ATLANTA (Reuters) - Bubba Watson has never been a great fan of East Lake Golf Club but he is excited to be at the iconic venue for this week’s Tour Championship where he carries his highest ever FedExCup ranking into the PGA Tour finale.
Though the long-hitting American has not always thrived at East Lake because of its tight fairways and clinging rough, he is in an ideal position to clinch FedExCup playoff honors and the eye-popping $10 million bonus that comes with it.
Every player in this week’s elite field of 29 has a mathematical chance of claiming both titles but only Watson and four others are automatically guaranteed the overall playoff prize by winning the Tour Championship.
“This is my best ranking ever coming into this tournament,” Masters champion Watson, who sits third in the FedExCup standings, told reporters at East Lake on Tuesday.
“Last time I played here, I finished fifth (at the Tour Championship), which was pretty good for me around this track. So I am looking forward to it, looking forward to the challenge and trying to improve on the ranking there.”
Watson has competed in the Tour Championship four times since the FedExCup playoffs were launched in 2007, finishing stone last in 2008, joint 17th in 2010, tied for 23rd in 2011 and joint fifth in 2012.
“It’s always in perfect shape,” Watson said of East Lake. “The greens are always running good. But the grass, the Bermuda, and tighter fairways, for me it’s not good. And then I catch a lot of flyers. The ball doesn’t stop out of this grass for me.
“So it’s a very difficult golf course for me, but I love it. Again, we’re trying to challenge ourselves, and this is what we have to play, this is what we have to do if we want to improve in the FedExCup or win a golf tournament. We have to play well.”
Any of the top five in the points standings would clinch the FedExCup by winning the Tour Championship - and that quintet comprises top-ranked Chris Kirk, Billy Horschel (second), Watson, Rory McIlroy (fourth) and Hunter Mahan (fifth).
“Well, truthfully, I don’t know about the other guys but I don’t look at FedExCup, I’m looking at a golf tournament,” said Watson, who has triumphed twice on the 2013-14 PGA Tour during the most consistent of his career. “We’re trying to win.
“Obviously I’m in the situation now where if I win it takes care of itself. Come in second, there’s a few other things that have to happen. Coming in third, I don’t even know if I have a chance. But I think second I have a chance.”
As things stand, Watson can finish as low as joint fourth and still have a mathematical chance of winning the FedExCup, depending on how the players ranked above him fare.
Northern Irish world number one McIlroy will be seeking his fifth victory of the year worldwide and can finish as low as tied for third at the Tour Championship and still have a mathematical chance of winning playoff honors.
Only 29 players have qualified for the last of the four playoff events after 125 started out at the Barclays tournament won by American Mahan at Ridgewood Country Club last month.
Each of those 29 has a mathematical chance of winning the FedExCup, with the points having been reset since last week’s BMW Championship. However that likelihood diminishes the lower down the standings the player sits going into this week’s event.
Long-hitting American Gary Woodland, ranked 29th, needs to win the Tour Championship with overall points leader Kirk finishing 27th or worse, along with several other scenarios.
American Dustin Johnson finished 30th in the FedExCup standings but has not competed on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut at the Canadian Open in July, having taken an indefinite leave of absence to deal with “personal challenges”.
Editing by Frank Pingue