Tiger's to Lose
If the FedEx Cup comes down to talent, You Know Who will probably win. If it comes down to strategy, ditto. And if it comes down to stamina, clutch shot-making or adaptability, Tiger Woods is your prohibitive favorite.
If it comes down to irritability, 14th-seeded Woody Austin is your man.
There's only one course that doesn't suit Woods, New York's Westchester Country Club, home of this week's Barclays, which Woods is skipping. He likes TPC Boston, loves Cog Hill and is comfortable at East Lake. The FedEx Cup lacks buzz because it all seems so inevitable right now, here on the cusp of a 25-day coronation. We don't need a playoff to identify the best player in the game, who incidentally has more millions than there are dimples in a sleeve of balls and who hardly needs a $10 million retirement bonus.
But what if Woods doesn't win? That would bring some excitement to the game's new season-ending push. You've got to believe $10 million would still mean something to 15th-seeded Hunter Mahan, no matter how it's paid out. In fact, the PGA Tour brass ought to be hoping their inaugural champion comes from as deep down the list of seeds as is mathematically possible. (Especially with Woods sitting out this weekend, a real divot in the punchbowl.)
Since golf is fickle and not even Woods can win every week, here are the top 15 seeds, with their odds of winning it all.
Odds: Very good. Winning the Deutsche Bank at TPC Boston for the first time in '06 gives Woods good mojo next week. Then it's on to the BMW at Cog Hill, where he's won three Western Opens. He's had three runner-up finishes at East Lake, but remember: he hadn't won at Southern Hills, either, until two weeks ago.
Odds: Good. Singh won the 2006 Barclays and finished T7 and T4 in '05 and '04, respectively. He won at TPC Boston in 2004 and has three top-20s in his last three starts at Cog Hill. He won at East Lake in 2002. The bad news: He's not playing great, having missed the cut at the PGA Championship and tied for 56th at the WGC-Bridgestone.
Odds: Decent, if his back holds up. Furyk can win on a wide variety of courses, which bodes well for this four-week buffet. He was runner-up at the 2005 Barclays, and in only two starts at the Deutsche Bank has a T13 and a T35. Cog Hill is where Furyk will likely make his move, since in his last four starts there he's gone T4, W, T7 and T3. He was runner-up at the 2006 Tour Championship at East Lake and T3 in '98.
Odds: Not great. For a guy with such a gilded career, Mickelson has had relatively little success on the four FedEx courses, save for his victory in the 2000 Tour Championship. He's never played the Deutsche Bank. He says he's still hungry after missing time this summer with his injured wrist, but he's going to have to prove it.
Odds: Bad. Choi has a weak record at Westchester, TPC Boston and Cog Hill, and if you can't get out of the gate strong as the fifth seed, you've got no shot.
Odds: Fair. Sabo tied for second at the 2004 Barclays, losing in a playoff to Sergio Garcia, and has top-10'd at both Cog Hill and East Lake. He's never played the Deutsche Bank.
Odds: Slim. Johnson's enjoyed a lot of MCs on the four FedEx courses. You have to look hard for the highlights, a few top-20 finishes. The only reason you can't write him off? He could win at Westchester and, with his rah-rah spirit, start taking this FedEx thing personally.
Odds: Slim. Howell hasn't shown much since winning at Riviera, where he dusted Mickelson in a playoff that seems like years ago. He plays well at TPC Boston, though, with top-10s in '04 and '05, and he finished second in the 2002 Tour Championship at East Lake.
Odds: Very slim. Although, Westchester may set up well for the streaky rookie, and he's coming off his maiden victory in Greensboro last week. If he could pull off another win right out of the gate this week, you never know. He could at least get some TV time.
Odds: Better than Choi's, worse than Tiger's. After a W in Houston in the spring, Scott's game went on walkabout this summer. But if the FedEx Cup sets up well for Woods, it sets up equally well for Scott. He's the defending champion at East Lake, was second at Westchester last year and loves TPC Boston, where he won in '03 and tied for second in '04.
Odds: Very, very slim. Verplank looked gassed by the weekend in Tulsa and has no knowledge of TPC Boston, having avoided the bomber-friendly track. He's played Westchester only twice, without much success, since missing the cut there in '97.
Odds: Infinitely small. Stricker's a trendy darkhorse pick, but I don't see it. He's had very little success at the FedEx venues, and his last win came more than six years ago. Great putter. Nice guy. Won't win the FedEx Cup.
Odds: Better than most guys seeded this low. Garcia has won the Barclays twice, which is intriguing. He's untested at TPC Boston but long enough to do well there, and he hasn't played the Western Open at Cog Hill. His best in three starts at East Lake is a T15.
Odds: Not going to happen. Austin is fiery and played great at Southern Hills, but that's about it. He's missed the cut in five of his last six starts at Cog Hill, his last two starts at TPC Boston, and two of his last three starts at Westchester. Over and out.
Odds: Pretty slim. Mahan is untested at East Lake, missed the cut in two of his last three starts at Cog Hill and hasn't played his best at either TPC Boston or Westchester. Despite a terrific summer, even a sniff at the $10 million bonanza would be a surprise.