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Masters champion Angel Cabrera gives back to caddies

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BMW Championship 2007 Logo  LEMONT, Ill. – At most PGA Tour events, caddies can find a good meal in the “Caddywagon,” a trailer that essentially serves as a diner on wheels. Whether it’s eggs and bacon at breakfast or a burger and fries at lunch, the cost is usually under $5.

The exception was last week at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

It was free.

Masters champion Angel Cabrera walked into the Caddywagon at the TPC Boston and put an entire week of caddie meals on his tab. It was a particularly busy week because the wagon was parked conveniently next to the driving range, accessible to caddies and equipment agents. Cabrera settled up Sunday night, declining to say how much it cost.

“It’s not important,” he said.

The caddie whose player won the previous week typically will pick up the tab for one meal (breakfast or lunch), a tradition that has been around almost as long as the Caddywagon. But a player paying for an entire week?

“That’s unheard of,” said Chuck Mohr, the looper for Bob Estes.

Cabrera simply said the gesture was overdue. After winning the Masters, he said he “wanted to give the guys a present,” but his playing schedule on the PGA and European tours didn’t allow him an opportunity sooner.

“It is customary in Argentina that when you win a tournament, you invite the caddies to dinner,” said Cabrera, who started out as a caddie himself. “I was just waiting for the right time.”

Dale McElyea, president of the Professional Caddies Association, runs the trailer and was surprised by the gesture. He said players often pick up the tab for a day (Stewart Cink), and Robert Garrigus once paid for three days.

“No one has ever done this for a week,” McElyea said. “And this has been a busy week.”

A couple of caddies estimated the bill at close to $5,000, which can be considered a drop in the bucket for a guy who will end up making about $3 million in tournament earnings this year. Like Cabrera, they said it wasn’t about money.

“It was an incredibly nice gesture,” said Jim Mackay, who works for Phil Mickelson.

PEBBLE IN EUROPE: Brett Quigley missed by one spot advancing in the FedEx Cup playoffs. His next stop is Europe, although not because he has nowhere else to play. He was looking forward to this even before the playoffs began.

Quigley and Brad Faxon will head to Scotland the first week of October for the Dunhill Links Championship, the European Tour’s version of Pebble Beach. It’s a pro-am held at St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarn. It helps that they were allowed to choose their partner, so Quigley is taking Tom Haggerty, while Faxon is taking Paul Salem.

The courses are among the best in the world. The weather? Not so much.

“We went in 2001, and the 10 days we were there, we had the rain gear out for nine days,” Quigley said. “But it’s a fun week. It’s a neat golf experience. And for Fax and I to play with two good friends, it makes it that much more fun.”

GRADUATION DAY: The LPGA picked up 10 new members for 2010 now that the Futures Tour season is over. The top 10 players from its money list earned their cards for next year, with 19-year-old Mina Harigae of Monterey, Calif., leading the list.

The 10 graduates include Jean Reynolds, who was in contention most of the week at the U.S. Women’s Open, and Alison Walshe, who went to three colleges (Boston College, Tulane and Arizona) and was 5-0 in the Curtis Cup in St. Andrews.

“It still hasn’t sunk in yet,” Reynolds said. “It will probably around Christmas, when I haven’t had to go to qualifying school. I’m looking forward to next year. It’s going to be a fun journey.”

KIWI CHALLENGE: Hunter Mahan is returning to New Zealand in November for the second edition of the Kiwi Challenge, which features four players in their 20s playing a 36-hole event with a $2 million purse at Cape Kidnappers Golf Resort.

Mahan will be joined by Anthony Kim (runner-up last year), Camilo Villegas and Sean O’Hair.

“I played some of my best golf ever on the final holes to win last year’s event, so I’d sure call it one of my favorite places for a few reasons,” Mahan said. “The course is fantastic and the views are incredible, like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

TOUGHEST WIN: Rick George, the PGA Tour’s chief of operations, said the FedEx Cup was the toughest thing in golf to win because it required eight months of good play, which required a peak performance over three straight weeks, then the best four days at the Tour Championship to claim the $10 million prize.

Jim Furyk could think of one other trophy that’s even harder to win.

“The PGA Grand Slam is harder to win,” he said with a smile. “Because you have to win a major to qualify for it. And then you’ve got to beat three other guys.”

He soon waffled, however, considering he won last year in Bermuda as an alternate.

“I guess you can get someone who sneaks in like me,” he said. “So it must not be that tough.”

DIVOTS: The Byron Nelson Championship, one of the best on the PGA Tour at raising money for charity, announced this year’s donation for local children and families at $4.4 million. That’s down from $6.114 million a year ago. … Charlie Wi, who was born in South Korea and moved to California when he was 10, needed another South Korean to be ranked inside the top 100 to be his partner in the World Cup. Then Y.E. Yang won the PGA Championship. They will play at Mission Hills in China the week of Thanksgiving. … Tiger Woods tied for 11th at the Deutsche Bank Championship, the first time in five playoff events that he did not either win or finish second.

STAT OF THE WEEK: In his 425 starts on the PGA Tour, Paul Goydos has played only four 72-hole events that did not have a cut.

FINAL WORD: “It’s going to take the International team winning a few times to annoy the U.S. and get them geared up like they are in the Ryder Cup.” –Geoff Ogilvy on the Presidents Cup.

“We all know who the guy is out here,” he said.

That would be Tiger Woods, who averages more victories in a year than some players have in their lifetime. Even though Stricker replaced Woods atop the FedEx Cup standings with his birdie-birdie finish to win at the TPC Boston, he knows there are two playoff events remaining before someone kisses the trophy and takes home the $10 million prize. Or at least takes home the money.

Even so, the prospects of Stricker being voted player of the year suddenly has merit. And there’s a good chance that the FedEx Cup could go a long way at the polls.

“The players are voting,” British Open champion Stewart Cink said Tuesday. “And they think it’s important.”

Majors are the most important trophies. No one disputes that outside PGA Tour headquarters. Only three times since the PGA Tour player of the year award began in 1990 has the winner not captured a major that year—Wayne Levi (1990), Greg Norman (1995) and Woods (2003). There were no multiple major winners those years except in 1990, but Nick Faldo was not a PGA Tour member.

“Stricker and Tiger are ahead of everyone right now,” Cink said. “The four of us didn’t do a whole lot. Yang won another tournament, but I would think you’d have to do more than that over the course of the year.”

Woods said two weeks ago that “absolutely” the FedEx Cup could be decisive. Asked to handicap the race at the start of the playoffs, he mentioned the four major champions “and I think my name might be up there, as well.”

Woods has won five times this year and has a $2.3 million lead on the money list, which remains the easiest barometer to understand.

“Playing well at the end of the year in the big events … it can swing votes, because usually guys remember what you’ve done later in the year,” Woods said. “There have been guys that have won three or four tournaments, but they were all at the beginning of the year. Somebody does it all late in the year, then people remember those.”

That might be happening now. U.S. captain Fred Couples said as much Tuesday when talking about possible partners in the Presidents Cup next month in San Francisco.

“They all want to play with Tiger, and now they all want to play with Steve Stricker,” Couples said. “Every text I’m getting is, ‘I want to play with Steve.”’

All this does is make the end of the year even more compelling.

It already was heading in that direction. Consider the last two weeks. Five players came to the 18th tee at The Barclays with a chance to win the tournament, a group that included Woods, Stricker, Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els. A week later at the Deutsche Bank Championship, six players had a chance on the final hole, including Harrington and Masters champion Angel Cabrera.

Those who spend too much time poking fun at the FedEx Cup are missing a good show.

Now, there’s an additional element—Woods or Stricker?

First, the FedEx Cup must be decided.

“Whoever is going to win this, whether it be him or me or anybody else, you’re going to have to play some pretty good golf for two more events,” Stricker said. “And it’s going to lead to a lot of excitement.”

Heath Slocum, who won The Barclays and is No. 3 in the standings, said his wife Vicky brought up player of the year as they were driving back to their hotel Monday night.

“She said, ‘Does this put Stricker in the mix?’ And I say, ‘Yeah,”’ Slocum said. “The next two weeks will say a lot about my vote.”

Stricker probably would have to win at least one more tournament. If it’s the Tour Championship, that would give him four victories and the FedEx Cup, and that might be enough.

If neither wins the FedEx Cup, the vote probably goes to Woods, unless a major champion wins the FedEx Cup.

What can’t be ignored, however, is that Woods still has more PGA Tour victories than anyone. He will have won the Vardon Trophy by a bigger margin than Usain Bolt in the 200 meters. He likely will have won the money title, which he still holds dear.

Working against him is his own history. Woods already has won the award nine times. And while five victories this year would be great for anyone else, it has become standard for him.

Woods has had nine seasons of at least five victories. In the last 25 years, only two other players have won five times or more—Nick Price in 1994 and Vijay Singh in 2004.

“It’s not Tiger’s fault, but he’s set the bar so high,” Slocum said.

Slocum had another idea. What if Stricker were to win player of the year, and Woods won comeback player of the year? Remember, Woods missed eight months after reconstructive knee surgery.

“No,” Stricker said. “The guy won with one leg.”