LEMONT, Ill. (AP) — One of the slogans for the FedEx Cup is that “every shot counts,” which proved meaningful even as Tiger Woods was well on his way to another blowout victory in the BMW Championship.
The outcome was never in doubt.
Woods took out a month of frustration on a Cog Hill course that had been refurbished with hopes of landing a U.S. Open. He broke the course record with a 62 in the third round to build a seven-shot lead, and he closed with a 3-under 68 to win by eight shots over Jim Furyk and Marc Leishman. Even the world’s No. 1 player was surprised to learn it was his 10th victory on the PGA Tour by at least eight shots.
“You need to get hot on a tough track,” Woods said.
Most compelling on Sunday was that even as Woods was cruising toward his sixth victory of the year to assure himself the No. 1 seed in the final tournament for the FedEx Cup, the pressure on the rest of the field became even greater.
The BMW Championship was the final playoff event to crack the top 30 in the standings and qualify for the Tour Championship in two week at East Lake in Atlanta, where the winner picks up a $10 million bonus.
A dozen players were sweating over every shot, and it showed.
– Leishman, who advanced to Cog Hill with an eagle on his final hole a week earlier at TPC Boston, played bogey-free for a 69 and went from No. 67 to No. 16.
– Ian Poulter, who was No. 30 going into the week, dunked his approach into the water on the final hole and made bogey. He finished out of the top 30 by less than half a point, the smallest margin in the three-year history of the series.
– John Senden, realizing he was in range, hit a wedge from 90 yards that came up 40 yards short of the green. It was a shot rarely seen at Cog Hill even by the public customers who pay $140 for the privilege.
– Senden still managed to get the 30th and final spot because Brandt Snedeker, knowing he needed only two putts from 12 feet to make bogey and qualify for the East Lake bonanza, took four putts instead. The last two didn’t matter, and they were a product of being in shock over seeing his 3-foot bogey putt crash into the lip and spin out.
“I can’t believe I did this,” Snedeker said. “I just made a mess of it.”
There were other swift changes, too, such as British Open champion Stewart Cink playing a four-hole stretch in 5 under to make sure he got into the top 30, and Jerry Kelly making a 10-foot birdie putt on his last hole to lock down a spot.
Furyk, the co-winner of the B-Flight at the BMW Championship, rarely had a runner-up mean so much. His 66 allowed him to jump 15 spots to No. 3.
Even so, it was Furyk who put this day in perspective.
He knows Woods well enough that a seven-shot lead was too much to overcome, yet Furyk allowed himself the ultimate “what if?” He saw that Woods had made a bogey on No. 5, and perhaps more would follow. Finally, Furyk asked his caddie if he knew Woods score. Mike “Fluff” Cowan told him Woods was 17 under, still seven shots ahead.
“I just started laughing,” Furyk said.
Forget that memory of Woods blowing a two-shot lead at Hazeltine to lose the PGA Championship to Y.E. Yang, the first time Woods had lost a final-round lead on the PGA Tour since he was a 20-year-old rookie in 1996. Gone is that image of Woods missing a 7-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Liberty National that would have put him in a playoff at The Barclays.
“To play as well as I have of late and not get the Ws has been a little bit frustrating, no doubt, because I’ve been so close,” he said. “It’s just been a matter of making a couple of putts here and there, and I would have won the tournaments. And lo and behold, boom! I hit the ball just as well, just as consistent this week, and I made a few putts. And that’s how it happens.”
Woods finished at 19-under 265, and while the FedEx Cup standings can be tough to compute, his victories are not.
He won for the 71st time in his career, leaving him two victories away from catching Jack Nicklaus at second on the career list. Woods also tied an obscure, but no less meaningful, record belonging to Sam Snead by winning at least six PGA Tour events in six seasons.
Woods also might have wrapped up his usual assortment of postseason awards – player of the year, the money title (nearly $9.7 million) and the Vardon Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average. His lead is 1.26 strokes per round better than Steve Stricker, which is not unlike Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes.
Even after so many victories this year, Woods remains amazed at how far he has come after rebuilding his left knee in a surgery that kept him out of golf for eight months. He wasn’t sure how his swing would be affected by having a stable left side, or how well he would recover. And that’s why even without a major, Woods called this “one of my best years.”
The topper would be a FedEx Cup, although he now starts over.
Woods is the No. 1 seed, but the points are reset for the Tour Championship. Anyone in the top five – Woods, Stricker, Furyk, Zach Johnson and Heath Slocum – only have to win at East Lake to get their name on the FedEx Cup trophy.
Furyk’s round was critical, for he moved from No. 18 to No. 3 and now has a chance to beat Woods. Despite finishing eight shots behind at Cog Hill, and more than 4,000 points behind Woods in the FedEx Cup, they essentially start from scratch.
“Now, it’s basically a sprint,” Woods said.
He got the perfect tune-up at Cog Hill, where he ran away from the field.