Despite the fact that he fits the profile of the typical winner at TPC Boston (very long off the tee), Phil Mickelson has never played in the Deutsche Bank Championship. But at 1:07 p.m. Friday, he'll tee it up with the defending champion Tiger Woods and the 2004 champ Vijay Singh.
To what do we owe the pleasure?
In part, Mickelson is hungrier than ever this late in the season thanks to his wrist injury in late May, which wrecked his summer. In larger part, though, we can thank the FedEx Cup. We can also thank the FedEx Cup for the high-wattage company he'll be keeping, what with the PGA Tour's smart decision to group the FedEx point leaders together. (Woods, Mickelson and Singh are Nos. 4-6, respectively.) Even Mickelson himself has praised that concept.
But let's say you don't care about the stars. Let's say you're one for a sappy Cinderella story like Steve (Spigots) Stricker, who gave everyone, especially himself, a good cry in winning the Barclays last weekend. You can pretty much credit the FedEx Cup for that one, too.
"Take a picture because we're not coming back," Stricker told his wife/caddie Nicki after finishing T60 at Westchester in 1995. But he did come back, to chase that $10 million annuity, and now a guy who couldn't break an egg a few years ago is in the pole position to nab golf's richest prize.
With all the negativity heaped upon the FedEx Cup and its relentless, high-dollar advertising campaign, the bottom line is the Cup is doing what it was meant to do, what it had to do. It's maintaining, if not generating, interest, creating a few nice stories (Stricker) and fueling rivalries.
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem had no choice but to do something like this. If anything, he should have done it sooner. Mickelson blew off the 2006 Tour Championship for the second year in a row, and when Woods opted out, too, it sucked the life out of the event. Late-season apathy had gone viral, like the shanks, and an intervention was necessary.
So this is what we have, the playoffs. It's not a perfect system. Woods skipped the Barclays, and Ernie Els, who vaulted to 10th from 19th in FedEx Cup points at Westchester, is skipping the Deutsche Bankto be with his kids in London as they start the school year. (The Tour owed his daughter, Samantha, anyway, after her role in a "These Guys Are Good" spot a few years ago.)
So the Big Easy won't be in Beantown. But that glamour group of Mickelson, Singh and Woods doesn't happen sans FedEx Cup. Geoff Ogilvy, who jumped to 17th from 24th at the Barclays, probably doesn't bother to show up if there's no FedEx. He tied for fifth at the 2003 Deutsche Bank, but after missing the cut in '04, Ogilvy decided it didn't fit his schedule in '05 and '06.
Sergio Garcia fits the mold of a winner at TPC Boston but has never played there. He will this week.
Then you have the tournament within the tournament, the race to make the field at next week's BMW, which will be trimmed to only 70 players. Number 115 Brett Quigley said he's been getting calls from friends telling him he has to finish third or better in Boston to stay eligible for Chicago.
If you think nobody's learning the FedEx math, think again.
Here's what fans are talking about: The FedEx Cup, if it's working, if it's not working, where it's succeeding, how it could be improved.
Here's what fans were talking about at this time a year ago: The Ryder Cup.
Now the FedEx is poised for its biggest week ever, starting with the first two rounds Friday and Saturday. You cannot hand-pick a threesome with more potential for great shots and subplots than Mickelson, Singh and Woods.
If any one of them falters, it opens the door for Garcia, Ogilvy or Adam Scott, who is ninth in FedEx points and has a killer record in Boston, having won in 2003 and tied for second in '04.
And don't forget the undercard, the battle between guys like Rich Beem and Quigley and so many others just to keep playing. Those players get grouped together, too, going eye-to-eye with the men they have to beat.
The FedEx Cup is not a major, or as epic as the Ryder Cup, but it never promised to be those things. For now, at least, it's doing as much as could be expected.
The Deutsche Bank could be epic. The BMW may also be quite good. And when the whole thing concludes noisily at East Lake in two weeks, we'll almost certainly see the A-list, not understudies, and a Tour Championship that lives up to its name for the first time in years.