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The Month Ahead - September

By: Tony Dear


September gets underway with the second, third and fourth rounds of the Deutsche Bank Championship, where every player currently ranked outside the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings, plus a handful within it, will desperately squeeze out as many birdies as they possibly can in hopes of riding the velvet tracks on the FedEx gravy train for one more week at least.

After his win last week at Bethpage Black in the Barclays, and his 2,500-point haul, Nick Watney climbed from 49th spot to first on the list, satisfying those who called for a system that gave players ample opportunity to make such jumps, but upsetting those who called for a system that sought to prevent them. Wherever you stand on the debate, the fact remains Charl Schwartzel, in 71st place at the start of the tournament, could leave Boston on Monday evening with the same number of points as Watney provided he wins and Watney finishes outside the top 85.

From TPC Boston, the 70 still alive will move to Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind., for the BMW Championship. Committed fans of the game will recognize the 1967 Pete Dye design - the third of his career - from the 2009 U.S. Senior Open, 2005 Solheim Cup, and maybe even the 1993 U.S. Women's Open. But it's likely most viewers will be seeing it for the first time since "Long John" Daly landed on golf with a crash at the 1991 PGA Championship. That was 21 years ago admittedly but, rest assured, those that saw it from either behind the ropes or on television will never forget it.

Daly completed four loops of the 7,289-yard course, which the 51-year-old Jack Nicklaus described as the toughest he'd ever played, at 12-under 276 that week, hitting the ball distances which seemed utterly implausible 21 years ago, but which are now commonplace. Indeed, Daly led the PGA Tour's driving distance category in 1991 with an average blow of 288.9 yards. Rod Pampling, the mighty Australian, is averaging the same on this year's PGA Tour but sits in 106th place.

To combat the largely unchecked increases in distance the game's top players now hit their multi-layer poly-urethane projectiles, Crooked Stick will play to a little over 7,500 yards, a distance Dye himself still regards as insufficient to avoid another low winning total. Speaking to PGATour.com recently, Dye predicted the field will carry their tee balls 260-270 yards onto down-slopes, thus reducing the long par-4s to drive-and-pitch holes and making the par-5s easily reachable in two. It's unlikely anyone will surpass the 20-under 268, which led Fred Funk to victory in the '09 Senior Open, when the course was 7,244 yards long. But if the greens are holding it's possible someone will get close.

From Indiana, only the top 30 on the FedEx standings will make the journey south to Atlanta for the Tour Championship at East Lake. They'll have 10 days to get there though, as the Tour takes a week off before the big finale to give TV announcers, fans and the players themselves enough time to work out all the "what-ifs." What if, for example, the FedEx leader finishes 12th, three shots behind the man in second, but eight behind the man in 19th who wins the tournament? What then?

There's no doubt that, with the title and $10 million on the line, the final round can be extremely exciting. But a measure of drama is certainly lost when, instead of watching the next shot, you are frantically muddling through the mathematical permutations in your head, or rather hoping the announcers have worked it all out for you. It helps when one of the players in the top five heading to East Lake wins the Tour Championship, thus guaranteeing victory in the FedEx Cup. But two years ago, Jim Furyk came from 11th in the rankings to win, and last year Bill Haas somehow won the FedEx Cup having started the week in 25th place.

Blah, blah, blah. Yada, Yada, Yada. FedEx Cup Schmedex Schmup. The playoffs will command your attention for sure. But they will pale against the month's final event, the Ryder Cup which, according to Rydercup.com, was 27 days, 10 hours, 55 minutes, and 22 seconds away at the moment the period at the end of this sentence was added.

Yes, the biennial encounter has become grossly over-commercialized, with venues paying for the privilege of hosting the tournament and the spirit Samuel Ryder intended the matches to be played in has been diluted somewhat. But it still provides the three most exhilarating days of golf of the year (and probably the next - with all due respect to the Presidents Cup, which may never match the intensity of the Ryder Cup).

The European team was finalized last week when captain Jose Maria Olazabal chose Ian Poulter and Nicolas Colsaerts to join the 10 that had already qualified via the European and world points lists. Only eight of the U.S. team is known right now as captain Davis Love doesn't reveal his four picks until September 4th.

The players in ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th in the Ryder Cup standings on September 1st were Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Furyk and Rickie Fowler, and it would seem perfectly reasonable, you'd think, for Love to choose them. Furyk and Stricker would bring a combined nine Ryder Cups' worth of experience. Mahan won twice before the Masters this year, and would be determined to avenge his singles defeat to Graeme McDowell at the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales. And Fowler not only won the prestigious Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow earlier this season, he also has happy memories of the competition after halving his singles match against Edoardo Molinari at Celtic Manor having been four down with six to play.

But therein lies the captain's dilemma.

By opting for the players ranked nine through 12, Love would leave no room on the team bus for Brandt Snedeker, who finished tied for third at the Open Championship six weeks ago and second at The Barclays last week. Also missing out would be Dustin Johnson, who missed three months at the start of the year due to injury but who's come back strongly, winning the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June. Johnson's length off the tee would be a distinct advantage at a course measuring a staggering 7,658 yards, and though his record at the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales wasn't outstanding (1-3-0), he did hammer Martin Kaymer 6 and 4 in the singles.

And could Love have been so impressed by Kyle Stanley's win in Phoenix a week after his meltdown at Torrey Pines that he is willing to go a little further down the list to find his wild (really wild) cards? Might Nick Watney's victory in New York have swung the needle in his favor?

Whoever makes it on to the team, the U.S. will be looking to win for only the second time this century. At the moment, seven of the UK's biggest bookies are making the U.S. the odds-on favorite, which seems a little strange when you consider the Cup's recent history, but is really quite understandable given the excellent form most of the American players are in.

The year 2012 has seen its share of exciting moments already and, with the Ryder Cup and culmination of the FedEx Cup, September should keep you royally entertained, too.

Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it extremely difficult for him to focus on Politics, his chosen major. After leaving Liverpool, he worked as a golf instructor at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a 'player.' He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. He is a multi-award winning journalist, and edits his own website at www.bellinghamgolfer.com.