ATLANTA – Gentlemen, start your computers. (Ladies, too.)
Here’s the scorecard so far, though it will change a thousand times on Sunday, making Tim Finchem’s computer programmer golf’s MVP on the final day of the regular season.
Hunter Mahan and Aaron Baddeley are tied for the Tour Championship lead after 54 holes, two strokes ahead of Jason Day.
Mahan, who started the reset week No. 21 in points, is at the moment a projected first in the FedEx Cup race, from which the leader will receive a $10 million bonus. He has a narrow advantage over Webb Simpson, No. 1 after the past two weeks. Baddeley, who started Thursday at 27th, is now third.
In other words, this week is more about “What if?” than “What happened?” There’s more speculation here than what surrounds the Kardashians on a weekly basis. We’re flooded with more projections than at 8 o’clock on election night. At stake is a tournament victory, the FedEx Cup megabonus and Presidents Cup picks on both sides.
You might say the FedEx Cup finale is similar to that other Georgia tournament in one way: It doesn’t start until the back nine Sunday.
At various points Saturday, five players were No. 1 in projected points: Adam Scott, K.J. Choi, Luke Donald, Simpson and Mahan. Simpson moved into the top spot when he birdied 18. Mahan passed him when he did the same.
For the moment, primarily two players bear watching: Simpson, tied for 15th, and whoever is leading the tournament.
Mahan and Baddeley need to win to have a chance for the $10 mil. Mahan then would need Simpson to finish 13th or worse and Luke Donald (currently T-5, three shots back) to place third or worse. Baddeley is in a tougher spot; he would need Simpson to finish 23rd or worse and Donald T-3 or worse.
Remember all that. There’s a final exam Sunday afternoon.
Mahan came here to East Lake Golf Club figuring he had no chance to win the FedEx Cup because so many things had to go his way. So when he learned after his third-round 66 that he was the projected No. 1, he said he was “shocked.” After all, he checked the board before he birdied 15 and he wasn’t even in the top 10.
“I didn’t think it was even possible,” Mahan said after making an eagle, five birdies and three bogeys. “I don’t know if I can even think about all that. I might tee off tomorrow and be 10th. If Webb shoots 66, it might be over. So it’s pretty simple for me: try to win this tournament.”
Oh, yeah, the tournament. The Tour Championship winner gets $1.44 million. But you can argue the event is overshadowed, covered with $10 million worth of hundred-dollar bills.
“I kind of feel sorry for the Tour Championship because it kind of gets lost,” Mahan said.
Mahan and Baddeley are operating in full bloom, their games sharp and their confidence high. But that might not be enough. Either could shoot 59 Sunday and still be behind Simpson or Donald at the big pay window.
Baddeley shot 64 Saturday even though he made three bogeys. He more than offset that with an eagle-2 on No. 4 and seven birdies. He took 23 putts, rolling in four from 22 feet and farther.
Like Mahan, Baddeley is focusing on winning the tournament, not looking at the computer screen. What’s more, Baddeley is motivated to play well and get picked for the Presidents Cup in his Australia homeland.
“My main focus is to play well to impress (International captain Greg Norman),” said Baddeley, who would appear a lock to be one of the two selections. “I want to be on that team.”
Regardless of how much cash he hauls Down Under with him.