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A Shot... And a Save

Playing his best golf of the year by far, Tiger Woods closed with a brilliant 63 to not only win the BMW Championship but also quiet the critics going into the homestretch of the FedEx Cup playoffs

TIGER WOODS, meetH.L. Mencken. "A man always remembers his first love with specialtenderness," the legendary essayist wrote, "but after that he begins tobunch them."

Thus we mark the occasion of the 60th victory of Tiger Woods's PGA Tour career.This is a guess, since we can't walk a mile in Tiger's impossibly large shoes,but a Tour pro's first win is probably special. After that, he, too, probablybegins to bunch them. Especially when they come this quickly. Woods is only 31.He has gone from zero to 60 faster than any other golfer in history. Five yearsfaster, in fact.

"Sixty," said Justin Rose, pondering the extraordinary achievementafter witnessing Tiger's eight-under 63 in the final round of the BMWChampionship, which put him two shots clear of runner-up Aaron Baddeley."So for the next four years

I have to win 15 ayear to catch him." Rose nodded and pretended that the notion wasn'tridiculous. "That's pretty good." • Woods making history falls underthe category of Dog Bites Man, but there was a bit more significance to number60 than you'd think. This win wasn't simply another chapter in the TigerLegacy, a book that's already a riveting read. This victory, at Cog Hill Golf& Country Club in suburban Chicago, will be remembered as the Win ThatSaved the FedEx Cup.

In a respite from a year filled with U.S. Open wannabes played on courses withrough deeper than Tolstoy, the BMW was one of the most entertaining shootoutsof the season, with Woods having to go low to fend off Steve Stricker, thehottest player in golf, and the streaky Baddeley. Woods was dazzling on thesoft, inviting greens of the usually ferocious Dubsdread course. How was yourweekend, Tiger? Not bad if you like 65--63. Woods, Strieker and Baddeleyamassed 21 birdies in Sunday's finale, the best show on Tour since... the weekbefore, when Tiger came up just short in a classic showdown with Phil Mickelsonin Boston.

Two weeks of Tigerin contention is a winning formula, so we can dispense with the formalities andgo ahead and present the 2007 comeback of the year award. It goes to the FedExCup, which has suffered more critics than Britney Spears and, with itsintricate points system, had been, until now, ignored by players, fans andmedia.

The playoffs gotoff to a rousing start at Westchester, where Strieker came from behind to beatK.J. Choi. Then the series came to life in Boston with Phil versus Tiger. Lastweek the FedEx Cup did a full-blown turnaround (MY SHOT,page G10). Say what youwill, but the playoffs have been more than a little compelling and, admit it,miles better than the snoozefest that used to end the Tour season.

Interesting what aWoods win can do. At the beginning of the week, the FedEx Cup sounded more likethe FedUp Cup, what with all the whining. In the wake of his coy criticism ofTour commissioner Tim Finchem, Mickelson ditched the BMW but made a statementby stopping off for a corporate gig in Chicago two days before the first round.Woods, siding with Mickelson, aired his dissatisfaction with the playoffs'payoff—$10 million in deferred money that a player can't access until age 45 oruntil he retires—and the crowded year-end schedule. "We all didn't think itwas in the best interest to play that much," Woods said. As for the money,Woods added, "I think it is an issue. A lot of the players weren't aware ofwhat we were playing for. I think one of the major issues for all of us is thatit's not a true payout."

Ernie Els wasupset with what he perceived to be a lack of control by the players (page G6)."We've kind of grown apart," he said, "especially the players andthe commissioner's office... because of these big decisions that were madewithout the knowledge of the players. The $10 million was a big deal. I don'tthink Tiger knew about it. Phil didn't know about it. I didn't know about it. Alot of people didn't know. The players don't have any ballot. It's all donebehind closed doors."

Ultimately, allthe negativity from the headliners resulted in a number of players carpingabout all the harping. How, they asked, could anyone be upset about afour-week, $63 million bonanza? "We had one player meeting last year atDoral to discuss the nature of the FedEx Cup payouts, and it was attended by,like, nine or 11 players," said Stewart Cink, a member of the Tour's PlayerAdvisory Council. "I guess we're just like workplaces all over the country.People don't read a lot of stuff that comes across the desk, but when itfinally affects their day-to-day lives, they pay attention and get vocal."A more succinct retort came from Rocco Mediate: "How can you complain whenwe're playing for a zillion frickin' dollars? It makes me nauseous. Just shutup and play."

THE FEDUP CUP andthe complaints were but a memory as Woods walked triumphantly to the 18th greenon Sunday. Also forgotten was the fact that Woods—who was right back where hewas when the playoffs started, No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings—had skipped thefirst leg. Turned out that may have been a blessing for the series. A bye forTiger might have kept him from clinching the title by the third event.

The BMW had otherFedEx Cup moments to treasure. Like the wedge shot by Strieker (who came inthird to move to second in the overall standings) that backed into the cup foran eagle during a third-round 64. Or his run of five birdies in six holesmidway through the final round that temporarily put him ahead of Woods.

Tiger, of course,had his own highlight reel. His shot of the week was a risky, slicingthree-wood on Saturday that sailed over the towering trees on the par-511thhole, carried some 250 yards to the green and set up a two-putt birdie. Fewmortals would try to clear those trees with a fairway metal. The next bestTiger moment came on Sunday at the par-312th, where, after a mediocre tee shot,he forcefully drained a 48-foot putt for birdie. Woods then birdied three ofthe next four holes to pull away from Baddeley and Strieker. "When he madethat putt across the green," said Rose, "you could see that he was intoanother gear."

THE PUTT sentshock waves all the way back to the tee, where Strieker and Baddeley werewatching. Strieker promptly made his worst swing of the week and pushed athree-iron into the trees and made bogey.

No one could staywith Woods, who looked particularly good with his driver (BIG PLAY, page G9).Using a smoother swing and a more upright posture, he hit 80% of the fairways,including 26 of 28 on the weekend. (If Woods can drive it like that in themajors next year, well, that's a recipe for domination.) He also ranked thirdin putting and fourth in greens hit in regulation. The BMW might've beenanother Tiger rout if not for Baddeley and Strieker, who shot the two lowestscores (264 and 266, respectively) in the tournament's history—after Tiger's22--under 262.

"The wayStricks and Badds were playing behind us, I had to be more aggressive,"Woods said. "I was four under through nine holes [on Sunday] and didn'thave the lead, so I had to keep making birdies."

When Woods walkedinto the pressroom later, he came up behind Strieker and gave him a friendlypat on the rear, then a handshake, a hug and some words of praise. Despite whatyou may have heard, Woods did not spank Strieker. That he reserves for entiretournament fields. Sixty times so far, and counting.

Follow this week'sFedEx Cup finale at GOLF.com

Pick Six

Of the 139 players who began the PGA Tour Playoffs forthe FedEx Cup, only six have a mathematical chance of winning the cup at thefinal event of the series, this week's Tour Championship. Here are the halfdozen left standing (in order of points earned), what has to happen for each towin and the odds on that occurring.

2 to 1
Tiger Woods
Can't lose unless one of next five wins, or if he's lower than third andStrieker is solo second.

4 to l
Steve Strieker
Clinches if he wins, or if he's solo second, Mickelson doesn't win and Woodsisn't third or better.

7 to 1
Phil Mickelson
If he wins, only Woods can beat him—by a mere 20 points—with a solo second.

20 to 1
Rory Sabbatini
Must win. Mickelson must finish worse than solo second, Strieker worse than atwo-way tie for second and Woods worse than a tie for 13th.

100 to 1
K J. Choi
Must win. Mickelson must finish worse than a two-way tie for second, Striekerworse than third and Woods worse than 21st.

1,000 to 1
Aaron Baddeley
Must win. Mickelson must finish worse than a two-way tie for second, Striekerworse than third and Woods must get hit by a bus (or WD or skip the event).

FedEx Cup Confidential

On the condition of anonymity, a PGA Tour player ripsthe playoffs, blames and flames the suits, and calls out Phil

It's hard to take the FedEx Cup seriously when three ofthe top players skip a week of the so-called playoffs. I don't recall abaseball team opting out of a round of the postseason. The biggest issue theplayers have is with the schedule. You shorten the season, and then you wantyour top players to compete for seven out of eight weeks?Do you think any of uswanted that? No way. The new schedule is too congested. It's been a nightmaresince the British Open. You can only squeeze so much enthusiasm andconcentration out of a touring pro. You'll see even more absenteeism next yearunless something changes. Phil and Tiger wanted a shorter season? Be carefulwhat you wish for, guys. They may prefer a longer season after this. It didn'thelp that the Boston tournament ended on a Monday, giving players one less dayoff. If Phil wouldVe had Monday off, he might have played in Chicago.

Speaking of Phil (below), he really slammed the brakeson whatever momentum the FedEx Cup had built up by saying, immediately afterhis exciting duel with Tiger at the Deutsche Bank, that he might skip the BMW.His press statement ("I don't mean to disrespect anybody, but....") wasblather. If he didn't mean to disrespect anybody, he wouldVe kept his mouthshut and simply withdrawn. He came off like a spoiled brat who took his bat andball and went home. Ask anybody on Tour—Phil is very into Phil.

Paying out in deferred money that you can't access foryears was another big mistake. I know, Phil and Tiger don't need $10 millionnow or $10 million later, but given a choice, they'd rather have $10 millionnow. When Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker a few years back, hedidn't say, "Give me the $5 million in a deferred account—I don't want itright now." Collecting your money in 20 years isn't what most of us want,no matter how much sense it makes financially. We should have the option totake our FedEx Cup bonus in cash.

The money is part of a bigger issue. Ernie Els talkedabout how polices like theFedEx Cup are shoved down our throats, andhe'sexactly right When we go to players' meetings, the suits typically say, This iswhat we decided on—do you have any concerns? It doesn't matter if we do,they've already decided. It's done. They say we discuss the issues, but thatisn't true. I haven't been to one meeting where they've said, We have threeoptions. Which do you prefer? It's always: This is what we've done, love it orleave it. Five or six years ago the Tour gave each player a laptop and accessto a confidential website. Why don't they let us vote on stuff like the FedExCup through the website? Then the membership's true voice would be heard. We'venever voted on anything.

We have some good guys—Brian Bateman, Stewart Cink,Harrison Frazar—on the Tour's Policy Advisory Committee, but how can you expectthem to be outspoken when they're dealing with people on the Policy Board suchas Dick Ferris, who ran United Airlines, and Vic Ganzi, the CEO of the HearstCorporation, guys who are dynamic leaders of multibillion-dollar businesses? Nogolfer is going to look a captain of industry in the eye and say, "Uh,Dick. You're full of it."

Meantime, wasn't it a brilliant idea to move the TourChampionship from November to September? The bentgrass greens at East Lake areso close to dead after a recent heat wave that this week's pro-am has beencanceled and practice rounds have been restricted. There's a reason AugustaNational closes for the summer. It'll be a great moment in golf history if the$1O million bonus is decided by a putt that hits a bare spot and bouncesoff-line.

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Photograph by Mike Ehrmann

¬†TEE-RIFFIC! Woods overcame his one bugaboo—wild driving—and hit 80% of thefairways at Cog Hill.

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MIKE EHRMANN (WOODS)

THREE PHOTOS

FRED VUICH (STRICKER, MICKELSON, CHOI)

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PETER FIELD PECK (SABBATINI)

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ROBERT BECK (BADDELEY)

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J. ROGASH/WIREIMAGE.COM