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Now It's Getting Interesting

The FedEx Cup Lifts off with a Phil Mickelson Win in Round 2

THE PGA TOUR'Snewfangled end-of-the-season extravaganza is awash in logos, title sponsors andmarketing ploys, but to bring the FedEx Cup to the masses, we need somethingsimple and direct. We need a cheer. Here, then, is the Official Cheer of thePGA Tour Playoffs for the FedEx Cup: Gimme a P!

All right, so it'snot the Wave, but the cheer clearly points out what's missing from theplayoffs. There is no P. The FedEx Cup has provided lots of layoffs--from astarting field of 144 players at the Barclays to 120 last week at the DeutscheBank Championship to 70 this week at the BMW Championship and 30 next week atthe grand finale, the Tour Championship--but no playoffs. Debate this point allyou want, but after Phil Mickelson's two-shot win on Labor Day over TigerWoods, Brett Wetterich and Arron Oberholser, we're halfway through the FedExCup and barely half of the pretenders have been eliminated. Hey, guys, what'staking so long?

We need somethinglike what happened at the last Presidents Cup, at which the Americans found aPing-Pong table in their team quarters, and Mickelson challenged Woods to amatch.

"They playedthe first game: Tiger won," recalls U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus(page G8). "They played the second game: Tiger won. Phil said, 'I'vegot this buffet table behind me, and I can't swing. Switch sides with me.'Tiger said, 'Sure.' " (Mickelson, an ace at table tennis, loves to playcurvy, heroic shots from impossible angles way beyond the end of thetable--absolutely nothing like his approach to golf--and the buffet wascramping his style.) "So they switched sides, and Phil wins. Phil says,'Let's play another one.' And Tiger says, 'Uh-uh. Two to one.' And they neverplayed again."

That is aplayoff.

That aside, lastweek several things started to go right with the FedEx Cup. Here's the brightside:

• The Fields

A year ago noteven a guarantee of more than $100,000 (for last place) could get Tiger or Philto play in the season-ending Tour Championship. Phil didn't tee it up in anyTour events after August. This year the FedEx Cup accomplished one importantgoal--it brought together the world's top players for four straight weeks.

O.K., attendancehasn't been perfect. Woods skipped the series opener and drew fire. The fittestman in golf said he was too tired to play the Barclays, but whether Woods wassending a who's-your-daddy message to Tour headquarters or was simply toopooped to play after back-to-back wins at the Bridgestone Invitational and thePGA Championship doesn't matter. He showed up at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass.,with his game face on, got himself into contention with a seven-under 64 in thesecond round and finished the week in third place, behind Mickelson, in theFedEx standings. Significantly, Woods was paired with Mickelson for three ofthe four rounds, including Monday's taut finale, which resulted in selloutcrowds. Ernie Els and Scott Verplank took a pass on the Deutsche Bank, but theTiger and Phil Show made any absences irrelevant.

• The Buzz

It has taken allyear, but the FedEx Cup has become the only topic of conversation in golf, evenif most of the talk is about what needs to be changed. It's unanimous that theFedEx Cup needs to be tweaked, although no one agrees on exactly what should bemodified. The Tour is open to suggestions. "We welcome fans who have beensending e-mails and blogging," says commissioner Tim Finchem. "Iencourage it. It's healthy. I'd rather have that than nobody payingattention."

• The Points

Though convolutedand perhaps even unjust, the wacky scoring system is doing exactly what it wasdesigned to do. "Tiger understands better than anybody that it's all abouthigh finishes--top five or better," says Steve Dennis, the Tour's top FedExCup number cruncher. "In the four-week series it's all about hitting homeruns. If you want to win the FedEx Cup, you have to have a win unless youstarted as the first or second seed. Assuming nobody wins two of the firstthree weeks, we'll look up on Thursday in Atlanta [at the Tour Championship]and say, 'We have five or six guys who could win this thing--[Barclays winnerSteve] Stricker, Mickelson, the BMW winner and the top two or three seeds.'That's who it ought to be: the guys who played well all season and the guys whoplayed well in these four weeks."

• The Golf

Fairly orunfairly, the success of the FedEx Cup ultimately will hinge on the quality ofthe tournaments, and so far, so good. Stricker birdied four of the last fiveholes to overtake K.J. Choi in Westchester, a dramatic finish that was aterrific show. Golf doesn't get any better than Monday's Phil-Tiger showdown atthe Deutsche Bank, and the Tour got lucky by having the game's two top-rankedplayers go head-to-head for three days. If their round on Saturday morning hadbeen televised by Golf Channel, the FedEx Cup might've had a tipping point atthe exciting par-4 4th hole, where Woods knocked his tee shot onto the green,then watched Mickelson one-up him by driving his ball even closer to the hole.Woods counterpunched by rolling in a 33-footer for eagle, while Mickelson hadto settle for a two-putt. It was definitely a game-on moment.

When the Tour doesgo back to the drawing board, this is what needs to be fixed:

• The Schedule

The problem isn'tsimply the four straight playoff events. After the British Open, the schedulebasically mandates that the top golfers play seven times in nine weeks. Nextyear the four FedEx Cup tournaments will precede the Ryder Cup with no weekoff. (The Tour hasn't released its 2008 schedule, but insiders say the datesare etched in stone.) Therefore it's almost a certainty that Woods andMickelson will skip at least one FedEx Cup tournament. "Scheduling is thebiggest issue," says Steve Flesch, who has played 13 of the last 14 weeks."I'm kind of out of gas. You can't play this much golf and expect to playwell. How many of the top players are going to come if they have to play six ofseven weeks?"

On the other hand,Woods's using the Barclays as a bye week may have been the best thing for theFedEx Cup. If he had won at Westchester, he would've almost clinched the title."Tiger not playing kind of added more excitement," says Stricker, whotied for ninth at the Deutsche Bank and dropped from first to second in theFedEx standings. "All of a sudden three guys are ahead of him, even thoughhe dominated the whole year. It doesn't seem right, but that's thesystem."

• The Timing

The FedEx Cup hasnot yet caught the public's attention. With Woods missing the first week,television ratings were down. Even the Little League World Series clobbered theBarclays. "I'm not displeased by the numbers," says Finchem, "butI'm looking for our ratings to go up in the next couple of weeks."

The Deutsche Bankran into the start of the college football season and also had some bad luck.The marquee Tiger, Phil and Vijay Singh group got lots of airtime on Fridayafternoon, but that was the day they didn't play well, shooting a combined fourover par (with a worst-ball of 83). The next morning they were 23 shotsbetter--19 under--but the telecast didn't begin until after they hadfinished.

Despite whatFinchem says, it's hard to see the ratings getting significantly better. TheNFL kicks off this week, and tennis's U.S. Open finishes on Saturday andSunday. The FedEx Cup's window of opportunity may already have passed.

• The Points

Golf fans haven'tcaught on to the complicated system. For all the effort that went into creatingand promoting the point standings, in the end the points list more or lessmirrored the traditional money list. "I don't understand it, to be veryhonest," says Nicklaus. "Frankly, if I don't know and I'm involved ingolf, how is Joe Public going to know? That's a problem."

Resetting thepoints before the playoffs was particularly confusing. In short, the field wasbunched with the runaway leader, Woods, pulled back closer to his pursuers inthe name of a more exciting finish.

"They gave 143guys a break and screwed one--Tiger," says Tour veteran Paul Goydos, whobegan the playoffs 51st in the standings. "If I would've won atWestchester, I would've passed Tiger on the points list. I don't know if that'sa good thing."

• TheLeftovers

What do you dowith all your FedEx Cup points once you've been eliminated? No, you can't putthem toward a flat-screen TV. Oberholser, who jumped from 67th to 29th in thestandings, was asked if he'd prefer FedEx Cup points or Marriott points."I'd rather have Marriott points," he said, "but neither one givesyou enough for what you expend."

No playoff and notenough payoff. Somebody, anybody, gimme a P!

MA SHERRI

Steinhauer Holds Off Annika at the State FarmClassic

page G12

MY SHOT

Deane Beman: Tour Playoffs a Work in Progress

page G16

Complete FedEx Cup standings and stats at GOLF.com.

Home Improvement

Brad Faxon, with Gil Hanse, transformed the PGA Tourvenue in his backyard from generic TPC to New England gem

FOR TOUR veteran and Rhode Islander Brad Faxon, theDeutsche Bank Championship was probably the most important tournament of theyear even though he was hobbling around the TPC Boston on crutches and couldn'tplay in the second stop of the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Faxon, who lives in Barrington--only 35 minutesaway from the course in Norton, Mass.--nonetheless had plenty to be nervousabout. Along with course architect Gil Hanse, Faxon was responsible for therecent renovation of the uninspiringly generic TPC Boston, and nothing spellspressure like trying to please 120 of your peers. Hanse, a rising star in thebusiness, jokingly said his design partner handled player complaints thusly:"If players don't like something, Brad tells them it's my fault. If theylike the course, he says he did it."

Faxon and Hanse's new-and-improved layout receivedmostly positive reviews, primarily because of its daring ideas. In an era whenmost Tour courses are being lengthened, TPC Boston was shortened by 200 yards.The 4th hole, which had been a doglegged, 425-yard par-4, was converted into adrivable (298 yards) two-shotter. With a nod to Pine Valley and its Hell'sHalf Acre (the gaping waste bunker on No. 7), a massive cross bunker was addedto the par-4 17th at TPC Boston. On the par-3 16th the green was snuggled upagainst a pond, and several pot bunkers were sprinkled on the fairway of thepar-5 18th. The revised 4th may have become the TPC's signature hole during theopening round of the Deutsche Bank, when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson,playing in the same group, made a 6 and a 2 there, respectively.

Just as important, Faxon and Hanse reworked thecosmetics; the grasses, the bunkering, the stone fences. "We wanted to makethe course look like New England," says Faxon. "Before, it looked likeTPC Anywhere." To get the right grass for the classic New Englandambience--slightly unkempt, slightly rough around the edges--all Hanse andFaxon had to do was stop at a Chinese restaurant in Norton. Hanse had spottedwild grasses in a vacant lot behind the place. "It was the perfectgrass," Hanse says. "It's called little blue stem, and it turns thispretty orange color in the fall. The restaurant owner thought it was a weed andwas happy to let us [dig it up] and take it away."

If only it all had come as easily on-course for the46-year-old Faxon. A 23-year Tour member, he has had a dismal year, droppingout of the top 200 on the money list and the top 450 in the World Ranking. InAugust, Faxon fell and injured his ribs, causing him to WD from the WyndhamChampionship, his last shot at qualifying for the FedEx Cup. "All thoseguys complaining about the [playoffs] should try not being in it," hesays.

Two weeks ago Faxon had surgery on his right foot torepair nerve damage. The surgery required doctors to break two bones in thefoot, and Faxon will be on crutches for up to six weeks. "It's been a lostyear," he says.

Here's hoping the positive reviews given the TPC Bostonwere a sign of better days ahead.

Senior Leadership

For U.S. Presidents Cup captain Jack Nicklaus and hislongtime assistant, Jeff Sluman, it's once more into the breach

JACK NICKLAUS doesn't know when to quit. Jeff Slumandoes.

Nicklaus, the greatest golfer of all time, will captainthe American Presidents Cup team for the fourth time when the U.S. faces theInternationals Sept. 27-30 at Royal Montreal Golf Club. And Sluman, thelunch-pail pro who carved out a solid career for more than two decades butnever played in a Ryder or Presidents Cup, will serve for the third time asNicklaus's vice captain.

This golfing odd couple, who were at the Deutsche BankChampionship for a U.S. team meeting, hope to reprise the Cinderella finish ofthe 2005 Presidents Cup, when Chris DiMarco sank a clutch 15-footer on thefinal hole to clinch an 18 1‚ÅÑ2-15 1‚ÅÑ2 win. That victory might've been a goodway for Nicklaus, 1-1-1 as captain, to go out, but just as he didn't retireafter famously winning the 1986 Masters at age 46, he's not inclined to give uphis captaincy at 67. Says Nicklaus, "My wife said, 'Jack, why would youwant to go back?' I said, 'Barbara, I'm only going back because the guys askedme.' She said, 'But the last time was so perfect.' I said, 'I understand that.I'm really stupid.' So I'm back again."

Sluman is moving on, on two fronts. He quietly closedthe curtain on his Tour career last month at the PGA Championship. Sluman leftSouthern Hills on Friday at seven over par and thinking he might make the cut.He learned the next morning that he had missed by two shots. "And that wasit," Sluman says. "I thought, I'm done. From that aspect, it was alittle sad." Sluman turns 50 on Sept. 11 and will take his game to theChampions tour, where he'll play two events before the Presidents Cup, thenmake three more senior starts to close the season. The first of Sluman's sixTour victories came in Oklahoma in 1988, and it was a big one--the PGAChampionship at Oak Tree. Sluman still uses the number 88 in his e-mailaddress. "I've been out here for 25 years," he says. "The seniortour is where I need to be. I'm eager to see some new cities and newcourses."

At the Presidents Cup, Nicklaus will be the big-pictureguy while Sluman will sweat the details. He first became the assistant in 2003.That year, after it appeared that he wouldn't make the team, he called Nicklauswith an offer to help, and Nicklaus took him up on it. Then, when Nicklaus fellill before the '03 match, in George, South Africa, Sluman filled in at thecaptains' draft and made the pairings.

"Jack was a great captain. I enjoyed playing forhim," says Kenny Perry, a member of the two previous U.S. squads. "Jeffis a calming influence, very laid back and level-headed. Jack got mad at usonce because we ate McDonald's food one night and got killed the next day. Hechewed out Jeff for letting us eat McDonald's."

Last Wednesday's team meeting was actually an informaldinner during which Nicklaus offered his familiar message--have fun--and askedthe players to tell him which teammates they'd prefer to play with. Nicklaus'sapproach seems to work (take note, Paul Azinger). "Except for Australia [a20 1‚ÅÑ2-11 1‚ÅÑ2 drubbing in 1998], our guys have played fairly well,"Nicklaus says. His only concerns at the moment are the health of David Toms,who withdrew from the Deutsche Bank because of a back injury, and a formidableInternational team, all 12 of whose members are among the top 26 in the WorldRanking.

Sluman, meanwhile, prepares for the next phase of hiscareer and what will no doubt be his final turn as Nicklaus's assistant."As a kid growing up in Greece, N.Y., I dreamed of someday meeting JackNicklaus and saying hello," Sluman says. "To be his assistant captainthree times is a dream come true."

"We welcome fans who have been sending e-mails andblogging," says Finchem, the Tour's commissioner. "I ENCOURAGE IT. IT'SHEALTHY. I'd rather have that than nobody paying attention."

"I don't understand [the points]," saysNicklaus. "Frankly, if I don't know, HOW IS JOE PUBLIC GOING TOKNOW?"

PHOTO

Mike Ehrmann

 BIGFINISH

Mickelson's Monday 66 put him atop the playoff standings.

PHOTO

Mike Ehrmann

 ONE ONONE

Mickelson got the better of a three-round face-off with Woods.

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VINCENT LAFORET (TPC BOSTON)

 SMALLWONDER

The driveable par-4 4th quickly became TPC Boston's signaturehole.

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FRED VUICH (FAXON)

 TOUGHSLOG

Foot surgery capped Faxon's dismal '07.

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JEFF HAYNES/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

 GOINGFOURTH

Nicklaus (back row with cup; Sluman to Nicklaus's right) could have exited as awinner in 2005.

PHOTO

Mike Ehrmann

 HANGINGIN

Stricker quietly tied for ninth and dropped to second in the playoffstandings.