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Scramble for FedEx Cup top 125 highlights life on the bubble

Kevin Stadler and Chris Riley may have lost the playoff for the Wyndham Championship after taking a share of the lead into the final round, but both played their way into the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedEx Cup starting next week.

Also cracking the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings and making the field for The Barclays at Liberty National next week were Todd Hamilton, Jeff Maggert and Tour rookie David Mathis. Hamilton and Mathis will be making their debuts.

Stadler, who shot 66 on Sunday to get into a playoff with Jason Bohn and the eventual champ, Ryan Moore, said getting back into the Playoffs was his original goal this week. He made the biggest leap, too, starting at No. 133 and moving up 57 spots. Stadler had played in the first two events in 2007 but missed out last year.

"It's great," Stadler said when reminded there was a silver lining to Sunday's playoff disappointment. "That's basically what I had in mind coming in here. Obviously those changed a little bit on the back nine. Still very positive week."

A win on Sunday would have been the first of Stadler's career, as it was for Moore, who moved up 54 spots to 22nd in the FedEx Cup race. It would also have come at the same tournament his father, Kevin, won in 1980 when his son was two months old.

Riley was looking to win for the first time since his breakthrough Tour victory in 2002. He's only had 13 top 10s in the seven years since, including just one each of the last three seasons, so playing in the final group was something of a learning experience.

At the same time, though, Riley managed to move up 10 spots to No. 119 in the FedEx Cup standings. He'll be making his Playoffs debut.

"I'm happy with the week," Riley said. "I did my goal. I wanted to get into the Playoffs. I just haven't been there for so long. I was pretty nervous all day and just never really settled in. Actually didn't play that well.

" ... I missed a couple of short putts coming in. It's tough because I used to finish better than that. When you've been there before and you can't do what you used to do it's kind of like a professional athlete that knew he used to have the speed and he doesn't have it any more.

"But I'm still working on it."

Hamilton started the week ranked 128th in the FedEx Cup and moved up seven spots. The 2004 British Open champion played steady all week and will get to compete in the Playoffs for the first time after closing with a 67 and tying for 24th.

"I am very happy," Hamilton said. "I've done a lot of things well this year. I don't think I've gotten the rewards out of it. It's nice to finally hit some good golf shots, not two or three days but four straight days, and knock some putts in on top of that.

"Very happy with what happened and I have to put the college football off one more week."

The three-time All-America at Oklahoma is in the final year of his exemption for winning at Royal Troon. So finishing in the top 125 on the money list is on his mind just like trying to play well enough at Liberty National to advance to the second Playoff event.

First thing's first, though. And Hamilton is excited to be a part of the Playoffs.

"After next week, the top 100 guys that are on the edge, there's a lot of excitement there," Hamilton said. "I think the guys that are on the cusp of winning and the guys that are on the cusp of advancing, I think that's where all your excitement is.

"To me it's pretty neat. I'd like to be one of the guys that has a chance to win instead of one of guys that has a chance to advance."

Mathis, who made the cut on the number, used a career-best finish of a tie for 17th to advance to the Playoffs for the first time in his career. The PGA Tour rookie started the week at No. 126 but moved up eight spots with rounds of 65 and 67 on the weekend.

"It's been a lot of years of hard work and persevering for times that I've struggled," Mathis said. "It's nice to be in this spot. I didn't want to be behind the 8-ball coming in but it just happened to be the situation I was in.

"Fortunately enough, I hit enough good shots and made enough putts to climb up the board and get a start next week."

Things didn't look good, though, when Mathis was 2 under through 36 holes. He moved up into a tie for 27th with that 65 in the rain-prolonged third round and capped off that 67 with a birdie on the 72nd hole.

"When you're outside the bubble by one person or two people and you're just trying to accumulate enough points to get in, you're trying to grind it out," Mathis said. "When I made the cut right on the number it was like I would have fallen down to 132 on the projected.

"I'm going okay, I need to play well the next couple days and, you know, fortunate for me, I managed to."

Mathis sees his spot at Liberty National as something of a bonus. A year ago he was playing the Nationwide Tour where there is no Playoffs and "no 10 million prize at the end, either," he said, grinning broadly.

"I was aware but I didn't think too much about it, right, because, you know, when you're playing on the Nationwide Tour you're just going, 'All right, I got to make as much money as I can as fast as I can to try to get to the Tour,'" Mathis said.

"Everybody has got the same goal. And now you're going into a little different scenario than you're used to with the Playoffs and the points. It's a little bit different."

Mathis, who spent last week working on his game with his instructor, Pat Kelly, admitted he had contemplated having to take a break next week. He had played eight straight weeks leading up to the Legends Reno-Tahoe Open.

"Gosh, now I'm back to the grind, trying to play as good as I can going into next week," he said.

August 24, 2009

 




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