- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

ATLANTA — The serious portion of the PGA Tour season ended in predictably proper fashion yesterday with Tiger Woods completing a sweep of both the inaugural FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club.

“It was a phenomenal week,” Woods said after emphatically clinching both titles by matching the third lowest 72-hole score in PGA Tour history with a 23-under 257 and routing the field for his seventh victory of the season.

Woods euthanized what little suspense existed heading into yesterday’s finale on the sixth hole, nearly acing the 200-yard, water-logged par-3 to rebound from a slow start and reclaim his 54-hole cushion of three strokes over weary, waddling veteran Mark Calcavecchia.

“He’s the best, the best ever, period,” Calcavecchia said after he and Zach Johnson finished eight strokes in arrears of Woods in a tie for second. “He obviously won [the FedEx Cup] by a mile.”

After righting himself at the sixth, the rest of Woods’ day, like the vast majority of the last month, was just a glorified victory lap for the game’s 31-year-old titan. After beginning the season with a pair of runner-up finishes in the majors and otherwise mixed results by his lofty standards, Woods tweaked his posture, address and swing slightly after the British Open, moving slightly closer to the ball to promote a more upright swing plane.

Swinging more like Tiger circa 2000 and suddenly finding fairways again, Woods then turned a solid season into yet another dominant one, going Genghis on the golf world over the last month. Starting at the Bridgestone Invitational in early August, Woods has collected four victories (Bridgestone, PGA Championship, BMW and Tour Championship) and a silver (Deutsche Bank) in five starts while forging a stretch-run scoring average of 66.65.

“I think I have a better understanding of how to play the game by far than I had [in 2000],” Woods said when asked to compare his last month to his triple-major form of 2000. “My course management skills have certainly improved exponentially.”

That torrid play torpedoed the drama of the first FedEx Cup playoffs, which Woods won in a landslide over renaissance man Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson despite skipping the opening event, the Barclays. Tiger left both Stricker (tied for 17th) and Lefty (20) flagging in his jetwash this week after opening 64-63-64 at East Lake to cement the first FedEx crown long before a shot was struck yesterday.

Despite a handful of format foibles, payout criticism and message-sending skips from both Woods and Mickelson, who missed the BMW Championship, the first FedEx series rates high marks. After all, it’s tough to argue with a format that featured golf’s No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 collecting gold, bronze and silver respectively.

Commissioner Tim Finchem promises the system will be re-evaluated with player input and tweaked accordingly. Undoubtedly, the annuity-style purse with $10 million to the winner is likely to give way to an immediate payout.

And it would be nice to see slightly smaller fields and slightly more potential for fluctuation. But Finchem should get credit for coming up with a concept, albeit largely swiped from the turn-left circuit, that made post-PGA Championship golf worth watching. The Woods/Mickelson duel in Boston at the second FedEx playoff stop provided some of the best theater of the season. And compared to the PGA Tour’s other trumped-up clunkers in the Players Championship and World Golf Championships, the FedEx Cup actually has a chance of assuming just sub-major status.

Next year’s series is likely to prompt more player skips because the PGA Tour imprudently scheduled the FedEx quartet to finish the week before the high-stress Ryder Cup. Given that Woods and Mickelson both prospered in spite of taking “byes,” expect that strategy to become standard among the game’s elite staples, much to the chagrin of mouthy South African Rory Sabbatini.

As for the overall 2007 season in review, it gets a “B” on the drama-meter. Points were docked for short-knocking Masters snoozer Hack Johnson, one-hit major wonder Angel Cabrera (U.S. Open) and Tour Championship no-shows by Lefty and Stricker. Frankly, the season would have rated a “C-” if not for yet another riveting claret jug competition at Carnoustie and Woods’ stretch-run heroics.

In terms of individual honors, golf exits 2007 the same way it has left virtually every season since 2000 — desperately looking for somebody, anybody, to challenge Woods on a regular basis. With an assist from former Woods mentor Butch Harmon, Mickelson had his moments before and after injuring his wrist before the U.S. Open.

But the bottom line is that golf is, was and will continue to be a solo show. It was obvious long ago that history would be Tiger’s only true long-term rival — and a fairly flimsy one at that.

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