NORTON, Mass. – Boston sports fans checking out of a playoff game before the final buzzer? Only when the PGA Tour is in town, folks.
Pahkin’ lot, schmahkin’ lot. They missed a lot.
Surely you didn’t have to be a bean counter to realize the wicked big difference in attendance at TPC Beantown Monday afternoon between the hours Tiger Woods was on the course and the hours after he had hit the road.
To be sure, that’s par for any tournament. But here in the middle of the PGA Tour playoffs, it feels like it should be a little different.
Steve Stricker, now No. 2 in the world ranking – we repeat, No. 2 in the world ranking – made birdie on the 71st and 72nd holes to win the Deutsche Bank Championship and guarantee himself a shot at the $10 million prize in two weeks at the Tour Championship and it’s as if the Red Sox just won a spring training split-squad game.
In other words, fun and hot dogs and beer doesn’t always add up to excitement.
“I guess time will tell with this FedEx Cup,” said Stricker, who won the first-ever FedEx Cup event at the 2007 Barclays and last week missed a 10-footer for birdie that would have gotten him into a playoff with Heath Slocum at Liberty National.
“But it’s very gratifying and satisfying to know I’m atop that (FedEx Cup) list right now,” he said.
At least Jerry Kelly couldn’t have been more excited. Standing behind the 18th green, Kelly watched as Stricker chipped to about a foot for a tap-in birdie to finish at 17 under and avoid a playoff with Scott Verplank and Jason Dufner.
Kelly, a longtime friend from Wisconsin who helped Stricker get through his struggles with the game years ago, gave Stricker a hug after he walked off the green pumping his fist.
“(It’s) really cool, just watching it happen, and it spurs me on for next week,” said Kelly, who was greeted by Stricker on the 18th green after his victory in New Orleans earlier this year.
Kelly approached Stricker again after he signed his card, and gave him a pat on the back before saying something that made Stricker smile. Kelly wore a University of Wisconsin hat, jeans and T-shirt with the number six on the front, signifying the original six NHL teams – including FedEx Cup cities New York, Boston and Chicago, where these playoffs head next week to Cog Hill.
Kelly smiled, and raised his voice. “I want to be just like Steve!” he said.
Now that’s more like it, eh?
It doesn’t matter whether or not you know the number of points Stricker leads Woods in the FedEx Cup standings – because, really, who does?
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really know the points,” said Woods, who shot a 9-under 63 to turn a so-so tournament into a top-11 finish. “I don’t think anyone knows.”
The point is that there is a championship at stake, and that’s something any sports fan should be able to understand.
If you think it’s odd that Slocum is at No. 3 in the FedEx Cup standings after his victory at last week’s Barclays (or that Dufner is now in the top 10 after his performance this week), where then do you file a No. 2 seed losing in the first-round of the NCAA basketball tournament? How much will you care about regular-season records when the Major League Baseball playoffs begin?
Stricker is a great story. He has gone from almost quitting the game to this week climbing as high in the world ranking as a human can. He is hitting his driver better than he ever has, and according to Kelly, “if you get him inside of 100 yards, there is nobody better,” which he proved Monday with his 15-footer for birdie on 17 and his up-and-down for birdie on 18.
And now he’s ready to win a championship.
“I can control my own destiny come that last Tour Championship,” he said. “And that’s what my goal was coming into these first three events – just to make sure that I played well and remained in the top 5 so I could have a chance to win it all.”
The playoffs aren’t the majors, and the current system might be imperfect. But at last you can “win it all” in golf.
Isn’t that exciting?