The FedExCup Cup playoffs, criticized by just about everybody with an opinion or and agenda, has officially become a promoters dream.
Tiger and Phil. Stevie and Bones. Be sure to tune in again next week at Cog Hill near Chicago for Round Three of this four round duel to the golfing death. In pro wrestling they call this a cage match.
Fortunately golf is not pro wrestling. But its suddenly catching the attention of a lot of people who might otherwise be thinking football right now.
Yes, Phil Mickelson rubbed Tiger Woods nose in the dirt a little bit Monday near Boston. And, yes, there were a fair amount of TOUR players who privately took delight in seeing Tiger get his temporary comeuppance.
Mickelson fired a sizzling 66, needing just 23 putts to win the Deutsche Bank Championship at 16 under, two better than Woods, Arron Oberholser and Brett Wetterich. For 10 years Ive struggled against Tiger, Mickelson said, moments after his 33d Tour victory. This was a really fun day.
But there are two more weeks left to this thing they call the FedExCup and many unanswered questions. Woods, the No. 1 ranked player in the universe, may have been a little bit bloodied Monday near Boston where Mickelson took him down. But we now have a week to ponder whether or not he is unbowed. For his part, Mickelson said he might not even play near Chicago next week at the BMW Championship.
The newest FedExCup point standings have Mickelson at the top followed, in order, by Steve Stricker, Woods, K. J. Choi, Rory Sabbatini and Vijay Singh. Because the BMW field will be just 70 players, they will go off in twosomes next Thursday. That means Mickelson and Woods, it should be noted, will NOT be paired the first two days.
To be sure, one of the mostly unforeseen benefits of a FedExCup system most people havent gotten their hands around yet is the consistent likelihood of spectacular groupings.
After The Barclays and Week One of the playoffs, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh ranked fourth, fifth and sixth respectively in the FedExCup point standings. That meant they would be playing in the same grouping in the first and second rounds. This trio had never played together, as a threesome, before on the PGA TOUR.
Strangely, the Big Three played horribly their first nine holes Friday, the first day of the event. Singh four-putted his first hole; Woods made a double bogey on the drivable par 4 fourth; and Mickelson butchered the ninth hole, making bad choices and a triple bogey.
Saturday all three bounced back with more elasticity than a bungee cord. Woods and Mickelson hung a pair of 7-under 64s on the board while Singh tagged along with a tidy 66. Suddenly people were talking about the FedExCup on radio shows and in grill rooms all over the country.
(I know this because my regular Saturday golf group peppered me with FedExCup questions after our round. I knew the answers to most, but not all, of their questions. Sunday morning I spent 45 minutes on the phone with a knowledgeable golf radio guy in Chicago, Phil Kosin. The subject was almost exclusively FedExCup. Kosin doesnt like the FedExCup. But the fact that we spent that much time dissecting it is good for the concept.)
Meanwhile, Mickelson and Woods, in the same group, rarely needs intrigue to spark interest. But intrigue is what it got early during Deutsche Bank week when Mickelson hinted broadly that his current swing instructor, the estimable Butch Harmon, had given him tips on how to deal with his former student, Tiger Woods.
Prior to Monday's final round Mickelson and Woods had played in the same group 18 times in official PGA TOUR events. Woods had shot the lower score nine times. Mickelson had shot the lower score five times. And they had shot the same score four times. Monday Woods' 67 was one shot worse than Phil's 66.
About the previous failures, Mickelson said this: In the past I havent played that well with Tiger. He (Harmon) told me a couple of things he (Woods) likes to do and I kinda was watching for it. And I chuckled throughout the round when Id pick up on it. Working with Butch has really helped me understand how to play my best golf when I play in the same group with Tiger and I hope I have a chance to do that on Monday.
He got that chance when Aaron Baddeley made a mess of the 18th hole in his third round. That set up the twosome of Woods and Mickelson playing in the second to last group behind Arron Oberholser and 54-hole leader Brett Wetterich.
So just what was Phil talking about here? Gamesmanship ploys? Intimidation tactics? Mickelson wasnt saying. He opened the door and left it up to us to try and figure out exactly how Harmon was helping him figure out Woods.
Early on Monday Mickelson played like a guy who knew something he hadnt previously known. He birdied three of the first six holes and seized the lead all to himself at 14-under. Woods was 1-under through the same stretch and trailed Mickelson by three. First week FedExCup points leader Steve Stricker, who had captured The Barclays, birdied four of his first seven and was within two of Mickelson.
The drama was building. And you couldnt help but have the sneaking suspicion that the TOUR had at least something to do with it. Its common knowledge that most fans prefer birdies to bogeys. The scoring at Deutsche Bank in the third round was the lowest (69.973) in the events history'for any round. Put it this way: There were more than a few friendly hole locations and/or tee box set-ups on the weekend.
And you know what?
Anyway, Stricker cooled. Mickelson survived a double bogey on the 12th and Woods just couldnt get his putter to work its usual magic on the back nine.
So now the circus tent moves to Cog Hill. The FedExCup gains more traction by the moment.
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