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On The Fringe: A Roar And A Bore


Villegas battled down the stretch and Vijay? "Cruise control" kind of says it all.

ATLANTA (AP) -- Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim were eliminated with pars.

That left a big chunk of change for Sergio Garcia and Camilo Villegas to chase -- $4.26 million to the winner of the sudden-death playoff and $2.756 million to the loser, meaning one stroke was worth $1.5 million.

Villegas, who was five shots behind with 11 holes to play, wound up winning with a par for his second straight victory. So concluded one of the best tournaments all year, certainly the most thrilling Tour Championship since Mike Weir won a four-man playoff over Garcia, Ernie Els and David Toms seven years ago in Houston.

If only the FedEx Cup could have ended that way.

Such a scenario is what made PGA Tour officials salivate when they created this points competition.

Imagine four players who move the needle -- heck, the tour would settle for two of them -- battling on the back nine of the last playoff event with the $10 million prize riding on every drive, every chip, every putt, until it came down to one final shot.

Alas, the winner of golf's Super Bowl again spent the fourth quarter running out the clock.

The leaders had just made the turn at East Lake when Vijay Singh added his score correctly and signed the card in the right place, his only requirement to capture the FedEx Cup. It was equally anticlimactic last year when Tiger Woods entered the final round with a 13-shot lead on his nearest cup contender.

So what does that make the FedEx Cup?

A great show.

It is easy to bash the FedEx Cup for the blowouts it has delivered the first two years, but whose fault is that? Woods was the No. 1 seed last year, won two straight tournaments and tied for second in the other. That should win under any formula.

Singh was the No. 7 seed this year and won the first two playoff events, and while Villegas won the last two and tied for third in another, he started the playoffs as the No. 42 seed and missed the cut in the first event at The Barclays. Even using last year's points system, Singh would have clinched the FedEx Cup before he arrived at East Lake.

More than anything, the FedEx Cup suffers from high expectations.

Did anyone really think Woods and Mickelson, Singh and Garcia, or any combination thereof, would come to the back nine of the Tour Championship with the FedEx Cup at stake?

That rarely happens in majors, let alone a points race stretched over four straight tournaments. Count how many times heavyweights have slugged it out on the back nine of a major this decade, and you can leave one hand in your pocket.

Remember, the points race was but one component of the FedEx Cup.

The other was to give golf a more defined conclusion to the season, bringing together the best players over the final month of the season when they otherwise would have shut it down after the majors.

Here's what the FedEx Cup delivered:

-- Singh, Garcia and Kevin Sutherland in a three-man playoff at The Barclays, where Garcia holed a 30-foot birdie putt, Singh poured in a 25-foot birdie on top of him and then beat the Spaniard on the second extra hole.

-- Weir, Villegas, Singh, Garcia, Els and Jim Furyk separated by five shots going into the last round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, where Singh rolled in three birdie putts of at least 35 feet and closed with a 63.

-- Villegas, Furyk and Kim traded blows on the back nine of the BMW Championship, where Villegas earned his first tour victory.

-- Villegas, Mickelson, Kim and Garcia made up the final two groups Sunday at East Lake, and someone wound up with a birdie or a bogey at every hole on the back nine except the par-3 18th in regulation.

A year ago, the playoff events were equally stout.

Steve Stricker birdied four of the last five holes to win for the first time in six years. Deutsche Bank seized on playoff fever with the Mickelson-Woods showdown on Labor Day. Woods needed a record-setting performance at Cog Hill to hold off Stricker and Aaron Baddeley. The worst event was East Lake, an eight-shot victory by Woods, because the greens barely had any grass.

It is hard to find four PGA Tour events with so much name recognition on the leaderboard, let alone four in a row. In that respect, the FedEx Cup is doing just fine.

Now if they can figure out how to make the finish just as compelling.

The points system will be adjusted again. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem will direct his mathematicians to create a formula that adds importance each week until the Tour Championship.

Even then, there are no guarantees the Tour Championship will be anything but ceremonial.

Remember, however, the Tour Championship was little more than an All-Star game before the FedEx Cup came along. The only meaningful Tour Championship over the previous dozen years was in 1996, when Tom Lehman won to overtake Mickelson for the money title and ultimately player of the year; and in 2003, when Woods and Singh were in a tight race for those two awards.

No matter how you calculate points, the playoffs for two straight years have featured strong fields and compelling tournaments. There's nothing wrong with that.