A strong showing in the tournament that starts today could propel them into the FedEx Cup playoffs. But a rough week in central North Carolina, and they can forget about the postseason.
“There is a different sort of feel to it ... and your preparation is different,” Harrington said. “It’s definitely a distraction in it, and yeah, maybe on Sunday if I’m right in the bubble coming down the stretch. ... Starting off as well (today), you could be a little bit cautious, because you’re trying not to play your way out of anything at the start.”
Harrington arrived at Sedgefield County Club at No. 129 on the points list and probably needs to break the top 40 to jump into the playoff field. The top 125 qualify for The Barclays next week.
Only one bubble player played his way into the postseason at this event last year, and among the recognizable names joining Harrington outside the top 125 are Vijay Singh, David Toms and Davis Love III.
“All the work I do this week, it really isn’t to be playing well next Monday,” Harrington said. “It’s to be playing well this week, whereas at most regular events, as much as you’re trying to play that well that week, you’re always trying to get your game ready going forward, whereas this week has a finite end to it.
“If I don’t play well this week,” he added, “it’s the end of the season for me over here.”
There isn’t quite as much urgency for past winners Brandt Snedeker and Webb Simpson because their playoff spots have long been secured.
At No. 3 on the points list and No. 7 in the world golf rankings, Snedeker — who won this tournament in 2007 — is the top-rated player in the field.
Simpson, the 2011 winner, isn’t too far back at No. 18 on the points list and 26th in the world rankings, and another victory here could give him enough points to qualify for the Tour Championship, the final event in the four-week playoff schedule.
“Every point means something,” Snedeker said.
Those two join defending champion Sergio Garcia for a threesome today and Friday.
A bad sign for Garcia? Nobody has won this tournament two years in a row since Sam Snead in 1955-56.
“It’s part of the tournament, I guess, to see the history of it, but I don’t know what the actual cause of it is,” Garcia said. “Obviously, I think that it’s a very demanding golf course. ... Hopefully, it will be nice to change that bit of history. The only thing I can do is go out there, hopefully play well like I know I can do and we’ll see if that’s good enough to repeat.”
Low scores certainly have been the norm for winners at Sedgefield.
The last two champions — Simpson and Garcia — finished at 18 under par when they won, 2010 winner Arjun Atwal was at 20 under and Carl Pettersson set a tournament record with a 21-under performance in 2008 in its first year back at this course.
Snedeker predicted a score of 12- to 15-under might be good enough to win here this year because the greens are playing faster.
“Last year, what got the scores a lot lower was how much rain we got and the greens softened up,” Simpson said. “I don’t quite see 18 (under) being out there, but you never know with how good guys are playing. You get hot. But I definitely think it’s more challenging than it was.”