For all the marbles


ATLANTA – Let the projections and prognostications end.

With apologies to colleague Steve Sands and his over-stimulated Magic Marker, it’s time to crown a champion or three. No more scenarios, no more math, no more qualified claims of clarity here at the Question Mark Open.

On Sunday at East Lake the guessing ends and the golf will finally decide who will win the FedEx Cup, the Tour Championship and probably the Player of Year Award, not to mention who will land the final spots at this year’s Presidents Cup.

For everyone who has had their fill of FedEx Cup projections, closure awaits and not a moment too soon. To be honest, the revolving door of possibilities has become tiresome.

Consider that on Saturday at the PGA Tour’s finale there were no fewer than five players who were “projected” to win the FedEx Cup at various stages. There hasn’t been speculation like that since Wall Street was scared straight in 2008.

For purposes of context, Webb Simpson is currently pegged for the $10 million payday and is tied for 15th at the Tour Championship. For Aaron Baddeley, your Round 3 frontrunner, to move into the $10M club Congress would need to agree on . . . well, anything and R.E.M. would need to reunite. Or something like that.

Actually, after Simpson, Luke Donald seems the most likely contender to win the FedEx Cup. He entered the week fourth on the points list, is currently tied for fifth place and could possibly cash the big ticket with as little as a third-place finish.

Go figure – the guy who has made a fortune with a parade of top 10s needs a top 10 to make another fortune.

More importantly, Donald also could shore up his chances to win golf’s version of the E.G.O.T, the entertainment industry’s Grand Slam for anyone who wins an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award. For the Englishman, a win would likely secure the FedEx Cup and Tour money title and he is closing on the European Tour’s Race for Dubai crown and Order of Merit.

Luke Donald disease never looked so good.

Not that any of the hopefuls are talking $10 million in front of the microphone. That would be bad form and fairly poor psychology. But know this: The thought of winning the FedEx Cup hangs over East Lake like a blimp flashing dollar signs.

“On the front nine he turned to me and said, ‘I’ve never hit so many bad shots in my life. Playing for $10 million is hard,’” said one caddie of the dollar demons chasing players in Atlanta.

Steve Stricker, who is not among the contenders for the FedEx Cup crown but came off the course feeling like $1 million thanks to a cortisone shot earlier in the week, figured anyone who was playing for the FedEx Cup was thinking about it.

“I don’t think there’s any way they won’t be thinking about it,” Stricker said. “It’s 10 times as much as we normally play for. That’s huge.”

But then while 29 other players may be rounding East Lake on Sunday with visions of differed annuities racing through their minds, Baddeley is grinding away for a spot in a pro bono exhibition on the other side of the globe.

On Monday the Australian got a call from International Presidents Cup captain Greg Norman, who said simply, “I’m watching.” On Saturday Baddeley 3.0 had a message of his own for the Shark – Can you see me now?

Baddeley is tied with Hunter Mahan at 9 under following an eventful 64 that included seven pars and plenty of subtext. He has 18 more holes to impress Norman enough to make him one of his two captain’s picks on Tuesday.

Others can play for the cash; Baddeley is in it for country and captain.

“My main focus right now is to try and impress Greg,” he said.

Bill Haas can relate. He was making a similar statement to U.S. captain Fred Couples until stumbling down the stretch to a bogey/double-bogey finish. If conventional wisdom holds, Captain America’s choices for his final pick are down to Haas, Keegan Bradley and Brandt Snedeker. And right now that’s how they stand on the leaderboard.

Tuesday promises to be a big day for Couples. No, not because his final pick is due. That’s the day Stricker will undergo an MRI on his ailing neck in Wisconsin that will tell him if he will be healthy enough to play in November at Royal Melbourne. Truth is, Couples’ pick will be decided Sunday afternoon at East Lake.

As will the Tour Championship, FedEx Cup and the Player of the Year race, a neat finale that ends the non-stop predictions. By sundown ShotLink computers across the property will go silent, calculations completed and champions crowned. For all those who have had their fill of projections, it promises to be a Super Sunday by any measure.