LEMONT, Ill. (AP) — The pro-am round of the BMW Championship had just ended in the still of late afternoon, clear skies and plenty of light available to fine-tune various parts of the game.
Cog Hill was virtually empty.
The lone figure on the putting green was Davis Love III, wearing street shoes, using only one golf ball as he practiced undisturbed. The driving range beyond him was empty. Across the street by the 18th green was the only sign of activity as some 250 fans crammed behind a green railing holding flags and programs.
Not the least bit surprising, Phil Mickelson was meeting every request.
It looked like the end of the season, when there is little work to be done except to play and post the lowest score possible. Instead, this was the eve of the third PGA Tour playoff event for the FedEx Cup, the final tournament to finish among the top 30 in the standings and advance to the Tour Championship in two weeks with a chance to win $10 million.
Where is the sense of urgency?
It has been replaced by the need for rest, especially this week. Steve Stricker won the Deutsche Bank Championship on Labor Day, traveled on Tuesday and was gearing up for the next one.
“It’s still very fresh in my mind,” he said, and how could it not be with only one day between the final round at the TPC Boston and the pro-am at Cog Hill.
Scott Verplank, whose tie for second in Boston moved him up to No. 5 in the standings, didn’t bother hitting a shot at Cog Hill on Tuesday. Instead, he walked most of the course, except for the par-5 15th.
“Too big of a hill to climb,” he said.
Tiger Woods might have summed it up best.
Walking off the fifth tee Wednesday morning at Cog Hill, he turned to a member of his staff and said with a mock moan, “I don’t want to go to school today.”
A few minutes later, Woods added, “It will be a little different on Thursday.”
For every player in the top 20, this will be at least their fifth tournament in the last six weeks. Making it even more difficult is the short turnaround from the Labor Day finish.
“I was talking to one of my football coach buddies yesterday driving out here, and I said, ‘It’s kind of like playing a Sunday night game and then you’ve got a Thursday night game,”‘ Verplank said. “You’ve got no turnaround, so you don’t have any time to waste. You’ve got to get prepared for your next opponent, which sits out there at about 9,000 yards long.”
The opponent is the Dubsdread course at Cog Hill, recently renovated by Rees Jones with hopes of attracting a U.S. Open. It now measures 7,616 yards at a par 71, and it should be all they can handle.
“It’s a big, tough golf course,” Padraig Harrington said. “It looks like it’s going to put plenty of pressure on all the players out there this week. I hope it suits my game. I hope I play well on it.”
Harrington is glad to have a chance. Winless since the PGA Championship last year, he was outside the top 125 to get into the playoffs until he finished second at the Bridgestone Invitational, then gave himself chances to win his next three starts.
Just like that, he is up to No. 7 in the standings, and still pushing hard.
“On one hand, I’m losing a little bit in terms of fatigue,” Harrington said. “But I’m still motivated because I haven’t won. If I had won over the last couple of weeks, I’d have a big dropoff. What’s keeping me going is the fact that I haven’t won. I’m pushing hard and I’m focused to do that, and in many ways, I’m on the edge in that sense. I could definitely see a win making me totally drop back off.”
And if he were to win the BMW Championship? Would he lose his edge for the Tour Championship?
“If you’ve got a chance of winning it, there’s enough motivation there,” he said. “Ten million reasons to win that one.”
Woods hasn’t played this much since 2006, when he played six times over seven weeks. That included the World Match Play Championship, which lasted only one round, and the Ryder Cup, which can feel like two weeks.
He was winning those tournaments, sometimes with ease, compared with having to grind into contention and having it go wrong at the end. Woods had his back stretched after the third round at the Deutsche Bank because it was tight.
“I’m just playing a lot right now,” he said.
In another sign that he is pacing himself, Woods didn’t hit balls after any of his rounds last week. Just don’t get the idea that he will sleepwalk through four days at Cog Hill, where he has won four times.
“Thursday through Sunday is all good,” he said. “That’s not a problem. Your adrenaline is up playing an event. You definitely get fired up for that, not a problem. It’s getting out here and having long practice sessions and things like that. You start cutting back on that and just have a short burst, and make sure you get your rest.”