Tiger Woods falls back may lose FedEx Cup lead


DeutscheBank Logo 2007NORTON, Mass. – Steve Stricker looked at the leaderboard and breathed a sigh: He’s up on top, and Tiger Woods was nowhere to be seen.

“It’s always nice if you’re up around the lead that he’s not there, because he’s such a dangerous player and a great player as we all know,” Stricker said after shooting a 6-under par 65 in the Deutsche Bank Championship on Sunday to tie for the third-round lead at 13 under with Retief Goosen and Sean O’Hair.

“It’s good for the tournament when he’s there. It’s good for TV when he’s up there. But as a player,” Stricker said, “it’s nice that if you’re up around the lead that he’s not.”

Woods managed to save a birdie from the fairway bunker on No. 18 on Sunday, finishing 1 over for the day and 4 under – nine strokes back – through the third round. Woods has never come back from a deficit of more than eight strokes to win a tournament, and he has never erased more than a five-stroke deficit on the PGA Tour.

Woods went to sign autographs after his round without speaking to reporters and then headed for the locker room, where he had a physical therapist stretch out his back. The FedEx Cup points leader and 2006 Deutsche Bank winner then went to the putting green for the next half-hour.

Woods bogeyed the first hole when he drove into a hazard and had to take a penalty drop, then parred his way through the front nine. He fell to 2 over when he three-putted on No. 11, missing from inside of 6 feet with a chance to save par. He didn’t register his first birdie of the day until the 15th hole.

His only other birdie was on the par-5 18th, even though he put his tee shot into a bunker and had to knock his second into the fairway, leaving himself about 150 yards to the green. But he put his third shot within 3 feet of the pin and tapped in to salvage an otherwise forgettable round.

POINTS RACE: Things weren’t working out for Woods on the playoff leaderboard, either.

Only four players could catch Woods in the standings this week with a victory in the Deutsche Bank Championship and the 2,500 FedEx Cup points that go with it.

One of them – Steve Stricker – is among the tournament leaders.

Stricker entered the second week in the four-event PGA playoff in second place, 1,276 points behind Woods. He’s tied for the lead at TPC of Boston with Retief Goosen and Sean O’Hair at 13 under.

Heath Slocum, who’s third and trailing Woods by 1,526 points, did not make the cut in Boston. Zach Johnson, who is fourth and 2,152 points behind Woods, is six strokes back in the tournament. Kenny Perry, who trails Woods by 2,306 points, is tied for 43rd through three rounds, a stroke behind Woods at 3 under.

Divots: Mike Weir was two shots out of the lead until missing a 5-foot par putt on No. 16 and hitting a wedge into the creek on the 18th to make double bogey. In the final three holes, the 2003 Masters champion went from a tie for seventh to a tie for 17th. … Seven players shot all three rounds in the 60s. … Of the top eight players on the leaderboard, Kevin Na is the only one without a PGA Tour victory.

Woods attributed so many missed chances at Liberty National on putts that often broke multiple times before reaching the hole. He worked some on his short game during his three days at home, no more than usual.

“I really putted well on the weekend, I just didn’t make a lot of putts,” he said. “When you’re lipping out a lot of putts, you’re not putting poorly. Those greens were a tough read for a bunch of people.”

Woods has a hard time finding much fault with anything this year, except for not winning a major. His five victories are twice as much as anyone else, and he still holds the No. 1 stop in the FedEx Cup standings going into the second week of the playoffs.

The big surprise is Heath Slocum, who was planning a trip to Switzerland this week for the Omega Masters on the European Tour until he won last week at Liberty National. That moved him from second-to-last place at No. 124 to No. 3, right behind Woods and Stricker.

Players have been debating whether Slocum earned too many points, and they tried to balance his rocket rise with the notion that he did beat a field at The Barclays that included the top 124 players on the PGA Tour.

The top 100 qualified for the Deutsche Bank (minus Paul Casey, who is injured), and that number will be pared to the top 70 players in points going to the third round next week at the BMW Championship outside Chicago.

Woods is virtually a lock to at least contest for the $10 million prize that comes with the FedEx Cup, especially the way he has played over the last two months—two victories, two runner-up finishes.

“This last stretch, I think I’ve hit the ball pretty good,” Woods said. “I’ve putted well in stretches. Some people have alluded to other things, but that’s not too bad for my last four events. The overall year has been very consistent.”

He missed the FedEx Cup playoffs last year recovering from knee surgery. The last time he played the Deutsche Bank was in 2007, when he tied for second, four shots behind Phil Mickelson. Woods took nine more putts than Mickelson that day.