ATLANTA (AP) — Chad Campbell tipped over a small bucket of balls Wednesday and hit 5-irons across the pond on the practice green at East Lake, none quite as true as the one he struck five days ago at Valhalla that earned a crucial point in the Ryder Cup.
Campbell, the last player to qualify for the 30-man field at the Tour Championship, will be the first to tee off Thursday. He’ll understand if his game doesn’t arrive until sometime later in the week.
“It’s going to take a few days,” he said. “I think once the tournament gets going, I’ll be good to go. But everybody is a little bit worn out. There are some guys here who are fresh. I just don’t think you can name any of them who were at the Ryder Cup.”
Ten Americans who were spraying each other with champagne on Sunday are trying to remind themselves that this, too, is a big week. The Tour Championship features a $7 million purse, and for many players, their final PGA Tour event of the year.
The only two missing at East Lake from the U.S. team are J.B. Holmes and Boo Weekley. Sergio Garcia is the only Ryder Cup player from Europe who qualified for the Tour Championship.
“It is different,” said Hunter Mahan, who made his Ryder Cup debut going unbeaten in five matches. “It’s weird going through that and then having to come to such a big event like this. We get a couple days to kind of fall back to earth and just back to the grind a little bit, so it should be good. It may take a round or two to actually get back into the flow of playing tournament golf again.”
The Ryder Cup is only one component that has taken the sizzle out of the FedEx Cup finale.
A new points system during the PGA Tour Playoffs brought the kind of volatility the tour wanted, but it knocked out several players that otherwise would have had a right to be at East Lake.
Padraig Harrington missed the cut in his first two playoff events, and for that he becomes the first PGA Tour member to win two majors in one year and still not qualify for the Tour Championship. Also missing is Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy, along with Weekley, who might be the most popular man in golf these days for his antics and shotmaking during the Ryder Cup.
As for the drama over who wins the FedEx Cup and the $10 million prize?
They could have started engraving Vijay Singh’s name on the trophy two weeks ago. He won the first two playoff events, and now only has to complete four rounds at East Lake to capture the FedEx Cup. Riveting stuff.
“It’s nice to know that all you need to do is finish the round,” Singh said. “It’s been kind of strange in a way that your friends and your family and your trainer keep saying, ‘Don’t over exercise. We’ll have to just keep it nice and easy this week.’ Gets in your head a little bit.”
It’s hard to blame the tour for someone as talented as Singh winning two straight tournament, just as Tiger Woods won two straight events last year to take the drama out of the final week.
“Honestly, if you look back and think about it, every system could have provided a very exciting finish,” Jim Furyk said. “You just had a player … Tiger Woods goes out and wins twice and finishes second. You had a player that separated himself. This year, even though the system was totally different, it could have provided a really exciting finish. It did not.”
Furyk at least is motivated by trying to pick up his first victory of the year, a goal that applies to 15 other players in the field, such as Steve Stricker, Ben Curtis, Mahan and Campbell.
Even someone like Singh, who won the Tour Championship in 2002, wants to finish off the season with another win.
“This is a big event for us,” he said. “Two years ago, three years ago, this was one of the major events on tour. That’s the way I still look at it.”
But his comment was telling.
Is the Tour Championship no longer one of the big events on the PGA Tour? It sure doesn’t seem like one now, with one guy assured of the FedEx Cup simply by showing up, a field that includes first-timers Kevin Sutherland and Ken Duke, and a bunch of Americans suffering from Ryder Cup hangover.
What once was considered golf’s version of the All-Star game has all the atmosphere of a corporate outing.
And just imagine if the Americans had lost the Ryder Cup.
Two years ago, a World Golf Championship was held in London a week after the Ryder Cup. Furyk recalls being angry about losing, and after taking a day off, getting back to work to fix what was wrong.
“Any time I’ve had a close call or lost in a playoff, it’s usually about a day or two and then I get back to work,” he said. “After you have a big win on tour, it’s a little bit of a hangover the next week, and emotionally, it’s tough to get up and get ready.”
The tour brought this problem on itself, and for that, 10 Americans are thankful.
Remember, the Tour Championship was supposed to be the week before the Ryder Cup, but PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem agreed to move it back two weeks so the Americans (and some Europeans) would be fresh for the event that doesn’t pay a dime.
Finchem said he expects a good week and big crowd, and it helps that Saturday’s round will be played early, so as not to conflict with the NBC broadcast of Notre Dame football. Thankfully, Georgia plays Alabama on Saturday night.
In the meantime, he said changes to the FedEx Cup appear imminent.
“We’ve got to have a climactic finish,” Finchem said. “It’s going to build to a finish.”