- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

EDISON, N.J. (AP) - Ernie Els sure didn’t look to be down in the dumps for someone who has tumbled so far in the FedEx Cup.

It was only a year ago that the Big Easy was the No. 1 seed going into the PGA Tour’s version of the postseason. He went to the top of the standings by winning a World Golf Championship in March, and stayed there for the next five months.

This year, he wasn’t even sure he would make it to The Barclays.

Els was just outside the top 125 _ the cutoff to make the FedEx Cup bonanza _ and had to play last week in the Wyndham Championship to have any chance of making the playoffs. He tied for 30th and moved up to No. 118.

“It’s a little different,” Els said Wednesday. “But I think this is almost a better mentality. I feel I need to be aggressive and get up the bloody points list. Otherwise, I’m going home. Last year I was the No. 1 seed, but I wasn’t quite playing as good as I was in March. This year, I feel like I have to make a move. And I feel a little more comfortable with that.

“I had three good rounds last week, and I feel my game is coming along,” he said. “It’s a good feeling going in.”

Els is among five players who have made it to the Tour Championship _ and a shot at the $10 million bonus _ each of the last four years. His chances of being in the top 30 are much more remote starting out at No. 118.

Even so, his optimism remains high, and there are a couple of reasons for that.

One is Heath Slocum, the poster boy for opportunity in the playoffs. Two years ago, Slocum barely got into the playoffs at No. 124, and then won The Barclays to secure a spot in the FedEx Cup finale at East Lake.

Another is Martin Laird. He faced elimination in the first tournament last year until he was the runner-up at The Barclays, moving him up to No. 3 in the standings. He wound up 11th in the final standings and picked up a $300,000 bonus.

The fifth year of the FedEx Cup playoffs gets under way Thursday at Plainfield Country Club, the fourth course used for the opening event, one that ends with a 285-yard par 4 that should deliver plenty of excitement.

Along with a different course, there’s a different look to the 125-man field.

Tiger Woods, a two-time FedEx Cup champion and the No. 1 seed in three of the four years, failed to qualify for the first time when he missed the cut at the PGA Championship.

The No. 1 seed is Nick Watney, whose two wins this year include a World Golf Championship at Doral.

“I feel like I’m in the best position I can be, and I’m very pleased with the year so far,” Watney said. “But we have a long way to go. I’m excited to see if I can hold up in these next four events.”

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