After an action-packed Saturday at the Tour Championship, we are now left to look ahead to a final round that may shape golf history and could have a profound impact on the Tour's shifting balance of power. And there's a little bit of dough on the line.
"It's going to be one of the most exciting Sundays of the year," says Rory McIlroy, and that may turn out to be an understatement.
As is now the case with everything in golf, it's all about Rory. The world number one la-di-da'd his way to a third-round 68, leaving him five under overall, three strokes behind leaders Justin Rose and Brandt Snedeker. If McIlroy wins the Tour Championship, he will also take the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus. More than that, double-dipping at East Lake would be McIlroy's third straight victory and fourth in his last five starts, including his game-changing eight-stroke blowout at the PGA Championship. McIlroy is already going to be player of the year, but another win, plus the Cup, would make this a season for the ages. There would be zero doubt that the post-Tiger Woods era would officially be upon us. If it's not already.
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Woods, meanwhile, rebounded from a sloppy second-round 73 with a 67 on Saturday, climbing to tie for seventh, at four under. Second to McIlroy in both the World Ranking and FedEx Cup points, he has one last chance to blunt his young rival's momentum. Like all the players who came to East Lake in the top five in points, Woods will automatically win the Cup if he takes the Tour Championship. That would give him four victories in this comeback season, matching McIlroy for tops on Tour. Woods has won the FedEx Cup twice before, but this would be by far a more meaningful triumph, and it has very little to do with the cash.
"That's not why we play," he said following the third round. "I'm playing for the W."
There are subplots galore on the rest of the leaderboard. Snedeker is trying to justify his captain's pick into next week's Ryder Cup, at which he'll be a jittery rookie. (He caught Capt. Love's eye with a big push in the "playoffs," as he's now played 13 of 15 playoff rounds under par.) Asked on Saturday if the whole Ryder Cup thing puts more pressure on him, Snedeker allowed, "Maybe a little bit, yeah. You always want to make sure that your captains look good. We know how you guys" -the evil media- "like to write it up if we're not playing great."
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Woods is on his way to being a billionaire, and McIlroy may get there, too, but $10 million is potentially life-changing for a guy like Snedeker, who owns three career victories. Fifth on the points list coming in, he could conceivably take the Cup by finishing alone in second, but he would need a handful of other guys to fall back. Snedeker knows that winning is the only way to control his own destiny.
"My goal tomorrow is to shoot as low as I possibly can," he said.
To take the Cup, Rose will need some help, as he came into the week 24th in points.
"I have the advantage of just playing the Tour Championship," said the droll Englishman.
He's also looking to generate more momentum for the Ryder Cup, as is Jim Furyk, who was tied for the lead with Rose until a ghastly triple bogey on the 17th hole. That gaffe recalled Furyk's crunch-time blowups at the U.S. Open and Bridgestone Invitational, and had to be disquieting for Love, who burned one of his captain's picks on this increasingly wounded warrior.
But the Ryder Cup intrigue can wait for one more day -- the final round of the Tour Championship is about wrapping up a season that began nine months ago. If we could be a little greedy, how about this dream scenario for Sunday: Woods finishes third and McIlory fourth, leaving them tied atop the Cup standings. They would then proceed to East Lake's par-3 18th for a sudden death playoff worth a cool $10 million. And so much more.