Steve Stricker's battle with his golf swing hit its bloodiest stretch at the 2004 Players Championship, round one. It was at the watery, railroad-tied TPC Sawgrass that Stricker suffered a series of gruesome knockdowns that might have driven others to throw in the towel.
Starting on the back nine and playing alongside Todd Hamilton and Greg Norman, Stricker's tee shot on the par-3 17th hole was so bad that it not only missed the island green, but also the water and the pot bunker. His ball found the footpath to the green. Amazingly, he got up and down for par.
A few minutes later he hit a topspin, snap-hook drive into the drink on the 18th, the ball traveling 120 yards or so before splash-down.
A less gifted player would have shot 85 from where Stricker was hitting it that day, but Stricker shot 73. His putting is that good, a point he drove home with birdies on four of his last five holes to win the Barclays, the first event of the FedEx Cup playoffs, held at Westchester Country Club on Sunday.
His move past Tiger Woods and up the FedEx point standings, to 1st from 12th, highlights a spate of big moves. The first week of the FedEx playoffs was about comebacks. The winner, who rediscovered his game while hitting range balls from a heated trailer in the dead of winter in Wisconsin, was only the most vivid story.
• K.J. Choi (to second from fifth) and Rory Sabbatini (to third from sixth) also moved past the idle Woods in the FedEx Cup standings.
Choi's move was the most surprising, since Westchester had gotten the better of him in the past. He'd missed the cut in 2005 and finished T33 in 2002 and T64 in 2000.
Sabbatini has been barbecued for having the temerity to verbally challenge Tiger's superiority and then failing to back it up in two head-to-head matchups, but he's passed Tiger in the race for the Cup.
By the way, Woods would easily regain the lead with a W this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston, where he's the defending champion. As the new points leader Stricker put it, "There's still a long ways to go, and we all know who's coming back next week."
• Phil Mickelson proved something to himself with a tie for seventh place, his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since winning the Players in May. But thanks to the big finishes of the aforementioned three players, he slipped to fifth from fourth in the FedEx Cup standings.
Mickelson, who had never done much at Westchester, will play with the men directly in front of him (Woods) and behind him (Vijay Singh) in the penultimate group for the first two rounds in Boston, Friday and Saturday.
"I thought that was really neat [at Westchester]," Mickelson said of the FedEx Cup quirk of grouping the points leaders together. He also probably thought it was neat to watch Singh miss the cut, a mistake that would drop him to sixth from second in the standings. Jim Furyk was the third player in the group, and he also fell, to seventh from third, with a T25.
• Geoff Ogilvy hadn't played terribly this season, but the 2006 U.S. Open champion was susceptible to the big number in 2007. He got around wreck-free at Westchester, where a solid T4 on Sunday was worth 2,067 points, good enough to move to 17th from 24th in the overall standings.
"Here, I've never played well at all," Ogilvy said. "For me to have a decent, top four or five on a course I've never really played well on must mean I'm playing pretty good."
• Ernie Els also tied for fourth, moving to 10th from 19th in the FedEx Cup standings. He's looking more and more like the player he was before injuring his left knee while trying to unwind on the water after a trying 2004 season.
• Mark Calcavecchia's comeback has included triumphs over depression, sleep apnea and the yips, among other maladies. He bogeyed his first hole on both Saturday and Sunday and shot 65 each day to tie for fourth place at the Barclays. He moves to 11th from 20th in the FedEx standings.
"It looks like now I will be in Atlanta for sure," said Calcavecchia, who used two putters, one belly, one regular. "That's great. That's where I wanted to be."
• It's hard to say what Jerry Kelly was happier about: making an eagle on the last hole to notch a T9 and move from to 24th from 32nd place in FedEx Cup points, or fellow Wisconsinite Stricker's two-stroke win.
• Ian Poulter made a huge leap, up 18 spots to 59th in the playoff race after a T9.
• Robert Garrigus was up 16 places to 92nd after a T9. But he'll still need a big week in Boston, since only the top 70 in FedEx points will advance to the BMW in Chicago.
• Anthony Kim moves to 35th from 42nd with a steady T17. With a win in the next three weeks he would likely overtake Brandt Snedeker for top rookie.
• Doug Labelle made a six-footer to birdie the 72nd hole and edge Steve Allen by 25 points, nabbing the 120th spot in the FedEx standings and a spot in the field this week in Boston. Only 120 players advanced to the Deutsche Bank.
• Rich Beem also played his way into the field, going from 134th to 113th after a T7.
"I can't imagine not being in next week," said Beem, who accidentally struck CBS announcer Ian Baker-Finch in the jaw with his approach on the 18th hole on Sunday.
The fields only get smaller from here. Of the 70 who make it to the BMW in Chicago in two weeks, only the top 30, as always, will advance to the Tour Championship in Atlanta.