Commentary

Perry riding high into final round of finale

Originally Published: September 26, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- So as it turns out, a putt with $11.35 million riding on whether it drops on the final hole would be something Tiger Woods would relish Sunday afternoon at East Lake Golf Club.

"Sure," Woods said, before extending his finger and thumb a few inches apart. "If it was this far."

Woods laughed, and no doubt it would be far less fun and much easier on the nerves if the clinching putt could be a tap-in.

But the possibility still exists that the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus, along with the Tour Championship and its $1.35 million first prize, will come down to East Lake's par-3 18th on Sunday afternoon.

That is because Woods failed to run away with the tournament Saturday. And because Kenny Perry fired a 6-under-par 64 to take a 2-shot advantage over Woods and a 4-shot lead over Phil Mickelson and Sean O'Hair. And because Padraig Harrington, O'Hair and Steve Stricker are just close enough to make things interesting with a strong final round.

Say what you want about the FedEx Cup, but a compelling conclusion to the PGA Tour's playoff events appears imminent -- even if the winner of the FedEx Cup does not win the Tour Championship.

That is what would happen if the results remained exactly as they are now after 54 holes. Tiger is in second place at East Lake but would claim the FedEx Cup title and the $10 million bonus if Perry wins and Woods finishes second.

Of course, that is not exactly how the game's No. 1 player is looking at it.

"I'd much rather just win the tournament, and the FedEx Cup will take care of itself," said Woods, who began the day with a 1-shot lead over Harrington and O'Hair but fell into second place with a 69. "As of right now, I'm 2 back and have an opportunity to win the tournament, and that's what I'm going to focus on."

Fair enough.

To do it, however, he'll have to move past Perry, who at age 49 is having another excellent season. A victory Sunday would be Perry's third of the year and could get him the FedEx Cup if Woods were to somehow finish in a tie for third or worse.

"There's a lot of scenarios out there," Perry said. "That will be neat to talk about it if that happens. I probably won't pay a lot of attention to the roars. If I can just kind of maintain what I'm doing right now and keep playing, I think we'll just see. There might be some excitement coming down the last couple holes. Everybody will kind of be figuring numbers and percentages and who falls where."

The odds on Perry being in this position on Thursday morning would not have been good. He was suffering from dehydration and became ill while warming up before the first round. "I wanted to throw up on the first five holes," he said. "It was terrible. I was very lucky; that 72 saved me. I putted unbelievable the first day. I bet I made eight putts outside of 6 or 8 feet for par. It was an unbelievable putting round, even though I felt terrible."

Perry felt pretty good Saturday morning when he reeled off four straight birdies to start his day. He made just one bogey and added three more birdies to tie for the best round of the tournament and put himself in position to win for the 15th time in his PGA Tour career.

Winning the FedEx Cup, however, is a bit more complicated.

Perry came into the final playoff event in ninth place, meaning he needs a victory, a Woods finish in a three-way tie for third or worse, a Stricker finish of third or worse and for Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson to finish tied for second or worse.

That means he'll need some help from Mickelson, O'Hair and Harrington behind him if he is to take home the $10 million bonus.

"I'll tell you this, it's not going to change my life if I win the $10 million," Perry said. "My life will stay the same. It'll definitely give me some opportunities to help some people. I want to start a foundation, there are some things I want to do for charities. I'll definitely be thinking of it out there, but if I win it or don't win it, it's not going to change anything."

Perry, who has won five times in the past two seasons, ranks eighth on the all-time PGA Tour career money list with just over $30 million. So to get one-third of that total for one bonus is still pretty significant.

But Perry was the first to admit there are some things you cannot buy. One of them is the Masters he let get away from him earlier this year at Augusta National, a couple of hours down the road.

Up 2 strokes with two holes to play, Perry made consecutive bogeys and lost in a playoff to Angel Cabrera. It was a crushing defeat, but one he has bounced back from, winning in Hartford this summer and qualifying for the Presidents Cup team.

A victory here won't purchase a green jacket, but it would be satisfying nonetheless, especially with Woods in the mix.

"He's made us all better," Perry said. "Here I am at 49, I'm still trying to beat him. To me, I have fun with it. He'd better bring his A-game, is all I've got to say."

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

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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