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Wyndham marks the sprint stage toward the Playoffs





Ernie Els' Hall of Fame resume gets no extra credit in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup. He's 126th in points with only the Wyndham Championship remaining to accumulate points.

What has been a marathon becomes a sprint.

What has been 32 events, seven and a half months and 147 rounds of golf (counting the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship) becomes a four-day, 72-hole dash to the FedExCup Playoffs.

Who's in for a shot at the $10 million first prize? (Heck, even the fifth-place finisher receives a cool million.) Who's out?

Who knows?

What we do know is this week's Wyndham Championship already has become a playoff event for multiple-major winners such as Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Angel Cabrera. All three are currently not in the top 125 in the FedExCup standings -- Els is 126th, Harrrington 130th and Cabrera 150th -- so they have to make this week's cut at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., just to have a shot at playing in The Barclays, next week's playoff opener. Harrington even interrupted a planned family vacation to put the Wyndham Championship on his schedule at the last minute, as did Els and two-time major champion Retief Goosen (No. 106).

Also needing strong weeks this week to keep their playoff hopes alive are three players who were once ranked among the world's top 10: Camilo Villegas (No. 125), Justin Leonard (No 142) and Paul Casey (No. 147). That's the beauty of golf -- the sport only cares how good you are, not how good you were.

We also know Tiger Woods, who won two of the first three FedExCups, won't have a shot at a third. Woods, who is 129th in the standings, said he couldn't play this week because of a family commitment. The way he struggled at the PGA -- missing the cut by a whopping six shots -- Woods was no guarantee to qualify this week, anyway.

Last year's British Open champion, Louis Oosthuizen (No. 145), is among the few prominent players not in the top 125 to skip Wyndham, meaning his PGA TOUR season is over.

But this week isn't about who isn't here. This, in fact, may be the best field the Wyndham Championship has attracted in its late-season spot. It says something that former British Open champion Todd Hamilton is currently first alternate.

It was just six years ago when this tournament seemed to be on life-support. Charity donations were down. Most of the PGA TOUR's top players were skipping the event. Sponsors were leaving and many fans stopped coming.

But the combination of luring Wyndham as a sponsor, moving the tournament from Forest Oaks Country Club back to Sedgefield C.C., where the tournament was held from 1961-76, and the efforts of Bobby Long, a wealthy local businessman who's now the chairman of the Piedmont Triad Charitable Foundation, which runs the event, saved the day.

"This tournament is on the move," Long told the Greensboro News & Record last week.

Now it's many of the players who need to make a move. The PGA TOUR showed its depth last week when Keegan Bradley, playing in his first major championship, outdueled unheralded Jason Dufner down the stretch to win the 93rd PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. Bradley's unexpected victory continues the year's theme of the younger generation making the most noise on the PGA TOUR.

Bradley (No. 4) is among six rookies ranked inside the top 50 in the FedExCup standings; he's joined by Masters champion Charl Schwartzel (No. 21), Scott Stallings (No. 30), Jhonattan Vegas (No. 34), Brendan Steele (No. 39) and Kyle Stanley (No. 47). Each of these youngsters is just one top playoff finish away from qualifying for the playoff-ending THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola and all the perks that go along with it.

Heath Slocum showed two years ago that all you have to do is finish in the top 125 to have a chance. He barely qualified at No. 124, but then won The Barclays and shot up to No. 8 on the final standings.

There is $67 million at stake in the FedExCup Playoff, including the bonus and purse money. But you can't have a shot at the truckloads of money if you're not in the top 125.

Harrington had it correct. A vacation can wait. It's time for a shot at history. 

Images by Franklin/Getty Images.

By Craig Dolch.

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