TABLE FOR TWO, PLEASE: Phil Mickelson came from four back Sunday, firing a 5-under 65 at East Lake Golf Club to win the Tour Championship by three shots. It was his third victory of the season, first since March at Doral, and it lofted Lefty back to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods, with six titles on the year including one in the playoffs, fended off several challengers in Kenny Perry, Steve Stricker, Sean O'Hair, and Padraig Harrington to finish solo second with an even-par 70 round, thereby securing the FedEx Cup title (and the cool $10 million) for the second time in three seasons.
Considering his roller-coaster season both professionally and on the home front, Mickelson's run at East Lake was impressive and compelling. And in that same vein, given Tiger's recovery from reconstructive knee surgery, Woods' run at the entire 2009 season was impressive and consistent. So, it made sense in the end, that both men would garner expensive hardware for their efforts. It was odd, though, to see the sport's biggest stars sharing the same spotlight on the same Sunday. But how else would this wacky year end? After 'no-name' players (at least, to the general golf public) had emerged in the big boy tournaments, all seemed normal again when the world's No. 1 and No. 2 – known just by Tiger and Phil – were left standing when the dust settled... albeit awkwardly, as bookends on either side of a giddy PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
ONESHINING MOMENT?: In its third year, the FedEx Cup playoff system made a few tweaks and subsequently produced a jam-packed leaderboard of Cup contenders on Sunday at East Lake. Unlike the last two seasons when the trophy was practically signed, sealed and delivered to the winner before the finale even began, this time, the conclusion was far from foregone, coming down to the last few holes. This year, following the BMW Championship, the top 30 players moved on to the 'finals' and points were reset to give everyone in the field some semblance of a chance at the Tour Championship.
Yes, FedEx Cup 3.0 was better. However, considering its lackluster freshman and sophmore efforts, its junior year merely merited a spot on the varsity squad, not a starting position on a four-majors team. Sure, there were fascinating scenarios in play for an intriguing finish. But the points system was too convoluted to digest. And the Tour taking the week off before the spectacular finish was anticlimactic. While football was power-packed and plentiful and went down easy with a cold beer. Yet, if a remote control happened to have switched from a rare Detroit Lions win Sunday afternoon to the drama unfolding in Atlanta, Finchem may have gained some fans. Watching 'projected winners' trade places after every hole on the TV graphics, was akin to captivating cable news coverage on an a election night – just less Wolf Blitzer-y. At one moment, Georgia was a Kenny Perry Bluegrass state and the next, it was Tiger Red. And all the while, Phil Mickelson was stealth-like in maneuvering around the course and the other candidates: Sean O'Hair, Padraig Harrington, Steve Stricker, Steve Marino, to name a few. Still, the Tour's FedEx dance is far from producing the kind of magical moments like those in, say, a NCAA Men's March Madness. Finchem needs to keep tweaking and polishing that Cup if he wants Tiger Woods to one day find it worthy of kissing.
(FOOTBALL) SEASON'S GREETINGS: Speaking of pigskin, a few days before the Tour Championship's first round in Atlanta, FedEx Cup points leader Tiger Woods was spotted on the sidelines of the Colts-Dolphins Monday Night Football game in Miami.
In the don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it YouTube clip, Peyton Manning comes out of the game and barely even makes 'celebratory contact' with Tiger (in fact, we've seen Stevie Williams connect better, which is saying something). It wasn't that impressive and, honestly, we were hoping for a more, uh, meaningful exchange between the super jocks. What was impressive was Cincinnati Bengals wideout Chad OchoCinco eschewing any kind of VIP pass or a hook-up to hang with the players on the sideline, by sitting in the stands at Joe Robbie Pro Player Land Shark Stadium, like any ordinary fan – and, of course, twittering about it.
THE SEVE... ER... VIVENDI TROPHY: The biennial tournament between teams representing Great Britain & Ireland and Continental Europe was created in 2000 by five-time major winner Seve Ballesteros as a tune-up for the following year's Ryder Cup matches. This year's took place in Saint-Nom-la-Breteche Golf Club in Paris, France where the GB&I won the trophy for a fifth consecutive time beating Continental Europe 16 1/2-11 1/2. Ballesteros, who has undergone four operations to remove a cancerous brain tumor, had planned to attend the event but stayed home because of fatigue.
The matches turned out to be an audition for young guns who'd give their right arm to play for Team Europe at Celtic Manor in September 2010. Rory McIlroy, 20, relished the opportunity to display his match play mettle in front of captain Colin Montgomerie, taking down No.5 Henrik Stenson on the final green Sunday in Paris. McIlroy's superb play throughout the event prompted Monty to annoint the Northern Ireland prodigy a potential leader for his squad next year. An admitted surprise for Monty was Chris Wood, the 21-year-old Englishman who played brilliantly at the Open Championship at Turnberry in July. Wood was given a Seve Trophy spot after the withdrawal of top players like Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, and is now on Monty's radar screen as a possible wild-card pick. While the European players' eagerness was already evident, still a year out, a lingering heaviness must have hung in the noticeable absence of the matches' namesake. Though Ballesteros could not watch the teams in person, he did send video messages throughout the event, and added postively, that he was looking forward to the seventh edition of the tournament in 2011.
HAIL PERRY: On Tuesday of Tour Championship week, Kenny Perry was named this year's recipient of the Payne Stewart Award, given to a player sharing Stewart's respect for the traditions of the game, his commitment to uphold the game's heritage of charitable support and his professional and meticulous presentation of himself and the sport through his dress and conduct. A few days later, Perry was the third-round leader with a two-shot cushion going into Sunday at East Lake. But with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, et al. all making a charge, he floundered to a final-round 74 leaving him tied for fourth.
The 49-year-old's philanthropic contributions to the game are extremely commendable. And Perry seemed genuinely humbled to be there. He acknowledged that there was 'no greater honor for a professional golfer than to receive the Payne Stewart Award,' and that it would 'always be one of his greatest accomplishments.' But after coming so close at Augusta earlier this year, can't help but wonder where a Green Jacket would rank in there... Or even a FedEx Cup or a Tour Championship trophy. One day, we'd like to see KP win a 'Hail Mary' trophy for his ability to close a big tournament.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Colin Montgomerie was upset with Ian Poulter – again. Poulter's prospective Ryder Cup captain pointed out the Englishman's absence at the Vivendi Trophy. While many turned down the opportunity to play in the matches, the Scot singled out Poulter for criticism .....Tom Pernice Jr. became the 15th player to win in his Champions Tour debut, holing a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday for a one-stroke victory at the SAS Championship .... Garrett Willis, 35, won the Nationwide Tour's WNB Golf Classic with a final-round 68 at Midland Country Club.
Ah, as certain as death and taxes (or the New England Patriots not losing two games in a row), you can bet that there is always something or someone upsetting Monty. It's Poulter this time, as it has been other times. Though it is predictable, Colin's uncanny curmudgeonry really never gets old. It's best to just enjoy it ... A 30-foot birdie walkoff putt for your maiden victory, Tom Pernice Jr.? That's no way to start one's Champions Tour career. Surely, you realize that after setting the bar so high in such dramatic fashion, it's all downhill after that .... With his win, the grizzled veteran Willis jumps 13 places to No. 6 on the money list, ensuring him among the top-25 money-winners at the end of the year. Watchyoutalkinbout, Willis? Talkin 'bout a 2010 PGA Tour card.