ATLANTA (AP) — So many scenarios. So many good players. So much money on the line.
Tiger Woods is keeping it so simple.
He tees it up Thursday in the Tour Championship against a 30-man field at East Lake. His goal is to shoot the lowest score.
“You always have the same approach and same attitude that you try and win every tournament you enter,” Woods said. “Whether it’s a regular tour event, a playoff event, World Golf Championship, Players, whatever it may be, it’s the same intensity. You bring the same attitude to play. … You win it, and you take care of everything else.”
Everything else includes a $10 million bonus – $9 million in cash – for capturing the FedEx Cup, which in its third season appears to have finally delivered a compelling conclusion.
Woods is the No. 1 seed by virtue of his five PGA Tour victories that put him atop the standings, and a sixth victory in a playoff event two weeks ago at the BMW Championship.
The next four seeds – Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson and Heath Slocum – don’t have to look at a leaderboard. If they win the Tour Championship, they win the FedEx Cup.
The points can get confusing, and there are a couple of wild possibilities.
-Furyk and Padraig Harrington can capture the FedEx Cup without having won a single tournament all year.
-Marc Leishman can win the FedEx Cup provided Woods finishes 10th or worse, and the next four seeds finish fifth or worse.
How did Leishman get in this position? Furthermore, who is Leishman?
He’s a PGA Tour rookie from Australia with a strong swing and beautiful touch with the putter. He was on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs outside Boston three weeks ago until making an eagle on the final hole. His only way into the Tour Championship was to finish third in Chicago, and he played bogey-free the final round with Woods at his side to tie for second.
-Slocum could win the FedEx Cup by winning the Tour Championship. He wasn’t even sure he would make the 125-man field at the start of the playoffs until his wife did the math and realized he qualified at No. 124 by two points. A week later, he won The Barclays over a world-class cast of runner-ups – Woods, Harrington, Stricker and Ernie Els.
-And the most bizarre scenario of all? There could be two sudden-death playoffs on Sunday – one to decide the Tour Championship, another to decide the FedEx Cup. It might even be the same two players.
Imagine Furyk and Scott Verplank tied after 72 holes. They would have a playoff for the Tour Championship. If Verplank were to win, that would leave them tied in the FedEx Cup standings, and they would return to the par-3 18th for a playoff with a much bigger payoff.
Furyk has heard all the possibilities and is ready to stick a peg in the soggy turf of East Lake.
“The thing I probably haven’t enjoyed for the whole week is the ‘what if,”‘ Furyk said. “I’ve had people ask me, ‘What if? What if? What if?’ All the way down the line. It all doesn’t really matter until we tee it up and go figure it out.”
The points and possibilities might be hard to digest. Still, the Tour Championship is significant for the first time in six years, and suddenly is elevated in stature.
It had become golf’s version of an All-Star game, bringing together the top 30 players from the money list to celebrate their season. Only twice this decade has it contained any drama – in 2000, when Phil Mickelson won at East Lake to deny Woods a shot at his 10th victory; and in 2003, when Woods and Vijay Singh were locked in a race for player of the year and the money title.
Now, it likely has its strongest field ever, even if that might not show up in the world ranking or the money list.
The top 30 represents the best players of the season, and the hottest players of the last month. No one missing at East Lake can make a case that he belongs at the Tour Championship. Of the top 20 in the world, four PGA Tour members did not make the top 30 – Singh, Sergio Garcia, Camilo Villegas and Ian Poulter. None has won a tournament this year.
“They might not be the best-ranked players, but they are the best performers,” Retief Goosen said. “It’s nice to see this come down to the very last event, which is what it’s supposed to do. It used to be for the guy leading the money list. It was just another event. Now, this means a lot more. It’s a high-profile event.”
If he can’t win a major, Woods takes pride in winning events on strong courses against strong fields.
This would fall into that category.
“If you look at years past before we had this format, it was basically the hottest players for the year,” Woods said. “This is a little bit different, though, because you actually get some of the hotter players later in the year. It adds for a little bit more excitement.”
Woods could have skipped the Tour Championship in the first year of the FedEx Cup and still won the $10 million. Singh only had to show up and play four rounds to win it last year.
This time, the FedEx Cup could be up for grabs until the final putt Sunday.