No one expected the season-ending Tour Championship to generate much excitement. After all, Vijay Singh had already clinched the FedEx Cup race three weeks before, at the BMW Championship in St. Louis. The only likely drama at Atlanta's East Lake Golf Club would be whether Singh could somehow find a way to mess up a $10 million payday by missing a tee time, getting disqualified, forgetting to show up, hurting himself so he couldn't finish or, I don't know, getting struck by a rogue meteorite. Last Saturday a fan did get clocked in the skull by a rogue tee shot off the club of Anthony Kim, not an entirely dissimilar experience. Though bloodied and stitched, the man lived to tell the tale (although Kim admitted, "I thought I killed him") and had the appropriate souvenirs, including a golf ball on which Kim wrote sorry. There were no meteorites at East Lake, but something unusual did happen. The Tour Championship, all by itself, provided the big, thrilling finish that the FedEx Cup playoffs couldn't deliver. Mix the four most popular and compelling stars in the 30-man field Kim, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson and Camilo Villegas with a final round filled with birdies, lead changes, reversals, comebacks, charges and meltdowns, and you had one of the best shows of the year.
Kim and Mickelson missed lengthy, curving birdie putts on the final green and settled for a tie for third. Garcia and Villegas missed lengthy, curving birdie putts on the final green and, having each finished at seven under par, went back to the tee at the par-3 18th for a playoff. Garcia mishit a four-iron shot wide right of the green, then failed to get his flop shot onto the putting surface, allowing Villegas to two-putt for par and the win. Three weeks after the first victory of his career, at the BMW, Villegas returned from a brief visit to see friends and family in his home country of Colombia and scored his second. In the posttriumph glow he could have pondered this: Had he merely made the cut at the first playoff event, the Barclays he failed by a stroke the FedEx Cup Trophy and the $10 million would have been his.
What the Tour Championship and its FedEx Cup tie-in lacked in relevance, it made up for with cash. Told that he had a putt on the 72nd green for $4.26 million (the total he would've earned in tournament prize money and FedEx Cup bonus payout if he had finished first), a stunned Garcia asked, "Really?"
Yes, really. "Too bad," he deadpanned, drawing laughter from reporters.
You might as well hand the Tour Championship the trophy for comeback of the year. For a tournament that wasn't supposed to end well, it could hardly have turned out better. Three young guns, the future of the game, versus 38-year-old Mickelson, in a new role as Methuselah. "I am the old guy now, I know," Mickelson said after he came up short. "I noticed it at the Ryder Cup. That was my seventh Ryder Cup. I did feel like the old dude."
Mickelson and the youngsters helped bail out a troubled FedEx Cup season. First, there was Tiger Woods, or the lack thereof. He had knee surgery after he won the U.S. Open and was out for the year, taking just about every ounce of buzz and Nielsen points with him. Then came the Olympics, which overshadowed everything in August. Then came the selection of the Ryder Cup teams, followed two weeks ago by the Cup itself.
In a failed experiment the four FedEx Cup events were broken up on the schedule. The first three were played on consecutive weeks, followed by a week off, then the Ryder Cup and then the Tour Championship. Failed experiment? Yes most of the players from the winning U.S. side were draggin' their wagons after the matches in Louisville. One of the heroes at Valhalla, Kentucky native Kenny Perry, shot 10 over par in Atlanta, as did Stewart Cink and Steve Stricker.