It's $10 million up for grabs at East Lake

9/22/2009 - Golf

ATLANTA -- Tiger Woods could have won the Grand Slam and the previous three playoff events and he would still be slogging through soggy East Lake Golf Club with the same lead in the FedEx Cup playoffs he now has without coming close to those accomplishments.

Woods did not win a major this year, but he did win six times on the PGA Tour -- double anyone else -- including the BMW Championship two weeks ago. That followed a runner-up finish at The Barclays and a tie for 11th at the Deutsche Bank Championship, results that gave the game's No. 1-ranked player the lead in the FedEx Cup.

All that does heading into the 30-player field at the Tour Championship is give him a 250-point advantage over Steve Stricker.

It might appear that a good bit of work went to waste for Woods in terms of the FedEx Cup, but the PGA Tour was determined to tweak the process so that the Tour Championship would be meaningful -- unlike the first two FedEx Cup attempts, in which the final tournament had virtually no effect on who won the $10 million bonus.

This year, all 30 players have a mathematical chance of winning the FedEx Cup, and anyone in the top five would claim the Cup with a victory in the $7.5 million tournament. Woods, Stricker, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson and Heath Slocum make up the top five.

That means if Furyk -- who has no tournament titles this year but is ranked third in the standings -- wins the Tour Championship, he will be the FedEx Cup champion -- despite trailing Woods 6 to 1 in victories.

Think New York Giants, Super Bowl champs, in a season in which the New England Patriots lost just a single game. Of course, that game was the Super Bowl.

"That difference is that their biggest event is the last event of the year," Woods said of the NFL's Super Bowl, which crowns the season champion regardless of record. "That's not with ours. We have our four majors as our biggest events of the year."

Fair enough.

But for the FedEx Cup to gain any traction in its third year, it needed the Tour Championship to be meaningful. And it is. There is some mathematical permutation that could see any of the players here walk away with the $10 million bonus, including No. 30 John Senden. He would need to win to while Woods finishes last -- the latter highly unlikely -- but there is that smidgen of hope.

"It rewards you for playing well in the regular season and even more for playing well in the playoffs," said British Open champion Stewart Cink, who is 26th in the standings. "Every tournament is meaningful. So I think it's good. I think the skeleton that we have right now of the major part of the system will stay in place. There probably will be some minor changes, but I think this year is closer to what the intent was when we first started out with the FedEx Cup."

Seven players who started the playoffs outside of the top 30 played their way into the Tour Championship -- Slocum, Marc Leishman, Padraig Harrington, Scott Verplank, Jason Dufner, Ernie Els and Senden.

Nobody traveled farther than Slocum, who entered at No. 124, won The Barclays and has positioned himself for a shot at winning the Cup by entering the Tour Championship at No. 5. Slocum was rewarded for winning a playoff tournament.

But he is not in favor of being rewarded solely for winning this tournament.

To really make the Tour Championship interesting, it has been proposed that the points be thrown out and the winner takes all.

"There should be an emphasis on winning, but in this case I don't think that if you win the Tour Championship necessarily should you automatically win the FedEx Cup," Slocum said. "I think there's got to be a prerequisite for some good player earlier in the playoffs ... someone like Tiger or Stricker ... they came in 1 and 2 and each has won a bigger advantage than someone that came in 30th.

"I'm not saying the system is perfect by any means. But I think we're on the right track to getting this thing to where not only is it really fun for the players to get involved and embrace it, but also for all the fans."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.