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Polar opposites: Tour Championship, Ryder Cup

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ATLANTA – Two big weeks in golf could not be more different.

East Lake has the top 30 players on the PGA Tour. Medinah will have 24 of the top 35 players in the world.

One pays $10 million to the winner. The other doesn't pay a dime.

If there's a similarity between the Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup, it's the value players place on winning them.

''One is monetary, the other is pride,'' Steve Stricker said Tuesday. ''This is playing for your year. You can do a lot of good things, and you're playing for a lot of money. Next week you're playing for something totally different. You're playing for your country, with teammates. You have partners. You can see it across every guy's face. You go through the whole gamut of emotions.

''But if you talk to any player, I guarantee they would want to win either one. It would mean a lot.''

The flag-waving, foot-stomping crowd that has waited two years for the most exciting three days in golf might find this hard to believe, but the players gathered at East Lake for the FedEx Cup finale are thinking only of winning the Tour Championship.

Because that's all they can win this week.

Tiger Woods was roasted by the British press in 2002 when a World Golf Championship was staged at Mount Juliet in Ireland the week before the Ryder Cup. After taking a one-shot lead after the opening round, Woods was asked which was more important for him to win. He chose the WGC event and its $1 million purse – that was back when $1 million meant something in golf – over taking a 17-inch gold trophy home on the team plane.

''Why? I can think of a million reasons,'' Woods said, a tongue-in-cheek remark that backfired.

Oddly enough, just about every Ryder Cup player at Mount Juliet felt the same way. One week they are playing for themselves, another week they are playing for a flag. Two different tournaments. Two important weeks. One at a time.

Justin Rose was working on his bunker play at East Lake when the rain finally gave way to patchy skies. He walked over to chat with Keegan Bradley, who was chipping out of the deep Bermuda rough. Rose is playing in his second Ryder Cup. Bradley will be making his debut next week.

The topic?

Rose was commiserating with Bradley over the New England Patriots losing at home on Sunday.

The Ryder Cup will get here soon enough.

For now, the focus is on the final event of the FedEx Cup that comes with a $10 million bonus and a five-year exemption on Tour.

The FedEx Cup is still in its infancy, and there remains plenty of debate that someone could win the FedEx Cup without winning a tournament all year. This is the fourth straight year such a scenario could happen, but it hasn't yet. The list of FedEx Cup champions includes Woods (twice), Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk. The lone fluke was Bill Haas last year, who was No. 45 in the world. The fluke was that he won the $10 million despite being the No. 25 seed.

More than a fluke, that should serve as inspiration that anyone at East Lake still has a chance.

''It's an individual game, and that's how ultimately you're going to be remembered in this game,'' Rose said. ''You can win the Ryder Cup and lose three of four matches, and it will be an amazing week. But I don't think you come out of it a better player. You win this week, in this scenario, you come out of it a better player.''

Rose doesn't want to think about the Ryder Cup until he holes out his final putt at East Lake on Sunday.

''I've been having a hard time getting super excited about the Ryder Cup because I've been slightly overwhelmed with the playing schedule since Akron, really,'' he said. ''I'm doing my best to stay into each week. As soon as I putt out on Sunday, I think the juices will start to fly. Or when I get on that plane in Orlando with (Ian) Poulter and some of the guys, yes, amazing. It's the week we've been waiting for.

''But now, I can't get invested in it,'' he said. ''I've got to do myself justice for this week.''

It's still a point of consternation for the Tour.

This is the big conclusion they envisioned for the FedEx Cup, especially with this lineup of stars who occupy the top five seeds and only have to win the Tour Championship to capture the $10 million prize – Rory McIlroy, Woods, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson, and Brandt Snedeker. The three playoff events leading up to the Tour Championship have been nothing short of blockbuster, with all the top names on the leaderboard week after week.

One of the ideas behind the FedEx Cup was to give the Tour season a definitive ending. Trouble is, every two years the end of the season is followed by an exhibition that happens to be the second-biggest event in golf behind The Masters.

The 10 million-pound elephant in the room is the Ryder Cup.

It could be worse. The last time the Ryder Cup was played in America, it was held the week before the Tour Championship. The Americans won at Valhalla, and they staggered down to Atlanta to cap off the FedEx Cup season. It didn't help that Vijay Singh only had to stay upright through four rounds to win the $10 million. And it didn't help when Kentucky native Kenny Perry said, ''It's ruined my greatest week in my life, coming here.''

And he went home with a $250,000 bonus.