ATLANTA – Bless Steve Sands’ heart and his magic Sharpie, but Sunday at East Lake will not be about math.
It never is. Truth is it can’t be.
“You don’t really know what’s going on because there are so many variables,” said Matt Kuchar, who should know. He’s arrived at East Lake, a home game for the Georgia Tech alum, the last two years with all manner of mathematical possibilities.
It’s not that Tour types don’t care about the FedEx Cup, as if 10 million reasons to pine for something wasn’t enough, as much as it is an inability to comprehend what needs to be done. Those computations are best left to MIT grads and super computers.
In one breath Rory McIlroy, your projected points leader and one of four players within three strokes of the lead, gushed – “It’s probably going to be one of the most exciting Sundays of the year.”
In the next beat he put the season-long scramble in context – “This is nothing compared to going into the final round of a major with the lead.”
The projections are so arcane that last year’s champion Bill Haas asked during the 2011 awards ceremony why both trophies, the Tour Championship crystal and FedEx Cup silver, were awaiting him, unaware his playoff victory over Hunter Mahan had delivered both chalices.
On Sunday at the Tour Championship it will be the talking heads and Tour tacticians who will feverishly dissect the litany of scenarios, not the players. In their defense good golf and endless deliberations are very much mutually exclusive.
In short form the possibilities are rather straightforward. If McIlroy, Tiger Woods or Brandt Snedeker – who are all inside the top 10 through 54 – win the Tour Championship, the cup and cash are theirs.
Anything beyond that is long division.
Consider that for Justin Rose, who is tied with Snedeker for the lead at 8 under par, to win the cup McIlroy must finish worse than 15th, Woods must be outside the top five, Snedeker in a three-way tie for second or worse and Phil Mickelson needs to be no better than a tie for third . . . stop me when it hurts.
By comparison the BCS formula of yesteryear was coloring by numbers.
“All the money and awards come from winning championships,” Woods said simply. The only two-time winner of the $10 million lottery ticket speaks from experience, which would explain what could only be called a rebound round on a gusty Saturday.
It was 67 the hard way for Woods, plenty of missed greens and missed opportunities but when he signed his card he found himself wedged center stage. And that’s the beauty of golf’s faux postseason.
All the projections in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., add up to one truth – the playoffs have again delivered interest where before there was none. The confounding calculations mean little to those who crisscrossed East Lake on Saturday. All that mattered to the masses was that the game’s top players are participating in meaningful golf past Labor Day.
Beyond the math the general ideas were simple enough. McIlroy wins and he wraps up the Player of the Year trophy and further solidifies his spot as the new top dog, not to mention adding an extra level of intrigue to next week’s Ryder Cup.
Woods wins and he matches McIlroy’s haul of four Tour titles and wrests the Player of the Year voting out of foregone-conclusion territory, not to mention sending an unmistakable message to Greg Norman, who opined earlier this week that the former world No. 1 was “intimidated” by the current world No. 1 (McIlroy).
For Rose it’s another high-profile bottlecap on a burgeoning resume, and a Snedeker victory would be a fitting exclamation point after an injury-riddled few seasons as well as an emotional tribute to Tucker Anderson, the son of Snedeker’s longtime swing coach, who is recovering in an Atlanta-area hospital following a near-fatal car crash two weeks ago.
In fact, it was Snedeker who admitted that all of the potential Sunday scenarios would likely lead to a “restless night.”
Not to mention the possibility of a possible preview to a potential uber-match between Woods and McIlroy next Sunday at Medinah.
Or a sudden-death playoff, for the Tour Championship or FedEx Cup – yes, it can happen with the likes of Jim Furyk, the 2010 FedEx champion who rinsed his tee shot on No. 17 on Saturday for a triple bogey to fall out of the lead, still looming just three strokes back.
Straightforward, uncontrived, uncalculated drama that is usually the domain of majors and Ryder Cups, not limited-field gatherings in the early fall. It’s all there: no math, just meaningful golf.