Vijay Singh Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia's Barclays playoff breathes sudden life into FedEx Cup

PARAMUS, N.J. - For much of its short life, golf fans, pundits and PGA Tour players themselves largely regarded the FedEx Cup with the same near comical disbelief former NFL coach Jim Mora showed in one of the most famous sports rants of all time.

Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs!?

Well, after the first tournament of a revamped FedEx Cup actually resulted in a thrilling three-way playoff that Vijay Singh won yesterday, the PGA Tour's "postseason" finally finds itself with something of a playoff feel.

It helps that Singh's victory at The Barclays - his second in four weeks - vaults him into first place in the FedEx Cup standings (from seventh) under a new points system that rewards playing well in these "playoff" tournaments much more than last year's did (Tiger Woods skipped the first FedEx Cup tournament of 2007 and still only dropped to third in the standings). It doesn't hurt that heartbreak runner-up (again) Sergio Garcia sits in second place in the FedEx Cup too.

But mostly, the FedEx Cup suddenly seems much more interesting because the golf turned out to be so good - and full of just about every storyline you could imagine and several you couldn't (like the mole in a starring role on the 74th hole) - at Ridgewood Country Club.

"It was a great playoff," Singh said, career victory No. 33 safely on his resume and a $1.26 million check headed to his bank account. "I enjoyed that."

What wasn't there to enjoy? Unless you're Sergio Garcia.

There was Garcia hitting a 27-foot birdie putt on the first extra playoff hole that stayed on the edge of the line the entire way and set off the greatest celebration you'll ever see for a putt that didn't end up winning anything. There was Singh responding with a 26-foot birdie putt to force a second playoff hole. There was PGA Tour journeyman Kevin Sutherland (the already forgotten third in the playoff who admitted he knew he was out of it almost as soon as he hit his tee shot in the rough on the first playoff hole) watching the matching lightning bolts in near awe.

"To birdie that hole under playoff pressure is something special," Sutherland said of what both Singh and Garcia did on Ridgewood's dogleg par-4 18th, what Sutherland himself couldn't do. "They both hit three perfect shots."

Those three perfect shots sent Garcia and Singh on to a second playoff hole, while the eliminated Sutherland walked back to the clubhouse. Singh had hit the second birdie putt after a Garcia celebration on the first that included slamming his putter into a sand trap and standing over it.

"I'm sure it did," Singh said on whether his matching putt shook Garcia.

Garcia sent his first shot on the second playoff hole - the par-5 17th - far left and short. But it's a mole that stirred Singh a shot later. After Garcia hit a second shot almost as bad as his first on 17, sending it far right behind a hulking tree, he unexpectedly found himself getting a free drop.

By the grace of a mole. Or a gopher.

One of the obscure rules of golf that calls for free relief from a burrowing animal - but not an animal that is simply burrowing (a digging dog does not get relief for example) - suddenly came into play.

"It was funny because it was not where my ball was, but like 5 or 6 feet left, it was actually moving," Garcia said. "You could see the grass going up and down from something underneath. It was right there at the time, and we were trying to find it."

Garcia actually dug into the grass with his ball mark repair tool, but never got a look at the mole or gopher. Singh had already hit his second shot to the edge of the green, though, making the mole more comic relief than anything tournament changing.

Of course, it's just another reason this Barclays tournament will not be forgotten anytime soon, why the FedEx Cup suddenly has fans.

"When you get golf that good, you have to appreciate whatever brought it about," said Ben Curtis, who finished just one shot out of the playoff at 7-under. "I'm sure the fans loved that finish."

Phil Mickelson's wild final round at The Barclays

As Garcia played 11, he found himself tied for the lead with Curtis, with five other golfers just one shot back and five more golfers only two back. Topsy turvy enough for you? Suddenly, the Tour's new buzz word for the FedEx Cup - volatility - took on new meaning.

"Nobody had a two-shot lead at any point," said Singh, who birdied 17 in regulation to get in the playoff. "It was a tight day."

At one point early in the day, Phil Mickelson gave himself a great chance to post a number that would have made the afternoon leaders gulp hard. Mickelson eagled the par-5 third to move to 3 under for his round after just three holes. He knew that if he got to 6 or 7 under, there'd be a good chance he'd be right there for the trophy.

Instead Mickelson spent his final 15 holes at Ridgewood going up, down, up, down with birdies and bogeys. He'd only finish 3 under for the round, the same place he stood at on the fourth tee with so much hope.

Even the usual Mickelson-devoted New York metro area fans seem to be getting a little impatient with him. After Mickelson spent several minutes looking and re-looking over an 8-foot birdie putt on 17, only to miss it badly, one guy screamed out, "All that for that?"

Mickelson could only shake his head.

"I thought I would be able to shoot 7-under par," Mickelson said. "I thought that was out there and certainly I got off to a good enough start to where I could have."

In the arcane world of the FedEx Cup point standings, Mickelson still did himself well with his tie for 19th, though. Especially with other big names like Padraig Harrington, Geoff Ogilvy, Ernie Els, Ian Poulter, Sean O'Hair and Camilo Villegas missing the weekend cut and taking the big playoff standings plunge in the made-over format.

While Harrington finds himself all the way down in 23rd place, one more bad week from being in real danger of not making the Top 30 that play in the Tour Championship, Mickelson is fourth.

August 25, 2008

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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