JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Everything is bigger in New York, which might as well include the list of contenders at Liberty National, too, even if the golf course is on this side of the Hudson River.
When the FedExCup Playoffs were formed six years ago, the idea was to bring together the best players in the game for a month-long season finale that would sparkle. Mission accomplished.
If you can peel your eyes away from the breathtaking views of Lady Liberty and the glitzy Manhattan skyline, you’ll see the biggest stars performing here late on Sunday.
Of the top dozen players on the leaderboard through 54 holes of The Barclays, only two -- Kevin Chappell and David Lynn -- have yet to win on the PGA TOUR (though Lynn did win in Europe in 2004).
One of those guys has won 79 times. But if Tiger Woods is going to move within two of Sam Snead’s all-time victory record, he’ll need to overcome a four-shot deficit and a balky back for which he has received treatment for after every round this week.
“It starts off great every day, and then it progressively deteriorates as the day goes on,” Woods, after a Saturday 69, said of his back, which was the victim of an apparent soft hotel mattress earlier in the week. “Hopefully (Sunday) it will be one of those days again and fight through it and see if I can win a tournament.
There’s nothing soft about the guys he has to chase down.
Matt Kuchar, who shares the lead at 12 under with Gary Woodland, has more top 10s (36) since 2010 than anyone. Among them were wins this year at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship and the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance as well as his signature victory at the 2011 PLAYERS.
Woodland, meanwhile, is one of the best athletes in the game -- a talented baseball and basketball player in high school, he played the latter at Division-II Washburn University before transferring to Kansas to play golf.
Earlier this week, he and Kuchar -- who is close enough friends with Woodland to have picked him as his partner for the World Cup two years ago -- went to a Braves-Mets game. The two ducked into an indoor batting cage and Kuchar came away impressed at Woodland’s ability to swing the bat.
But Woodland’s skills on the golf course were tested last year with injuries to both wrists. Now fully healthy and under the guidance of swing coach Claude Harmon and mental coach Julie Elion, the long-hitting 29-year-old is looking for his second win in four weeks.
“I’ve really let my game take over,” Woodland said after a third-round 68 that at one point included four straight birdies. “I'm playing beautifully.”
So is Chappell.
He made nine birdies and no bogeys en route to a course-record 62 in the third round.
Though it was the third time this week the course record was either tied or broken, and the second time this year he has carded that number, even Chappell couldn’t quite grasp what he was seeing.
"In the wind, if you would have told me someone was going to shoot 62 today, I would probably have laughed at you," he said.
While lower numbers have been possible this week at a redesigned and softened (literally and figuratively) Liberty National, they were a rarity in the third round. Of the top 12 players on the leaderboard, Chappell was the only one to go lower than 3 under.
Still, they were available and likely will be again on Sunday.
“Darned good golf,” Kuchar said, describing Chappell’s round. Not that he seemed terribly surprised, however. “No matter how tough the conditions are, somebody finds a way to play good golf.”
Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth are all within five strokes of Kuchar and Woodland.
Fowler shot into contention after a birdie on the first hole and an eagle on the par-5 sixth, where he reached the green in two and sank a 20-foot putt.
Rose and Furyk, meanwhile, strung together enough birdies for each to shoot 1-under 70, while Watson’s 68 was highlighted by a hole-out for eagle from 96 yards on the par-4 12th.
Then there’s Spieth, who earlier this year became the first teenager to win on TOUR in more than 80 years. A month later and just after his 20th birthday, he nearly won again before losing in a playoff at last week's Wyndham Championship.
“I'm going to have to play smart golf,” Spieth said.
He’s not the only one.
“It's definitely starting to play tougher out there,” Fowler said. “The back nine, there was a few spike marks and the greens were starting to get a little crusty. With the breeze drying them out, it could play pretty tough (Sunday) afternoon.”
Whoever makes it here, can make it anywhere. Or at least all the way to East Lake for the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola and a shot at the FedExCup.