Five things to watch this week at the Tour Championship (and finals)

Five things to watch this week at the Tour Championship (and finals)

Tiger Woods appears to be the frontrunner for player of the year honors, but Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott have one final event to make their case.
AP, Getty Images

Five things I'm looking for at this week's 30-man Tour Championship at East Lake outside Atlanta, and at the Tour Championship at Dye's Valley Course in Jacksonville, Fla.

1. Just as 25 seed Bill Haas did in 2011, someone is going to come from the back of the pack to make a run at not only the Tour Championship but also the $10 million FedEx Cup first prize. My guess is it's going to be 29 seed Luke Donald, the former No. 1 who was mired in a dismal slump before he shot a final-round 66 to finish T4 at the BMW at Conway Farms. Donald tied for third at the Tour Championship in each of the last two years and finished second in 2010. So he likes the course and could easily win the tournament. As for the $10 million, he'll need top seed Tiger Woods to play like a 10 handicap — um, not so likely.

2. East Lake is a ball-striker's course, so if Donald doesn't get it done I like Justin Rose, who finished second at East Lake a year ago and is 9th in FEC points, or Hunter Mahan (15), who tied for fourth at the BMW and who lost to Haas at the 2011 Tour Championship. (Mahan came back to tie for eighth at East Lake last year.) Then there's FEC No. 13 Jordan Spieth, who seems to contend every week and who is perhaps too young to be tired, even at this late stage in the game. Spieth shook his head at how far he's come when he said earlier this week, "I played the Thursday qualifier to get into the Monday qualifier for San Diego this year."

3. Tiger Woods's five wins are probably going to turn out to be enough for Player of the Year honors even if he doesn't win at East Lake. His fellow POY candidates Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott will need to win in order to take it from him, and neither showed much at the BMW. Woods won the Tour Championship in '99 and '07, has four runner-up finishes in the season-ender, and was in the mix before ultimately finishing T11 at the BMW at Conway Farms, which is a far cry from the Tour's typical broad-shouldered courses and favored shorter hitters like winner Zach Johnson, third-place Jim Furyk and Donald.

4. All marketing aside, the Tour Championship, which determines tax brackets, is not as interesting as the Tour Championship, which determines livelihoods and who gets PGA Tour cards for 2014. "Earlier in the season every dollar really mattered to me to get my Tour card," Spieth said. "I was more emotional on each stroke. Now I just feel like I'm kind of coasting, which is cool. It doesn't feel like the strokes matter necessarily as much as this point."

5. That said, the four-tournament Finals — which have replaced the Tour's long-running, six-round Q school — need tweaking. The problem is players can apparently produce precious few highlights and still earn one of the additional 25 PGA Tour cards on offer at the Finals. Consider Nos. 17-23 on the Finals money list: Hudson Swafford, Bud Cauley, Tyrone Van Aswegen, Heath Slocum, Chad Collins, Sean O'Hair and Ricky Barnes. All would get their Tour cards if the season ended today. But six of the seven have missed at least one cut in the first three Finals tournaments, and two have missed two cuts. None of the seven players has a single top-three finish. Say what?

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