By Dave Shedloski

The ninth year of the PGA TOUR’s FedExCup Playoffs begins Thursday at Plainfield Country Club in Edison, New Jersey, with The Barclays, a 72-hole stroke-play tournament reserved for the top 125 players in the season-long points race.

The Barclays, the first of four events in the playoff series, offers a purse of $8.25 million and a chance to get a jump on the ultimate prize, the $10 million bonus and the FedExCup. Of the 125 players who qualified, 119 will compete at Plainfield CC, a historic Donald Ross-designed layout that hosted this event in 2011. Dustin Johnson was the winner that year in 54 holes after the event was shortened due to Hurricane Irene.

Jordan Spieth, the Masters and U.S. Open champion, holds a commanding lead in the standings. His 4,169 points represents the highest total for any player heading into The Barclays since the inception of the FedExCup in 2007. His nearest pursuer is PGA champion, Jason Day, who trails by 1,710 points.

Even players who are not in contention come Sunday have a reason to keep grinding; only the top 100 advance to the second Playoff event at the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston.

CBS Sports on-course reporter Peter Kostis looks at the field and tries to forecast not only the favorites for this week, but also for the FedExCup title.

The final week before the FedExCup Playoffs turned out to be quite exciting. A lot of people were looking for a win from a guy who hadn’t won in a while, but it turns out they were looking at the wrong guy. Instead of Tiger Woods, Davis Love III broke through for the first time since 2008.

It was a pretty amazing week at Greensboro, and now we’re on to the beginning of the Playoffs. The thing I look at is the small side [of the] story, that in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs, no one who played their way in from the Wyndham Championship has made it all the way through to the TOUR Championship. It’s more about them keeping their card. We’ll see if someone can break that string.

No one has ever had a bigger lead than Jordan Spieth going into the Playoffs. How does he play with a big lead like that when we’ve seen how hard it is for the leader to win it all?

Just look at last year with Rory McIlroy: two majors and a big lead, and he didn’t win the FedExCup. It’s hard to win. We’ve seen tweaks to the points structure over the years, and right now it’s more like four great weeks of golf than a true playoff. We’re getting four weeks of compelling golf by the world’s best players, and we can appreciate the four tournaments for what they are. And this week is going to be a great start to that run.

Check out other golf expert interviews.

Who are you looking for in the Playoffs when you look ahead to the TOUR Championship?

Jordan Spieth is still your favorite. There is no two ways about it. He’s played well all year. I don’t expect him to take a week off as far as the quality of his play. Billy Horschel showed us last year, though, that if you get hot at the right time, you can win. Throw out the standings. Four great weeks, and you will probably win, regardless of where you started. Right or wrong, that’s what can happen. The key is to get into the top five by Atlanta.

Plainfield Country Club is another Donald Ross layout. What are the keys to playing well there?

The first thing that comes to mind from our visit there a few years ago is everybody playing fast so we could get out before the hurricane. Armageddon was heading down the pike right at us. Dustin Johnson played extremely well to win last time. Distance isn’t necessarily a factor there. Accuracy is, especially into some very difficult greens. I think we’ve had a really good year on old, classic courses. The players are really embracing the old-style architecture, and I think that has shown well on television.

Give us your favorites and dark horses.

The favorites are pretty easy. My top three are Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson. For dark horses, I first like Paul Casey, who has been close a few times this year and has had a very good year. A win or two yet in these Playoff events would make it a great year. Then I have to go with Jason Gore, who nearly won last week, and Davis Love III, who could follow up his win with another win on another Donald Ross layout.

Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.

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