ATLANTA -- After the talk about points, percentages and possibilities, the FedExCup Playoffs have been winnowed down to one stone-cold fact. To win it all on Sunday at East Lake Golf Club, Brandt Snedeker must hold on to the 54-hole lead he shares with Justin Rose at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola.
Snedeker knows just how much easier it that is to say than do. His three career PGA TOUR wins have all come from well off the pace, most recently from seven strokes, in January at the Farmers Open, where he overtook Kyle Stanley with a Sunday 67.
He knows it because he has led or shared the 54-hole lead twice, and could close neither the 2007 Buick Open nor the 2010 Waste Management Open.
And he also knows that none of that matters now. Snedeker, who started the week at No. 5 among the top five FedExCup points leaders who can win it all with a tournament win, shot a bogey-free 64 on Saturday to move to the top of the leader board alongside Rose, who shot 68.
The two are tied at 8-under 202, two strokes clear of Ryan Moore, who shot 65, and three ahead of Rory McIlroy -- the nearest pursuer Snedeker has for the FedExCup.
"My first goal for this week is achieved," Snedeker said, "and that is to have a chance going into Sunday. I think something like 90 something percent of the PGA TOUR winners come from the last two groups, and that's where I want to be in those last two groups. So I know get I get a chance to do that tomorrow, and it should be a lot of fun."
It really should. By moving into the first-place tie with six birdies and the 31-year-old Snedeker has put the battle for the FedExCup and the TOUR Championship into critical focus for himself, for golf fans, and for McIlroy and Tiger Woods -- the other remaining contenders from the original top five with legitimate chances to win it all.
Rose, who came in at 24th in the FedExCup points race, is realistic enough to realize his chances are slim at the FedExCup -- he would have to get the discussion started by winning the TOUR Championship and McIlroy would have to finish worse than 17th .
"Yeah," he said, "I need a little help from my friends, as they say."
So does everyone else. Everyone but Snedeker. Jim Furyk, who led the TOUR Championship all day until triple-bogeying the 17th hole, is still alive in a tie for fourth with McIlroy and Bubba Watson. But Furyk and Watson, both three strokes back, need McIlroy to have a bad day to have any chance at all.
Both McIlroy and Woods can take it away, but even they need Snedeker to slip. And either McIlroy or Woods can still win the FedExCup without winning the TOUR Championship, but neither is willing to enter that permutation puzzle. Each said they're going to approach Sunday with a must-win mindset.
McIlroy, whose 68 was his 11th straight round in the 60s, looks just as confident at three-strokes back as he was entering the final round three weeks ago, three strokes back at the Deutsche Bank Championship -- which he won for the second of his three wins in the past five weeks.
"It's going to be one of the most exciting Sundays of the year," said the 23-year-old sensation from Northern Ireland. "There are a few guys still in it with a chance to win the FedExCup and to win this tournament. So looking forward to it. Great to be in the mix.
"Only three back, so I'm excited about the prospect of a very exciting finish tomorrow."
Ditto for Woods, who fought his way back into the picture by rebounding from the second-round 73 with a 67. He birdied four holes, bogeyed none, and saved par from the rough, the sand and three times from the trees -- once miraculously from deep in woods with a seeing-eye shot through a tiny opening left of the 16th hole.
Four strokes behind at 4-under-par 206, Woods is tied for seventh with Robert Garrigus, Matt Kuchar and Bo Van Pelt. He was glad to talk about coming back from the desultory second round.
"I've done it before," Woods said. "Been out here a long time, and just claw your way back into it, and usually I'll take a round in the 60s. I figure the guys aren't going to run off and hide -- not on this golf course. It's just playing too difficult."
As to the thoughts of the $10 million bonus getting his juices flowing, Woods said he hadn't been motivated by money at a tournament since he was worrying about making enough for his TOUR card back at the old B.C. Open in '96.
"That's not why we play," he said. "I'm playing for the 'W' and tomorrow I've got a great shot at it. All the money and awards and all that stuff, that comes along with winning championships. And that's the way I've always looked at it. Right now, I'm four back and if I win the golf tournament everything's kind of taken care of."
That is a fact. But if Snedeker takes care of his end of things, Woods will need to go lower than McIlroy, who admitted he will need to shoot "64 or 65," lower than Woods or McIlroy has managed this week. But then, Snedeker has never won from the front.
"Yes," Snedeker said, facing it head-on. "It's something I've not done in my career. I've never had a lead going into Sunday and won. So, that's kind of the next evolution, the next step in becoming a world-class player. It's knowing you can do that, and I need to show that I can do that."
Larry Dorman is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.