Tiger seeks validation as golf’s POY
There are 10 million reasons for Tiger Woods to play well in the PGA Tour’s season finale.
Well, 10 million and one.
The world No. 1-ranked player leads the FedEx Cup points race going into this week’s Tour Championship and, if the mathematical gyrations go well for him at East Lake this week, could very well be $10 million richer.
But Woods isn’t at the spiritual home of Bobby Jones just looking to fatten his bank account.
He’s locked in another race that might mean more to him.
With his five wins, Woods is the favorite to win the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year award.
And he should be.
Since 1980, only two players not named Woods have won five or more times in a season: Vijay Singh, who had nine wins in 2004, and Nick Price, who won six times in ’94.
This is the 10th time Woods has done it; more than any player in history.
And it’s not like the wins came at weak events: He has won two World Golf Championships, The Players — which boasts the strongest field of the year — and at Bay Hill and Torrey Pines.
Winning an 11th Player of the Year award is important for Woods.
It would represent another signal of recovery, of resurrecting the champion he once was.
Of course, the biggest stumbling block to resurrection remains winning a major, but it won’t be lost on him that the last time he was voted POY was in 2009, before the scandal and the swing changes, the divorce and the injuries.
“The Player of the Year award is something we hold dearly because it’s the respect of our peers,” Woods said Wednesday. “Having a year where they think that you were deserving of the Player of the Year, it’s pretty special.”
Standing in Woods’ way, however, are two rivals.
With a win this week — especially if it results in also claiming the FedEx Cup — both Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson have a chance of eclipsing Woods in the POY race.
“This week counts so much for me and how the year will be remembered,” the Masters champion Scott said on Wednesday.
“There’s so much to play for: 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.”
As well as famously becoming the first Australian to win a green jacket, Scott contended at both the British Open and PGA Championship, and won the first of the four FedEx Cup playoff events, The Barclays in New York.
A win at East Lake elevates him into the conversation (and it certainly won’t hurt that he’s among the most liked players on the Tour).
“I really need to win here to even throw my name in the hat,” Scott said. “Then it could be possible. I don’t know how the rest of the guys will see it.”
Mickelson won in Phoenix in the spring, then ensured his legacy as an all-time great of the game with an unforgettable come-from-behind win at Muirfield in the major they said he couldn’t win, the British Open.
If Mickelson won the Tour Championship, Scott said “it would be hard not to give him the (POY) vote."
“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,” Scott added.
“But if you feel like five wins is more impressive, you can put Tiger. I don’t really know. You’ve got a strong case to argue for both.”
Woods, meanwhile, conceded that the honor was “up for grabs.”
It’s clear that he’s hoping to put an end to the debate on a course that has treated him well in the past.
“I think I’ve had a good run here,” he said, “I’ve won twice and finished second four times. I have felt comfortable on this golf course.”
As is his wont, he likes his chances for a third win at East Lake: one that would bring to an end all the talk about POY.
“I’d like to get a sixth win," he said. "How about that?”