Despite the fact that the golf season is deep into its playoffs, Tiger Woods doesn’t know how the convoluted Fed Ex Cup points system works.
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really know,” he admitted Monday, “I don’t think anyone knows. You come in there and you go, ‘How many points did I make today?’ and no one has a clue.”
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Short of stopping in at MIT on his way home from TPC Boston for a better explanation than I’m mathematically equipped to give, there are only two things Woods needs to know.
The first is that he’s not going to go into the Tour Championship, where the Cup will be decided in two weeks, in worse than second position when the points are re-set no matter what he does at this week’s BMW Championship in Chicago. The second is that Steve Stricker’s turned this fledgling Cup into a real race.
Stricker shot a final-round 67 Monday on a pleasant New England late summer afternoon to emerge from the peleton and claim the second event of the four-legged playoff series, the Deutsche Bank Championship, thanks in good part to a pair of clutch closing birdies.
“Knowing that I needed to make a couple of birdies coming in and actually doing it means a lot,” said Stricker, who further buried the demons of two blown tournaments in California earlier in the year.
“Slowly, I’ve been gaining confidence when I’m under the gun.”
It was the amiable Badger’s third, and biggest, win of the year on Tour — more than anyone not named Woods, who has five — and propelled him to the top of the FedEx Cup ladder with 5,605 points, almost 1,000 points ahead of Woods, who drops to second with 4,696.
Stricker, though, isn’t overnighting his expectations.
“He’s the man still,” said Stricker of Woods, “We’re just taking up space in his world.
“I’m just happy to be in the position I’m at and with the opportunity to do something special for myself. He’s done enough other special things, maybe let somebody else do something special.
“We all know what he’s about and how great a player he is, but this format adds a lot of excitement for a guy like myself or anybody else to kind of challenge him.
“Whoever is going to win this, whether it be him or me or anybody else, I mean, you’re going to have to play some pretty good golf for two more events, and it’s going to lead to a lot of excitement.”
Despite Stricker’s kind characterization, Woods never really looked like The Man on a course he’s had success at until Monday’s final round.
For the opening three rounds he mostly was at war with his putter; an estrangement which began on the weekend of the PGA at Hazeltine and continued into last week’s The Barclays, where Woods finished second in the shadows of Manhattan despite being generally clueless on the greens of Liberty National.
Rocco Mediate once told me that years ago he complained to his then-wife about not being able to make any putts.
“Why don’t you just hit it closer to the hole then?” she said, as only a non-golfer could.
Woods decided on very much the same strategy Monday. His ball striking was exemplary; high draws, low fades, whatever ball flight and trajectory he wanted was at his command.
When he’s in this kind of mood, stuffing iron shots from the middle of the fairway, there are no limits to how low he can shoot.
He was 6 under par through seven holes, having converted birdies of 14 inches, 4 1/2 feet, 3 feet and 4 feet and holing a 9-iron for eagle on the 465-yard par-4 sixth hole.
There would be four more birdies to come as Woods hunted every flag.
The only time his aggression cost him was on the 240-yard par-3 11th, where he tried to force a low 3-iron into a back-right pin and instead plugged in the front bunker, leading to a bogey.
His other bogey of the round came on the 17th, when he pulled a wedge into the only place on that green he couldn’t leave himself given the front-right pin. Woods had to negotiate a huge camelback hump which was right in his way and three-putted for bogey.
Sweet for Stricker
A week after missing a putt to force overtime, Steve Stricker closed with back-to-back birdies to win the Deutsche Bank Championship and take the lead in the race for the FedEx Cup.
A birdie on the last gave him an 8-under-par round of 63, catapulting him from 30th to a tie for 11th.
“It probably could’ve been a couple less than that,” he said.
“But still wouldn’t have been good enough.”
“The whole idea was to try and shoot something in the low 60s and that would probably get me in the top 10. Certainly, from where I was at, I couldn’t win the tournament, even if I shot 60 or something like that.”
While others may panic for him, Woods tends to stay the course and he repeated several times on Monday that he didn’t do much different in the fourth round than he’d done in the first three.
“I went out there and I did the same things,” he said, “The last three days, I had three to five lip-outs per day. You just stick with the same things … and maybe those putts will fall. All of a sudden, boom, they start falling, and here we go.”
The question now becomes whether they keep falling as the playoffs move to Cog Hill, the venerable Chicago track on which Woods has won four times.
Because Woods will need a few to fall to keep pace with Stricker.