Hoffmann (124). Hoffmann had the most ground to make up, but with a ninth-place finish at Ridgewood actually made the biggest move among the seven top-100 crashers, jumping 52 spots to No. 72.
On the flip side, that meant seven players were bumped out of the top 100 and can’t play the DBC. That list includes Jonas Blixt (No. 92 before the Barclays), Kevin Kisner (93), Nick Watney (94), Luke Guthrie (95), Retief Goosen (96), Rory Sabbatini (97), and Brian Davis (100). Goosen came the closest to advancing, and was inside the top 100 at times during Sunday’s final round. But he double bogeyed the 17th hole, ending his chances.
For Mahan, the trip to Norton will be a pleasant one after shooting a 6-under 65 that included three consecutive birdies on the back nine to edge Appleby (65), Tringale (66), and Day (68) for the Barclays title.
The win snapped an 0-for-46 drought for Mahan, who also hoped to impress Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson and claim one of the three captain’s picks.