FedEx Cup ended last week, but you have to go back another 52 weeks to
understand how much the Cup has changed the landscape of the PGA Tour. This
time last year the Tour was slogging through something called the 84 Lumber
Classic, in the wilds of western Pennsylvania, with a $4.6 million purse and a
field that had no Tiger or Phil (or for that matter, no Padraig, no Ernie, no
Sergio, no Furyk). Two more forgettable months would pass until the Tour
Championship, the ostensible season-ender that turned out to be such a nonevent
that both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson blew it off, which for Mickelson was
the second consecutive season he couldn't be bothered to show.
To add sizzle, the
new format was born, accompanied by an endless barrage of ads, relentless
second-guessing and a mounting number of points and pouts from the players.
Now, the FedEx Cup is finally in the books. The verdict? It delivered.
afternoon at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Woods won the Tour Championship
with another classic performance, blowing away the field by eight strokes.
Along the way he clinched the top spot in the four-week playoff and thus took
home the Cup. In the run-up to the playoffs it was hard to gauge Woods's
enthusiasm, but the bottom line is that he brought his A-plus game to the
tournaments at which he appeared. After granting himself a bye for the first of
the four events, the Barclays, he roared back with two dominating wins and a
second place that was just as memorable, as he lost a riveting final-round
shootout to Mickelson at the second playoff tournament, the Deutsche Bank.
Thanks to the Tiger and Phil Show—and the feel-good reemergence of the nicest
guy in golf, Steve Stricker, victor at the Barclays—this first Cup will be
remembered not for its clunky points system or the low roar of complaints from
spoiled players but for star power and birdie binges.
overall, the FedEx was a success," said Woods, whose four-round total of
257 (23 under par) at East Lake was the third-lowest in Tour history and a
tournament record by six strokes. "I think there needs to be some tweaks,
but overall it provided a lot of drama toward the end of the season, especially
post- PGA when most of the guys [used to] shut it down."
career victory moved him within one of Arnold Palmer on the alltime list.
(Palmer was 44 and had played upward of 450 tournaments when he won number 62;
Woods is 31 and has played 216 events.) His $11.26 million payday—$1.26 million
from the Tour Championship purse, $10 million in FedEx Cup bonus money
deposited tax-free into his retirement account—nudged him that much closer to
becoming the first billionaire athlete in any sport. More important, the Tour
Championship put an exclamation point on one of the most breathtaking stretches
of Woods's incomparable career, a period in which he has won four of five
starts while going a total of 75 under par.
The run began last
month with an eight-stroke victory at the Bridgestone Invitational, which was
followed by a win at the PGA Championship, during which he shot a 63 to tie the
lowest score in major-championship history. Two weeks ago Woods dropped another
63 to blow the doors off the competition during the final round of the BMW
Championship, the third of the playoff events. With that victory he surged to
the top of the point standings, at 112,733. Stricker was second, with 109,600
points, while Mickelson was one notch back at 108,613. With 50,000 points up
for grabs at the 30-man Tour Championship, including 10,300 to the winner, it
was essentially a three-horse race for the overall prize. ( Rory Sabbatini and
K.J. Choi were mathematically alive but only if Woods finished worse than 13th
or, in Choi's case, 21st. Even they knew they had no shot.)
If the Tour
Championship was being likened to the Super Bowl by hyperbolic PGA Tour
officials, the playing conditions were equivalent to a sandlot. Record heat in
the Atlanta area had all but killed off East Lake's bentgrass greens, and
panicked tournament brass canceled the pro-am and restricted practice-round
play in an effort to nurse the greens back to health. By game time the bumpy
putting surfaces were actually perfect for the pros: O.K. enough to make putts
on, but suspect enough that any miss could be blamed on a spike mark, whether
it existed or not. The real problems with East Lake's greens were their
softness—even four-iron shots were -plugging—and that the frayed edges forced
the holes to be cut in the unprotected center of most surfaces. Woods called
the setup of the 7,154-yard par-70 the easiest he's played in his pro career,
and he wasted little time sinking his claws into East Lake, birdieing his first
three holes en route to an opening 64, which left him two back of Tim Clark,
whose 62 was a new course record that would last all of two days, until Zach
Johnson hung up a 60. The tournament—and the FedEx Cup—was more or less decided
during the front nine of Woods's second round, when he followed five
consecutive birdies with a 70-foot putt for eagle on the 9th hole to shoot a
28, the lowest nine-hole score of his Tour career. Afterward his playing
partner, Stricker, sounded as if he were suffering from posttraumatic stress
"I mean, what
can you do?" Stricker mumbled. "I have it inside of him a couple times,
and I walk off with par and he makes a birdie.... It was unbelievable after a
while, what he was doing. On number 5"—where Woods hit his worst shot of
the day only to follow it with a yo-mama slam dunk of a sand shot—"it
actually looks as if he's going to make a bogey. I've got 15 feet for birdie,
and now all of a sudden he makes birdie and I make par. You sit back and think
to yourself, How does that happen? It gets to you after a while."
propelled him into the lead by three strokes over Woody Austin, and Tiger was
unrelenting on the weekend while his would-be competitors fell away. On
Saturday, Woods's 64 kept him three up on the field and 13 strokes ahead of
Mickelson and 16 up on Stricker. The chase for the Cup was all but over, and it
came and went without a defining moment or singularly memorable shot. "I
wish I had made it a little more exciting," was all Mickelson could
Was it a letdown
for Woods to have so easily taken the ballyhooed FedEx Cup title? "I'm sure
Tiger doesn't feel that way," Mickelson said.