NORTON, Mass. (AP) — A chart of FedEx Cup standings at the Deutsche Bank Championship showed Tiger Woods at the top, not unusual considering he was won the cup and its $10 million prize every year he has played.
This chart was different.
It listed the 10 players who are on the bubble at the TPC Boston, starting with Woods at No. 65 through Josh Teater at No. 75. Only the top 70 after this week will advance to the third round of the playoffs at the BMW Championship, where Woods is defending champion.
Woods has failed to defend a title when the tournament has changed dates or when he was injured. Never has he not gone back to a tournament as the defending champion because he was not eligible.
“It’s been a different year,” Woods said.
It might be showing signs of turning around. One tournament is not enough to declare Woods’ game is back, although his tie for 12th at The Barclays was his best finish since June. Plus, it got him into the second round of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
And for the first time since the Masters, when he returned to golf after a five-month layoff, Woods went through an entire press conference without a mention of his broken marriage or how it got to that point.
Even so, it remains odd to see Woods so far down any list.
Matt Kuchar is No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings on the strength of his victory last week to open the four-tournament playoffs. Steve Stricker is No. 2 and the defending champion at the TPC Boston. They are assured of reaching the final round.
Woods is only assured of making the weekend because the Deutsche Bank Championship doesn’t start until Friday, the lone tournament on the PGA Tour schedule that ends on a Monday.
“I’m starting to see some progress, which is nice,” Woods said. “Mentally, I’m hitting the ball much better, hence I have more confidence. I’m driving the ball much straighter, hitting the ball a little bit farther, especially with my irons. And those are all positive signs. It’s just a matter of making it a little bit more natural. And that’s just reps.”
Whether the tournament lasts any longer than Labor Day depends on the path of Hurricane Earl – the same name as Woods’ late father. The forecast was for good weather through noon on Friday before it starts getting nasty, with the worst of it late Friday afternoon and into the night.
The tour moved tee times up as much as it could with a 99-man field – 40 minutes – with hopes of getting the round in. Officials will decide Friday morning whether to play lift, clean and place to protect against the late starters having to return Saturday morning to complete the first round in what could be a swamp.
“It will be awesome to get this finished tomorrow,” said Mark Russell, a vice president of rules and competition for the tour.
So much is at stake this week – not one cup, but two.
For the 99 players – Kenny Perry pulled out on Wednesday – the goal is to finish in the top 70 in the standings to advance to Chicago and the BMW Championship. It’s far more tense for the 14 players that U.S. captain Corey Pavin has on a white sheet of paper he keeps in his pocket, all of them candidates to be among his four Ryder Cup picks.
Woods figures to be a lock. Zach Johnson is getting plenty of support as another pick. For the rest of them, the Deutsche Bank Championship is one last chance to make an impression on the captain, and even that might not be enough.
“There are no promises out there to anyone,” Pavin said. “I think everyone is mature enough to understand that.”
The players on his list were all invited to his barbecue during the PGA Championship, meaning they will get a phone call next week to say whether they made the team. The only addition was David Toms, a runner-up at Greensboro two weeks ago.
Pavin invited the eight players who qualified for his team – Phil Mickelson had not yet arrived – to dinner Wednesday night. He is soliciting their opinions, and said all the players are coming up with the same list of seven or eight guys who would be good picks.
“I think he’s got a pretty good idea who his picks are going to be,” Stricker said. “I mean, I think he still has some questions. I think it depends a lot on what happens here this week, and he wants to have some players step up and show him something. I don’t think anybody is set in stone yet, but I think he’s really looking forward to see what’s going to happen here.”
Stricker doesn’t have to worry about that, nor does Matt Kuchar, who made his first Ryder Cup team. They can think exclusively about the FedEx Cup for now, both in prime position to chase the $10 million prize.
Woods, meanwhile, is trying to stay in the top 70 of the standings after this week, although his primary goal hasn’t changed whether he’s No. 65 or No. 1 in the FedEx Cup.
“I go out there and tee it up to win the tournament,” he said.