Stars eye big finish in FedEx Cup playoffs

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Hideki Matsuyama of Japan in action during practice for The Northern Trust at Glen Oaks Club on Thursday in Westbury, New York. AFP PHOTO

NEW YORK: FedEx Cup points leader Hideki Matsuyama is anything but complacent heading into the US PGA Tour playoffs with major winners Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth on his heels.

“It has been a really good season, great season for me,” said Matsuyama, whose three tour wins this season include two World Golf Championships titles.

He was again unable to break through for a first major title. Winning the FedEx C— and the $10 million bonus that comes with it — would be some consolation for that major disappointment, but Matsuyama said he’s going into the Northern Trust at Glen Oaks Club in Old Westbury, New York, focused on his game—not the standings.

“It really just begins now, because unless I play well in the next four events, I’m not going to be the FedEx Cup Champion,” Matsuyama said.

The series will culminate with the Tour Championship in September, with the top five in the standings able to claim the bonus with a win in the season finale.

“Of course I want to be in the top five going into the Tour Championship, that’s my goal,” Matsuyama said. “The best way to do that is just to play well.”

Matsuyama, Thomas and Spieth are separated by just 198 points atop the playoff points standings, with world number one Dustin Johnson in fourth.

Thomas, who captured his first major title at the PGA Championship two weeks ago, is also looking ahead rather than back.

“I tried to forget about it as quick as possible,” the 24-year-old American said. “It was like, look, it’s awesome. I’m extremely happy I did it. I’m proud of myself and proud of me and my team.

“It’s over with, and you know, I’ll enjoy it in the offseason.”

In addition to his major breakthrough, Thomas had wins at the CIMB Classic, the Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open. Playoff success would no doubt cement his status as Player of the Year.

“I’d much rather hear you say that four events later than probably now,” said Thomas, who knows his good buddy Spieth also has a good chance at the prestigious award.

Spieth grinding
In addition to the British Open, Spieth won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Travelers Championship this season.

“The playoffs are very important, this year,” Spieth said of the weight the post-season could carry in the Player of the Year chase.

“It’s a close race right now. I think it’s between four guys, in my opinion. So it’s a fight and it’s something that is keeping me going out and grinding at the end of a really good season.”

Johnson, whose early-season surge saw him win the Genesis Open in Los Angeles and two World Golf Championships titles before injury forced him out of the Masters in April, is seeking a big finish to a season that started out so well.

“I’m looking for a really good finish to the year,” Johnson said. “Obviously at the end, I’d like to be the FedExCup champion.”

While the playoffs offer some a chance to cap successful seasons, for Rory McIlroy they’re an opportunity to salvage a disappointing one.

The defending FedEx Cup champion almost opted out as he continued to struggle with the effects of an early season rib injury.

But he decided he could manage the pain through four more tournaments in hopes of a first win of 2017.

“I haven’t not won a tournament since the 2008 season, which was my real rookie season on the European Tour.

“Even in 2013 when I struggled, I went down to Australia at the end of the year and I won – and it made the end of the year feel pretty good. I’d like to have that feeling again.”

AFP

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