ATLANTA — No matter what happens at the Tour Championship, Tiger Woods is assured of being No. 1 in the world and No. 1 on the PGA Tour money list.
Everything else is up for grabs.
Woods has five wins this year, and no one else has more than two. Even so, the parity among top players this year is illustrated by how many of them have something to play for at East Lake when the Tour Championship gets underway Thursday.
And it’s more than just the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus.
“Two trophies here this week, and also potentially throwing my name in a player of the year debate, which I think is quite a prestigious honor amongst the company that I play golf against,” Masters champion Adam Scott said.
The two trophies are the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, and they have gone to the same player four out of seven years. Woods already is assured of winning the Arnold Palmer Award for leading the money list, which will be the 10th time in his career. He appears safe to win the Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average. Going into East Lake, his scoring average of 68.87 is slightly ahead of Steve Stricker (69.02). This is one time when figuring out who wins the FedEx Cup — with a reset of points and all the projections — will be easier than predicting the player of the year.
“Well, I’d like to get a sixth win, how about that?” Woods said. “And we’ll see what happens.”
A victory would indeed give Woods six this year, including two World Golf Championships, The Players Championship and the Tour Championship, along with the FedEx Cup. That would make it a fairly simple choice and allow players to overlook no majors when casting their votes. Scott not only has a green jacket, he won the opening playoff event at The Barclays. He could make a strong case with three wins — all against strong fields — a major and the Fed Ex Cup. Phil Mickelson has a claret jug from the British Open, where he produced one of the greatest final rounds in major championship history. He won the Phoenix Open this year after coming within a fraction of an inch of shooting 59. He could bring the same credentials as Scott if he were to win the Tour Championship, boosted by having been a runner-up at the U.S. Open and the sentimental factor of having never won player of the year.
“It would be hard not to give him the vote,” Scott said of Mickelson. “Then he has three wins with a major, and Tiger has five wins, and Phil has the FedEx Cup. I think it’s a pretty strong case to say ‘Phil.’ But if you feel like five wins is more impressive, you can put Tiger. I don’t really know. I think you’ve got a strong case to argue for both.”
Woods also knows this is a big week.
“This tournament has a lot of value to it,” Woods said. “There are guys who have won a couple times, but they’ve had major championships in there. I’ve won five times. I think that this week has a lot to do with it. It’s up for grabs for player of the year.”
Woods already has won the award 10 times.
As for the 30-man field at the Tour Championship, the points have been reset so that the top five seeds only have to win the tournament to capture the cup. Everyone else has a mathematical chance, though only two players out of the top 10 in the FedEx Cup won — Jim Furyk (11th seed) in 2010 and Bill Haas (25th) in 2011. Woods nailed down the No. 1 seed with a strong season and a runner-up finish at The Barclays. He is followed by Deutsche Bank winner Henrik Stenson, Scott and BMW Championship winner Zach Johnson. Taking the fifth seed, without having won a playoff event, is Matt Kuchar. And he didn’t even know it. Kuchar figured he would be outside the top five after he finished up Monday at the BMW Championship, and only learned of his fortunes on the flight down to Atlanta with Keegan Bradley.
“They were discussing Dustin Johnson was last man in at 30, so I asked if I could see his phone and just take a look-see of where everybody had finished,” Kuchar said. “I was shocked when I saw I was No. 5 and I only got bumped one spot.”
It got stranger when Bradley brought up the fact that a year ago, he was flying to Atlanta with Brandt Snedeker, who also went from No. 4 to No. 5 after the third playoff event. Snedeker went on to win at East Lake to go home with $11.44 million (winning the Tour Championship is worth $1.44 million)
“So I’m hoping that somehow there’s some fort of fate there, with Keegan being the middleman,” Kuchar said.
This is the third time Woods has been the No. 1 seed going into the Tour Championship, and he won the FedEx Cup the previous two times. His second cup was in 2009, and that remains the last time the top seed at East Lake won the $10 million prize. That’s also the last time Woods won PGA Tour player of the year.