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Momentum building to big FedEx Cup payday

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BMW Championship 2007 LogoLEMONT, Ill. – Only one day separated the final round of one PGA Tour playoff event and the pro-am round of the next one, and even players who are in the best position to capture the FedEx Cup and its $10 million prize are fighting some fatigue.

Tiger Woods might have summed it up best.

Walking off the fifth tee Wednesday morning at Cog Hill, he turned to a member of his staff and said with a mock moan, “I don’t want to go to school today.”

A few minutes later, Woods added, “It will be a little different on Thursday.”

 

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods hits an approach during Wednesday's pro-am. (Getty Images)
The BMW Championship is the third straight week of playoffs, one step closer to the biggest prize in golf, and the possibilities keep growing. No one paid much attention to Heath Slocum until he won The Barclays. Woods was at his customary top of the list until Steve Stricker birdied the last two holes to win the Deutsche Bank Championship on Monday and move to No. 1 in the standings.

 

That means he will be playing the first two rounds with Woods for the third straight week.

“It would really be nice to have the lead going into the Tour Championship,” Stricker said. “That means going out this week and playing well to maintain that lead. I have every belief that Tiger is going to play great, so that means that I’m going to have to play good.

“The pressure is getting bigger every week we play.”

And they are playing a lot of golf.

For every player in the top 20, this will be at least their fifth tournament in the last six weeks. Making it even more difficult is the short turnaround from the Labor Day finish outside Boston to the typical Thursday start at Cog Hill.

Scott Verplank arrived in this south Chicago suburb Tuesday and only walked the golf course, except for the par-5 15th.

“Too big of a hill to climb,” he said.

Stricker played only nine holes on Tuesday before his pro-am round Wednesday. Most players on the course or the practice range had missed the cut the previous week at the TPC Boston.

“I was talking to one of my football coach buddies yesterday driving out here, and I said, ‘It’s kind of like playing a Sunday night game and then you’ve got a Thursday night game,”’ Verplank said. “You’ve got no turnaround, so you have don’t have any time to waste. You’ve got to get prepared for your next opponent, which sits out there at about 9,000 yards long.”

The opponent is the Dubsdread course at Cog Hill, recently renovated by Rees Jones with hopes of attracting a U.S. Open. It now measures 7,616 yards at a par 71, and it should be all they can handle.

“It’s a big, tough golf course,” Padraig Harrington said. “It looks like it’s going to put plenty of pressure on all the players out there this week. I hope it suits my game. I hope I play well on it.”

Harrington is glad to have a chance. Winless since the PGA Championship last year, he was outside the top 125 to get into the playoffs until he finished second at the Bridgestone Invitational, then gave himself chances to win his next three starts.

Just like that, he is up to No. 7 in the standings, and still pushing hard.

“On one hand, I’m losing a little bit in terms of fatigue,” Harrington said. “But I’m still motivated because I haven’t won. If I had won over the last couple of weeks, I’d have a big dropoff. What’s keeping me going is the fact that I haven’t won. I’m pushing hard and I’m focused to do that, and in many ways, I’m on the edge in that sense. I could definitely see a win making me totally drop back off.”

And if he were to win the BMW Championship? Would he lose his edge for the Tour Championship?

“If you’ve got a chance of winning it, there’s enough motivation there,” he said. “Ten million reasons to win that one.”

Woods hasn’t played this much since 2006, when he played six times over seven weeks. That included the World Match Play Championship, which lasted only one round, and the Ryder Cup, which can feel like two weeks.

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He was winning those tournaments, sometimes with ease, compared with having to grind into contention and having it go wrong at the end. Woods had his back stretched after the third round at the Deutsche Bank because it was tight.

“I’m just playing a lot right now,” he said.

In another sign that he is pacing himself, Woods didn’t hit balls after any of his rounds last week. Just don’t get the idea that he will sleepwalk through four days at Cog Hill, where he has won four times.

“Thursday through Sunday is all good,” he said. “That’s not a problem. Your adrenaline is up playing an event. You definitely get fired up for that, not a problem. It’s getting out here and having long practice sessions and things like that. You start cutting back on that and just have a short burst, and make sure you get your rest.”

Only the top 30 in the standings after this week qualify for the Tour Championship, and the top five will be in position to win the $10 million prize with a victory at East Lake, no matter what anyone else does.

The good news? They have a week off after Cog Hill before the FedEx Cup finale.