Five things I'm looking for at this week's Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston, the second event of the four-tournament FedEx Cup playoffs:
1. Rory McIlroy will win. This would have been an easy prediction to make a year ago, but he's taken a big bagel in the victories column in 2013. It can't last. Talent always wins out in the end, and McIlroy's last three starts include a T27 at the Bridgestone, a T8 at the PGA, and a T19 at the Barclays at Liberty National, where McIlroy led the field in driving distance. TPC Boston is a bomber's paradise, as McIlroy found out when he won there last year, and he seems to have cleared up the rumors of his break-up with Caroline Wozniacki by attending one of her matches at the U.S. Open. With that unpleasant bit of business out of the way I expect McIlroy to rally like Pedroia and Big Papi in Beantown.
2. Fred Couples is the happiest FedEx Cup fan anywhere, and he's going to be feeling even more chipper after Labor Day. That's because Phil Mickelson, a key member of Couples's Presidents Cup team, hasn't lost his game since he won the British Open last month, despite reports to the contrary. (Guilty as charged.) After looking extremely out of sorts at the PGA at Oak Hill, Phil the Thrill showed he's not done yet with a final-round 65 at the Barclays (T6), and has to be licking his chops at TPC Boston, the course where he held off Tiger to win in '07 and placed T4 last year. Fred and the boys suddenly look a whole lot more formidable.
3. Of this week's glamour threesome of Woods, Adam Scott and Mickelson -- the top three FedEx Cup points leaders, respectively -- I'd pick either Mickelson or Woods to win if McIlroy doesn't. It's not that Scott can't win at TPC Boston -- he did so a decade ago -- it's just that while the course may cater to big hitters, it also rewards great putters. Chief among them is Steve Stricker, who won the '09 Deutsche Bank -- and who this week comes back from a hamstring injury -- and even short-knocker Luke Donald (T2 in 2010, T3 in 2011). Scott is clearly a better player from tee to green than either Tiger or Phil, but at 84th in strokes gained putting, he is well off the pace of Woods (T2) and Mickelson (5).
4. Keegan Bradley just held his charity tournament to raise money for the fight against pediatric cancer. Woods is resting his sore back and pulled out of his friend Notah Begay's exhibition to benefit the NB3 Foundation. The Red Sox are at home against the Orioles, the White Sox and the Tigers. And Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel's silly half-game suspension must have been meted out by Rickie Fowler's silly new alter-ego, Dick Fowler, P.I., part of a new series of spots for Farmers. It all adds up to the biggest key to playing well at TPC Boston: avoiding distractions. There seem to be more than usual this week.
5. Speaking of distractions, Monday marks the last day for players to make the U.S. and International Presidents Cup teams on points. Expect NBC to give plenty of airtime to bubble boys Zach Johnson (U.S.) and Graham DeLaet (Int'l) in Boston. Johnson is coming off a stint as best man at his brother's wedding, while DeLaet not only played the Barclays, he finished T2 after a final-round 65. The 31-year-old Boise State product missed almost the entire 2011 season after major back surgery, but he looks better than ever after racking up six top-10 finishes and $2.1 million in 2013. He's third on Tour in greens in regulation, 18th in driving distance, and along with a handful of others was fitted for a team uniform earlier this season.