By Jeff Shain, Tribune newspapers
September 22, 2011
ATLANTA — Tiger Woods didn't qualify for the Tour Championship, his second consecutive miss. Nor is Jim Furyk around to defend his title.
They account for three of the four FedEx Cup crowns awarded since the PGA Tour's "playoff" series was introduced. Vijay Singh did make the 30-man lineup but needs serious help to take home the $10 million FedEx top prize. Ditto for Phil Mickelson.
Suffice it to say the FedEx Cup will have a fresh champion when the final putt drops Sunday at East Lake Golf Club. And it very well could come from a new generation starting to make its mark on the PGA Tour.
"It's been a tremendously rewarding year from the standpoint of watching so many good young players succeed," tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said.
Ten of this week's top 11 players in the FedEx Cup standings are 33 or younger, including each of the five who can capture the points title with no outside help.
No. 1 Webb Simpson (age 26) and No. 2 Dustin Johnson (27) are among eight players in their 20s who made it to East Lake. They have claimed two of the three FedEx series wins thus far, joined by No. 3 Justin Rose (31).
Twentysomethings account for half of the tour's six double winners in 2011 — Simpson, Nick Watney (28) and rookie Keegan Bradley (25). Bradley's triumph at the PGA Championship ended a drought of six consecutive majors without an American winner.
"It's been great for the tour to get good young players having success," said Mickelson, 41, one of just six players at East Lake in their 40s. "And the guys we have coming up that have had success are quality guys."
As part of his annual "State of the Tour" briefing, Finchem noted that the circuit has gone nearly overnight from having one dominant player — Woods — "to all the way at the other end of the spectrum."
"I think it's the beginning of a snowball," Finchem said. "When I go around the country, the first thing I hear from people is, 'Boy, you've got a lot of great young players right now, and they're so athletic and fun to watch on the golf course.'"
Simpson is in unfamiliar territory. Not only is he No. 1, but this is his first Tour Championship appearance. Last year, he didn't secure his membership for 2011 until the next-to-last event of the Fall Series.
"It's just crazy what can happen in a year," said Simpson, who won the regular-season finale and two weeks later at the Deutsche Bank Championship. "I'm kind of shaking my head looking back at this year."
Johnson, Rose, No. 4 Luke Donald and No. 5 Matt Kuchar also can capture the FedEx crown simply by winning. That quintet and No. 6 Brandt Snedeker even could walk away with the $10 million prize even without a victory, depending on other finishes.
For guys like Woods and Singh, that $10 million champion's bonus might not have made as big an impact on their bank accounts. However, it's certainly catches the eye of this generation.
"The zeros definitely catch your attention," Johnson said. "That's a lot of money — enough for you to think about, for sure."
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