Rory-Tiger battle exactly what FedExCup was designed to create

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September 19, 2012
Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM

ATLANTA -- Now that all the overhauls, refinements, tweaks, touchups and fine-tunings are finished, the week has arrived when everything forecast six years ago for the FedExCup Playoffs can reach fruition.

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That's right. The FedExCup finale -- the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola -- are, finally, positioned to shed all the comparisons and stand on their own merits.

Whether the event can actually meet all the expectations it has created will be determined over 72 holes of stroke play at the historic East Lake Golf Club. But one thing is certain: never has this much expectancy surrounded the meeting of the final field of 30 golfers who survived the winnowing process of a season-long points race.

Rob Johnson, the Tournament Chairman for the TOUR Championship, said the events leading up to every ticket sold out in advance, "I've been waiting a long time for this type of feel, this type of excitement, this type of understanding of the championship's significance."

There are plenty of reasons for the euphoria. There are more good players who are in top form coming into this event than at any other at time this season. This obviously includes all of the top-five point winners, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker. It includes many others among the top 21 golfers in the Official World Golf Ranking, all of whom are in the field.

Then there's Dustin Johnson, No. 7 in the points, the only player with three top-10s in the first three Playoff events -- T-3 at The Barclays, T-4 at the Deutsche Bank Championship, and T-6 at the BMW Championship. He's followed closely by Lee Westwood (T-5 at The Barclays, T-13 at the Deutsche Bank and T-2 at BMW).

None, of course, is playing any better than McIlroy, the current World No. 1 in both the Official Ranking and the FedExCup. He has won three of his last four events, including the year's last major championship by eight strokes, and the last two Playoff events.

This is a hot streak that would, a few years back, have made McIlroy a stone-cold lock to win the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus that goes with it. But, though he clearly is in the best position to win the Cup, McIlroy is by no means a lock. There is even one scenario, admittedly a bit far-fetched, whereby he could finish second in the TOUR Championship and still not win the FedExCup.

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Some experts are disquieted by this possibility. Not McIlroy. He might be playing in his first TOUR Championship, but he understands that foregone conclusions do not good entertainment make. He even joked about it Wednesday during his press conference by referencing the cakewalk to the FedExCup Vijay Singh had in 2008 after winning The Barclays and the Deutsche Bank in succession and coasting in the last two events

"I mean, it was what it is," McIlroy said Wednesday. "I think I've got Vijay to thank for that from a few years ago. But I don't mind. Look, it obviously still makes it exciting going into the last event. It would be nice to have it wrapped up, but it's just the way it is.

"I'm not going to complain about it or I'm not going to moan about it. I accept it. I accept that I still have a lot of work to do this week, and that's what I'm focused on."

And, let's face it, this whole developing competition between McIlroy and Woods -- who will play together in the 1:55 p.m. ET pairing -- can only add further spice to the proceedings. With Woods rounding into the kind of form he had pre-2010, this whole notion of the 23-year-old kid deposing the 36-year-old former undisputed king of the golf world is gaining traction as a storyline.

Woods has good-naturedly gone along with it for the past few weeks. McIlroy said Tiger had even started calling him "The Intimidator," referring to a remark made by Greg Norman earlier this week about McIlroy "intimidating" Woods. McIlroy smilingly dismissed the question about whether he, in fact, believed he was doing so.

"How can I intimidate Tiger Woods?" said McIlroy of the man who is No. 2 on the all-time victory list with 74 career victories, eight behind Sam Snead. "I mean the guy's got 75 or 70-whatever PGA TOUR wins, 14 majors. I mean he's the biggest thing ever in our sport."

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When Woods was asked about it Wednesday, he made it clear that he isn't ready to cede anything to anybody when he gave a straight-faced and brief answer to a question about intimidation and all the stories about a "rivalry" between McIlroy and him.

"I really don't care," he said, then repeating the answer verbatim when a similar inquiry followed.

Now, if that doesn't sound like the old Tiger Woods, game-face on and competitive side rearing up on the eve of a big event, then Sam Snead couldn't kick a doorframe above his head.

Here it is mid-September, head coaches in the NFL are going jaw-to-jaw during an a pre-game handshake, and we're talking golf. And not just hit-and-giggle golf, but golf at its highest level at a venerable site where a young Bobby Jones learned the game from Stewart Maiden.

We could well be getting ready for a head-to-head battle between the once and future kings of the game. Or, because there are still almost as many opinions about how the Playoff system can be improved. There are complex scenarios about which of the 30 players left standing has a "mathematical chance" to win, and we could get another shocker.

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And what would be wrong with that? Did any of the pre-tournament favorites win one of this year's major championships? No. A quick reminder: Bubba Watson (Masters) was 50-to-1; Webb Simpson (U.S. Open) was 50-to-1; Ernie Els (British Open) was anywhere from 50-to-1 to 469-to-1. McIlroy (PGA Championship) was 18-1, second favorite to Woods, who was 8-to-1.

Bill Haas came from 25th on the points list to win the FedExCup last year. John Huh, the only rookie in the field here this week, is 200-to-1 this week. He gives himself a chance. And so does Ernie Els, who reminded readers of his blog that Haas came from 25th last year, "So anything is possible. I'm in 22nd spot."

How good would that be? If somebody wants to pick fly specks out of the peppercorn by complaining about a points system that allows that possibility, even if it is "mathematical," bring it on.

Larry Dorman is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.

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