On paper, heightening the stakes for the first two playoff events is one of the successes of the latest FedEx Cup format tweak. Whether it’s the perks of getting into the top 50 — an important wrinkle thanks to guaranteed Signature Event entry — or the usual bucket of exemptions that a trip to East Lake brings, it adds some concurrent drama to the regular competition on the leaderboard. For some, just breaking through these thresholds can be career-altering, regardless of whether they sniff a win in Memphis or at the Fake Western Open.

A trip to East Lake means exemptions into the Masters, U.S. Open, and British Open, as well as a Tour card through 2025. Not to mention a piece of the guaranteed bonus money splashed around Atlanta for anyone who gets there. So with all that in mind, here’s a quick look at some of the Bubble Boys to follow in addition to the 72-hole competition this week in Chicago.

First, your handful of players starting out on the right side of the cutoff line:

Tyrrell Hatton

Jordan Spieth

Sungjae Im

Chris Kirk

Sam Burns

Not a lot of drama here — most of these guys are fairly stable OWGR studs who are set for next year. But with the Ryder Cup pick debate raging, every single data point sticks out in flashing lights right now. That means if, say, Sam Burns tumbled out of East Lake contention, it would be a negative mark for someone in the crowded captain’s pick mix.

The first five out

Sahith Theegala

Justin Rose

Kurt Kitayama

Denny McCarthy

Seamus Power

A few comments: 

  • His pace of play is not exactly enjoyable, but it’s a pleasure to see Justin Rose grinding it out and remaining relevant at the highest levels on the PGA Tour. It may be owing to his Excel management, but he did not make the jump to LIV when many of his generational peers did. What a nice bounce back year for the Englishman.
  • The Kitty Kat missing East Lake after a designated victory early in the season would speak to the rollercoaster ride that is his game.
  • Denny McCarthy feels like someone who had a year deserving of a trip to Atlanta, but deserve’s got nothing to do with it. No wins, but when you make a ton of cuts, collect six top-10 finishes (and thirteen more finishes inside the top 25), you collect enough points to have a chance to make it to East Lake anyway. McCarthy needs, at minimum, to finish solo 17th in Chicago.

A couple others of note:

42.) Eric Cole — He’s currently 42nd and needs at least solo seventh to get there. But what a poster boy he is for arguing against the complaints that the Tour has been turned into a closed shop by the popular kids and elites. He’s already played his way into Signature status, and should be held up as the example of how someone can bust his way into the highest ranks of the game. It’s possible. Now Cole can earn his first ever invite to the Masters and British Open with a strong showing in Chicago.

46.) Cam Young — He needs at least a top-five finish this week to have a chance to get to Atlanta. Much like Burns, he’s someone in need of positive data points to help boost his cause here in the late stages of the Ryder Cup roster shuffle. Both may be safe, but it’s time to stick out in a good way. Or if not that, to at least avoid giving the captain any obvious reason to leave you at home.

This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.