Plenty of possibilities as FedEx Playoffs conclude at East Lake

<br />The Mexican native during the Corona Championship in April of 2009.
Darren Carroll/SI

Tiger Woods has won the FedEx Cup and its $10 million first prize two of the three years it's been in existence, in 2007 and 2009. Vijay Singh is the only other player to hoist the trophy, in '08. Neither man has qualified for the 2010 FedEx finale, the 30-man Tour Championship, which begins Thursday at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

The $35 million FedEx bonus pool, which will be divvied up after the fourth of four playoff events this week, has always been a staggering sum of money. Still, players haven't fully appreciated that until now. That's because the absence of Woods and Singh essentially means there's an extra $10 million up for grabs.

"I'm trying not to get too caught up in it because it's a sum of money — it's a figure that I'm not too familiar with," said Paul Casey, one of 10 men in the field who will be playing their first Tour Championship. "I mean, that's just, the biggest check I won was a million pounds for the ['06] World Match Play. Back then with the exchange rate it was like $2 million. You've got the winnings from this particular event, as well, so you're looking at $11 point something, $11.35 [million]."

Said Steve Stricker, fourth in the FedEx playoffs, "I mean, it's really unbelievable that we're playing for that type of money, to tell you the truth."

Still, the money is only a subplot this week, because no matter how many zeroes are in the checks, cash takes second billing to narrative. After 40 tournaments, including three FedEx Cup playoff events, the 2010 narrative remains elusive.

From the implosion of Woods to the disclosure of Phil Mickelson's potentially chronic arthritis to the fine line between "bunker" and "vegetable patch" at the PGA Championship, the golf season could not have been much stranger.

The Tour Championship could help immensely in sorting it all out. In fact, rarely has there been a non-major with so much on the line, monetarily and otherwise.

Phil Mickelson, the defending champion, could go the furthest to restore order in the universe with a repeat performance at East Lake, where he also won in 2000. He would take Tiger's No. 1 ranking, make a very strong case for Player of the Year, and give the U.S. Ryder Cup team a jolt of momentum going into next week's matches.

"A lot can come of this week," said Mickelson, who added that he feels better about his game now than he has all year, even better than he felt at the Masters, which he won by three strokes.

To seize the No. 1 ranking, Mickelson only needs to finish in a three-way tie for second or better. "I'd love to take advantage of the opportunity," he said. "I don't follow the ranking points and so forth, but I know that I've had multiple opportunities for months, and I haven't played well enough to do it. Hopefully I do this week."

East Lake, a par-70, 7,154-yard layout, is known for its relatively narrow fairways and for having changed the greens from bent grass to Bermuda grass in the wake of the 2007 debacle in which the surfaces were bad enough to nix the pro-am. (Zach Johnson, who will also play for the U.S. in Wales, shot the course record, 60, in 2007.)

Casey, whom European Ryder captain Colin Montgomerie passed over with his three wild-card picks, could spark a wildfire of second-guessing in Europe with a victory this week. So could Justin Rose, who was also left off the team. With two Tour victories already this year, Rose could make a case for Player of the Year with a win. He tied for 11th in his only start at East Lake, in 2007.

Like Casey and Rose, American Charley Hoffman, third in FedEx Cup points, could give Ryder Cup second-guessers plenty to ponder with a W.

A lot of people could make a case for POY with a victory, most notably Barclays winner and FedEx points leader Matt Kuchar; BMW winner Dustin Johnson, who is second in FedEx points; newly minted Hall of Famer Ernie Els and Jim Furyk, who have two Tour victories apiece this season but have been relatively quiet lately.

It's been a big year for 20-somethings and foreign-born players, sometimes all at once. (Martin Kaymer at the PGA, Louis Oosthuizen at the British.) A victory this week by sixth-seeded Australian Jason Day, 22, would further underline those trends.

Theoretically, any of the 30 players in this week's field could win the $10 million first prize with a win at East Lake, but in all likelihood too many dominoes would have to fall for Kevin Streelman (29th in points), Bo Van Pelt (30th) or even Jeff Overton (24th).

At 10th in FedEx points, even Mickelson would need help to win the $10 million. If he were to win for the third time at East Lake, he would most likely need Kuchar to finish fifth or worse, Johnson to finish fourth or worse, Hoffman and Stricker to finish third or worse, and Casey to finish second or worse in the Tour Championship.

That's a lot to think about, especially because it involves so much math, and there's also the looming Ryder Cup in Wales, which starts a week from Friday.

"I try not to look ahead too much; I try to just focus on what I'm doing," said Johnson, one of five Ryder rookies who will play on the American team, "but I've gotten to thinking about it a little bit."

After having the stage all to themselves last week, Nationwide tour pros will head to Texas for the WNB Golf Classic at Midland Country Club.

Jamie Lovemark shot a final-round 64 at the Albertson's Boise Open last week to finish T7 and pass Chris Kirk atop the money list by less than $10,000. Six events remain for players to crack the top 25 and earn their PGA Tour cards.

Kudos to New Zealand's Bradley Iles, who made five eagles in a span of two days in Boise and tied the Nationwide record for most eagles in one tournament.

On the Champions tour, nine of the top 10 players on the Schwab Cup points list will play in the SAS Championship at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, N.C.

Tom Lehman, who will assist U.S. captain Corey Pavin at the Ryder Cup in Wales next week, is the only player in the top 10 who will not be competing. Defending champion Tom Pernice is riding a streak of six straight top-10s.

Six of the last eight tournaments on the European tour have been won by members of the 2010 European Ryder Cup team. Captain Colin Montgomerie hopes the trend continues at the inaugural Vivendi Cup on the outskirts of Paris.

That puts the onus on team members Padraig Harrington, who hasn't won anywhere since the 2008 PGA, and Peter Hanson, who is fighting a chest infection.

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