Wednesday, September 23, 2009

ATLANTA -- Welcome to the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club. Tiger Woods is here. So is Phil Mickelson. But the most popular attraction today is the sun, which is shining for a second consecutive day after a week of torrential rains pounded the course and wreaked havoc on the city.
More than 11 inches have landed on East Lake since Friday, and parts of the course were under water as recently as Tuesday morning. You don't need an amphibious vehicle to get around, but East Lake is soggy, and probably will remain that way for the entire tournament. (It's a good bet the course will play longer than its 7,304 yards.) On Wednesday the course was open for practice rounds, but the weather has drastically affected the players' preparation for the event.
"It's completely obliterated my whole practice and warm-up schedule for this tournament," said Stewart Cink. "I've touched a club in two (of the last) seven days. Not my normal routine. But everybody is in a weird situation, so we'll do the best we can with it."
Naturally, the extended forecast calls for more rain throughout the week. A state-of-the-art drainage system is in place, and maintenance crews have been working tirelessly. The players didn't seem too concerned about how the course would hold up.
"We've seen this happen so many times on Tour where a golf course gets flooded out in the practice rounds or even in the tournament rounds, and the staff come out and get everything looking like it never happened," said Padraig Harrington, currently sixth in the points standings. "None of us are concerned about the golf course, or the weather. It's going to be great."
Maybe. So, with industrial-strength rain gear in tow, the FedEx Cup playoffs have reached the finale, and there is some intrigue beyond the weather.
Call this playoff system contrived and complicated, but this year's playoff has been an improvement from past versions. First, Tiger is back after missing last year while rehabbing from knee surgery, and he's playing his fourth straight event. And even better, the 2009 champion has not been determined yet. (Vijay Singh locked up the '08 Cup by winning the first two legs of the playoffs, rendering the Tour Championship a mere victory lap). This year, anyone in the top five on the points list -- Woods, Stricker, Furyk, Johnson and Slocum -- would cash the $10 million FedEx Cup check by winning at East Lake. (Not to mention the million-plus Tour Championship winner's check.) And others can move up should the leaders stumble.
One guy who seems OK with the new format is Woods.
"If you look at years past, it was basically the hottest players for the year," he said. "This is a little different because you get some of the hotter players that have played later in the year. It adds for a little bit more excitement."
Any excitement that doesn't involve a meteorologist would be great this week. Play begins tomorrow, weather permitting.

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