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Steve Stricker can set his sights a little higher

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BMW Championship 2007 Logo  LEMONT, Ill. – Steve Stricker owns one PGA Tour record that is sure to never be broken. He was voted comeback player of the year in back-to-back seasons, usually awarded to someone who came back from playing poorly.

It has become a running joke with Stricker, so when someone brought up the possibility of a third such honor after he won the Deutsche Bank Championship, it was hard for him to keep a straight face.

“I think I’m over that now,” Stricker said with a grin.

What about PGA Tour player of the year?

Stricker found that funny, too.

“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.”

“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.”