Technically, the Barclays is the opener of the PGA Tour's four-event FedEx Cup playoff series. But the real playoff for American golfers is the race for four open spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team to be selected by captain Davis Love III, who will make that announcement Sept. 4 in New York following this week's Deutsche Bank event in Boston.
Barclays winner Nick Watney, who was considered a long shot, probably put himself in the conversation. But the two players who might have made the most headway with Love were second-place finisher Brandt Snedeker and Dustin Johnson, the defending Barclays champ who tied for third with Spain's Sergio Garcia.
Johnson got a late start this season coming off knee surgery in November, and he missed nearly three months in the spring with a back injury. But he won in Memphis, and a final-round 68 to finish 6 under par on Bethpage Black positioned him for a late Ryder run.
Describing a recent conversation with Love, Johnson said: "He said, 'Just go play golf and don't worry about it.' That's what I'm trying to do, but you're always thinking about it because the Ryder Cup is so special.
"These two weeks are huge, especially for me because I haven't played all that much this year. I need to have a strong couple weeks, which I did this week."
Starting with the British Open, Snedeker has played six straight weeks with the Ryder Cup in mind. "I think I'm playing the best I can," Snedeker said. "I love doing this. Ryder Cup's definitely on my mind. It gives me more motivation to do it, and if I do that, it will make the decision easy for them."
Johnson made a move to challenge the leaders with a 3-under 33 on the front nine before a three-putt bogey at the 12th. He reached 7 under for the tournament with birdies at the 14th and 15th, but he three-putted the 17th for bogey and lipped out a birdie putt at the final hole.
"I played really well other than two, three putts on the back side, which hurt me," Johnson said. "Today, the greens were significantly slower than [Saturday]. It was a little harder to make yourself hit it."
Snedeker, who shot 1-under 70 in the final round to finish at 7 under for the week, said Bethpage was "the winner this week . . . Just a great test of golf and, more importantly, a great test of how mentally strong you could stay over the last 36 holes."
Putting was tough even though PGA Tour officials slowed the speed of the greens between the third and fourth rounds. "[Saturday], the greens got out of hand," Snedeker said. "I know some guys got barbecued for saying that, but that's the truth. They did a great job today of getting the course back to playable."
The major championship setup at Bethpage Black is what made the performances of Snedeker and Johnson so impressive as Love considers his Ryder Cup lineup for Sept. 25-30 at Medinah in Chicago. As Johnson said, "Playing well here definitely can't hurt."