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Tiger contention a boon for controversial FedEx Cup

9/9/2007 - Golf

LEMONT, Ill. -- Truth be told, Tiger Woods probably couldn't care less about the inner workings of the FedEx Cup chase, his prospects of capturing the inaugural competition or whether the public is grasping this newfangled idea.

For Woods, it is all about, as he says, the W.

Yet his quest for victories is giving a positive jolt to the season-ending playoffs that have been the subject of so much controversy.

A 6-under-par 65 at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club on Saturday put Woods in position to win his 60th PGA Tour title, undoubtedly leaving officials at the BMW Championship and PGA Tour with an extra bounce in their step.

Woods' play and popularity here might even be enough to steal a few eyeballs from the Chicago Bears' season opener -- which will kick off Sunday about the time Woods heads to the back nine at Cog Hill.

An excellent round -- "That score is about the worst I could have shot," Woods said -- and the prospect of a sixth victory this year could not have come at a better time for the season-ending playoff series, which has seen top players skip events as well as criticism of the format and the payout.

Woods' duel last week at the Deutsche Bank Championship with eventual winner Phil Mickelson put those concerns on hold -- at least until Mickelson declared he would be taking his kids to school this week -- and showed just how compelling these events can be. And that was the idea. Bring the best players in the world together, offer them huge prize money ($7 million each week) and an even bigger bonus ($35 million total in deferred compensation), then let them go at it.

In that regard, FedEx has delivered.

The first week at the Barclays, good guy Steve Stricker prevailed, capping his comeback from the abyss to post his first stroke-play title in 11 years and first win since the 2001 Match Play Championship. His last victory in a regular event came at the 1996 Western Open -- two months before Woods turned pro. The win in New York moved Stricker to the top of the FedEx Cup points standings, and a victory Sunday would make it all but impossible for anyone but Woods or Mickelson to catch him next week in Atlanta.

At the Deutsche Bank, Mickelson held off Woods in a memorable final round, exorcising a few demons along the way to win his 32nd PGA Tour title while vaulting himself into the top FedEx Cup spot.

Now, Woods is in position to win again, but he'll have to overtake red-hot Stricker, whose 18-greens-in-regulation 64 included a holed wedge shot from the fairway for an eagle at the eighth hole. Australia's Aaron Baddeley, with birdies at the final two holes, bumped Woods out of the last pairing and put him into the lead with Stricker, 1 shot ahead of the game's No. 1 player.

Undoubtedly, Woods knows how much weight he carries. That's why his calls for a shorter season were heeded. And that is why he likely will be consulted when tweaks to the system are made.

And he surely knows his presence atop any golf leaderboard brings more attention to the event. That is especially important here, where Chicago area golf fans are steamed that the tournament formerly known as the Western Open will leave them next year as it rotates around the Midwest. And it is important to the FedEx Cup playoffs in general, which can use any boost they can get.

Not that it matters to Woods.

"No, I just go out there and play," he said. "That's all I can do. I'm inside the ropes trying to get a win. That's all I have control over."

That is a classic Woods answer, but one that is difficult to fault. Woods breaks it down in the simplest of ways. He often is criticized for playing such an abbreviated schedule, but part of the reason is his unrelenting desire to succeed, to give the greatest effort each time he is on public display.

It is no secret that many players on tour start looking at the flight schedules out of town after a bad first round. Or their mind starts to wander or rationalize a missed cut as being a good thing. Not Woods.

Remember, this is a guy who has missed just five cuts in his entire PGA Tour career as a pro -- in 215 events. This year, Woods has won five times, including a major title and two World Golf Championship events. In 14 events, he has finished outside the top 20 just twice and has eight top-five finishes. Starting at the U.S. Open in June, Woods has gone: T2, T6 ,T12, 1, 1, T2.

Still, there was a tinge of regret in his voice Saturday.

"I hit it really good today," said Woods, who hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation but needed 30 putts. "I told Stevie [Williams, his caddie] that's probably the highest score I could have possibly shot today. I felt if I could have made a few putts, it could have been a really deep round. But I'm 1 back, and I'm in good shape."

With Woods near the top, so is the FedEx Cup.

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.