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Sunday, August 19, 2012
Updated: August 20, 8:36 PM ET
Will Bethpage Black still be brutal?

ESPN.com

We're talking about playoffs? Yup, the four-week cash grab that is the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs begins this week just east of New York City.

So why is one of the year's top players skipping the opener? And although fans will surely remember Bethpage Black from the two U.S. Opens it hosted, how will the testing track play?

Our experts analyze all that and more in our latest edition of Monday Four-Ball.


1. Thumbs up, thumbs down on Jason Dufner skipping the Barclays?


Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: Thumbs up. As long as the playoffs have a point system that will allow guys to take off with no fear of missing the tour championship, I don't blame the player. Now for him to win the FedEx Cup, he might need some help, but Dufner doesn't seem like the kind of guy to get real stressed out over it.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Thumbs down. It's odd decision, especially with all the work he's put in to get to second in the FedEx Cup standings. He says he plans to get some rest and practice in before next week's Deutsche Bank Championship. After a career year with eight top-10s, including two wins, he should be one of the headliners in the first playoff event. He can rest in the offseason while watching his beloved Auburn Tigers.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Thumbs up. The PGA Tour likes to throw out the "independent contractor'' stuff when it comes to player schedules, so the same applies here. He's taking a risk, because the points now are tripled. Then again, he could have played and missed the cut. It does, however, point out that calling these tournaments "playoffs'' is a poor choice of word. Playoffs suggest elimination, and Dufner hardly has to worry about that.

Ian O'Connor, ESPNNewYork.com columnist: An emphatic thumbs down. You can't have a playoff system allowing its No. 2 seed to sit out the first round and remain alive and well in Round 2. This is why there should be no regular-season points carryover in the FedEx Cup and why everyone should start from scratch at the Barclays, from 1 through 125. The 1998 Yankees won 114 games and it didn't mean a thing in the Division Series. That sudden-death possibility creates the drama required in any credible playoff system.


2. Bethpage Black hosts the PGA Tour playoffs opener. How different do you expect the setup to be compared to the two U.S. Opens held there?


Michael Collins: Well, the weather shouldn't be an issue as it was in 2009 (of course, now I've jinxed it). The course is playing to a par 71, which gives the guys an extra par 5, as in three instead of two. The fairways will be wider and the greens won't be as spiked marked up. That being said, I bet 4 under (the winning score in 2009 U.S. Open there) will still get you a pretty nice check, if not a top-20 finish.

Farrell Evans: I play there often, and it's hard 365 days a year. I say it all the time, the only way to adequately change the setup with the Black is to play the ladies' tees.

Bob Harig: It's clearly going to be easier. The tour doesn't want to rankle its membership with a U.S. Open setup consisting of brutal rough, narrow fairways and rock-hard greens. Par has been adjusted to 71, as well. It will still be a tough test, but the players won't be as beat up as they were at the two U.S. Opens.

Ian O'Connor: I suspect the course won't be as penal as it was for the two U.S. Opens played there, but I hope that isn't the case. I don't want Bethpage defanged for the sake of more birdies. I'd like to see the course give the Barclays something of a major championship feel and play as tough as the New York crowds.


3. Give us a player who is outside the top 100 in the FedEx Cup points list who will play his way into next week's Deutsche Bank Championship?


Michael Collins: Trevor Immelman. After missed cuts at Greenbrier and the Open Championship, he's had three solid outings and is improving every week. I look for him to make a jump from 114th to inside the top 100 and play at TPC Boston next week.

Farrell Evans: Davis Love III. The 48-year-old U.S. Ryder Cup captain has no pressure to play well with the responsibilities looming at Medinah. At 105th in the standings, he's in a great position with a good tournament at Bethpage to punch his ticket to Boston. Also, the 20-time tour winner is coming off a T-10 at Greensboro, only his second top 10 of the year.

Bob Harig: Davis Love III. The U.S. Ryder Cup captain is currently 105th in points, which means a decent week moves him on to the Deutsche Bank Championship. He played nicely in Greensboro to move up and surely wants to set a good example for his team. No better way to do that than to play well.

Ian O'Connor: Kevin Streelman. Solid player with tri-state area roots who seems to like this time of year. He had a shot to win the Barclays at Ridgewood in 2008, playing alongside the cemetery where his grandparents are buried. Streelman had a top-10 at the John Deere this year and played pretty well at the Wyndham last week.


4. Fact or fiction: The PGA Tour playoffs have been a success.


Michael Collins: Last year it took two guys on three computers making calculations that would have made Stephen Hawking proud coming down the stretch on Sunday at the Tour Championship. That being said, the excitement around the tent and in the stands was definitely palpable. There are still tweaks that need to be made, but every year the playoffs are getting bigger and better. Isn't that what the Super Bowl did? Worked for them.

Farrell Evans: Fact. The playoffs continually evolve and fan interest hasn't waned through the years. The top players compete in the tournaments, and much of the golf is good and compelling.

Bob Harig: Fact. We can grumble about the format or find ways to make the system better, but there's no way we'd have four tournaments with excellent fields at this time of year were there not a FedEx Cup playoff system. And next year it will be even better, as the Tour Championship will mark the true end to the PGA Tour season.

Ian O'Connor: Fiction. Only when there's no points carryover into the postseason will the FedEx Cup be a success. Sports fans don't want to be bothered doing the math. Bring the top 125 to the Barclays and let the top 100 there advance to Deutsche Bank Championship. Then let the top 70 there advance to the BMW, and then turn the top 30 loose in a steel cage match at the Tour Championship. Yeah, this system allows for Tiger and Rory to get eliminated in the early rounds, hurting TV ratings later, but the added intrigue makes that remote possibility worth it.