For a player who always contends that he owns a singular goal entering each tournament (“To get the W,” he’s said so frequently) and even had a marketing slogan written around that sentiment (“Winning takes care of everything,” Nike bellowed in advertisements earlier this year), the following choice of words produced a strange juxtaposition.
It was prior to The Barclays, the initial tournament in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, when Tiger Woods was questioned about the current format and what it would take for him to win the $10 million grand prize at the season-ending festivities.
“You're basically playing for the top-five positioning going into the Tour Championship,” he matter-of-factly stated without a hint of irony.
Cue the aphorisms.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Slow and steady wins the race.
They may be clichés, but when it comes to winning the FedEx Cup, they’re also truisms. You don’t need a whiteboard and a few dry-erase markers to understand the general tenet of Woods’ conclusion. Simple math – OK, maybe not-so-simple math – tells us that any player inside the top-five entering the finale can and will claim the overall title with a victory at East Lake Golf Club.
Brandt Snedeker proved that algorithm last year, parlaying his placement at No. 5 in the ranking after the first three events into a FedEx Cup championship when he also won the Tour Championship.
And so it’s important to remember that right now, at the midway point of this year’s edition of the PGA Tour playoffs, we are only at a checkpoint on the road to the game’s biggest payday. Success so far may be a means to an end, but it’s hardly the end.
With a victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship coupled with a T-65 from previous points leader Woods, Henrik Stenson took a 14-point advantage into the bye week, which is about as significant as an NBA squad owning a one-point lead at halftime of a playoff tilt.
The team sports analogies don’t end there, either.
Ask any member of the 2007 New England Patriots what it means to win ‘em all without winning the last one and you’ll likely hear a tale of woe more becoming a last-place also-ran. The same prospect faces the PGA Tour’s best golfers, though. Case in point: Stenson’s win was his first of the year and he now leads Woods, who has triumphed on five occasions.
“Theoretically, you can win every tournament of the year and not be the FedEx champion,” Woods acknowledged. “I mean, whoever is in the top-five, whoever wins that event, wins the FedEx Cup. So it will be interesting to see what happens.”
Interesting, but not completely unpredictable so far.
Trailing Stenson and Woods is an amalgam of elite-level players that includes Adam Scott (third), Matt Kuchar (fourth), Phil Mickelson (sixth), Justin Rose (seventh), Steve Stricker (eighth) and Snedeker (ninth). There may be a few notable surprises in Graham DeLaet (fifth) and Jordan Spieth (10th), but really, those should only be considered surprises to anyone who has never witnessed the acumen with which each of those players hit the ball.
Because of the format’s volatility, though, the list of candidates doesn’t end with those names. Two years ago, Bill Haas limped into the third playoff event on the heels of 24th- and 61st-place finishes at the first two. A share of 16th at the BMW Championship ensured he’d make the trip to East Lake, where a playoff win from the water led to an improbable daily double – whether he knew it at the time or not.
Therein lies an everlasting quandary for PGA Tour officials. They’d love to once again have the drama of a playoff for both the tournament title and the FedEx Cup win. But the entire system reeks of a novelty when one of those players doesn’t even know what’s at stake when he’s competing.
To employ that 2007 New England Patriots analogy again, those players may have lost the Super Bowl after an undefeated season, but at least they knew what they were playing for.
The latest FedEx Cup champion will be crowned two weeks from now, possibly even owning a keen awareness that he just won the FedEx Cup. This week, though, is all about positioning. After all, like the cliché states, this is a marathon, not a sprint. At the third playoff event, players will simply need to be in position to win while crossing the next checkpoint.
It’s just simple – OK, maybe not-so-simple – math.