EDISON, N.J. -- The Barclays is going to finish a day earlier than scheduled, and not a minute too soon, as far as the golfers are concerned. Considering the crowd on top of the leader board, they are expecting an exciting ending. Mostly, they are relieved there will be one.
Tournament officials announced Friday at Plainfield Country Club that the first leg in the four-week PGA Tour FedEx Cup playoffs will be reduced to 54 holes from the usual 72. Slugger White, the tour's vice president for rules and competitions, cited public safety, course conditions and a grim Saturday forecast in advance of Hurricane Irene.
Players did not argue.
"It's an early call and a fair call," Padraig Harrington said, adding that he learned about the decision on his 12th hole Friday, on the way to a 4-under-par 67 that left him tied for fifth at 10 under, four shots out of the lead. To be sure, a fourth round might have given Harrington time to catch up to Matt Kuchar, the leader, and improve his own points total in the playoff race.
Still, he said: "There are bigger things going on once this hurricane hits. To be worried about coming back for the last round of a golf tournament is -- I can't think of what the word is -- but it doesn't seem right."
Kuchar, who learned of the tour's announcement on the 17th hole, said: "I think they definitely made the right decision with 54 holes. I think all of us are going to be excited to wrap this thing up and get out of here as quickly and safely as we can."
Saturday tee times have been moved up, with the leaders starting at 8:50 a.m., in an effort to beat the first effects of the hurricane. There was no thought of trying to play 36 holes Saturday, or of postponing the fourth round a day or two. White said: "When we are looking at maybe six to 10 inches of rain, we would have probably four holes . . . We may not get a canoe to them."
"It has been interesting to think of a potential to go to Tuesday," Kuchar said, "and of them asking us to stay around Sunday and Monday, just in case, when they were evacuating everybody else."
If the rain holds off long enough Saturday, the final round should be interesting for the golf. The course has been softened by rain the past two weeks, so golfers have been aggressively shooting for pins. "You have to make birdies and every hole is a birdie hole," said Dustin Johnson, who is tied with Vijay Singh at 13 under.
Johnson shot 29 on the front nine and admitted he could have done even better than his 63. "But you know, overall, I mean a 63 is a 63. I'm going to be smiling," he said.
Singh made seven birdies in a nine-hole stretch during his 64. "It's an interesting way to play golf," he said, adding that he will take the same aim Saturday. "You have to. Actually everybody is going to be doing the same thing, trying to make as many birdies as possible."
But it was tough for tournament organizers to feel positive. "It kind of makes you want to cry," tournament director Peter Mele said, mindful of sellout crowds. "It was going to be the best Barclays we have ever had."