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Pros have $10 million reasons to buckle

ATLANTA -- Professional golfers who make a habit of pondering the monetary ramifications of their various shots typically find themselves earning less rather than more.

For any young player, the learning process involves keeping those dirty thoughts about the cash far from their minds, focusing on the shots and putts and not what they mean financially.

But how can you not think about $10 million?

That will be part of the difficulty on Sunday at the Tour Championship, where not only will the tournament title be on the line, but so will the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus.

The FedEx Cup season and playoffs have come down to the final day, and a slew of players are still in contention for the big payout, depending on numerous scenarios. And that leaves open the possibility, once again, that the huge sum of money will still be at stake when players reach East Lake's 18th green.

And while the money is huge in golf, with weekly $1 million-plus paydays, this is something different.

"It's another level, 10 times,'' said Steve Stricker, who has been a big factor in all five FedEx Cups but has never won the title. "I don't think there's any way that they won't be thinking about it. It's just a different animal.

"It's 10 times as much as we play for on a weekly basis for the winner's check. Plus if the guy wins the tournament, it's $11 million [actually $11.44 million]. It'll be coming into their minds quite a bit, and it'll be tough.''

The top four players on the leaderboard -- Aaron Baddeley and Hunter Mahan are tied for the lead, with Jason Day and K.J. Choi two strokes back -- all need a victory and a lot of help to win the FedEx Cup, but the possibilities exist.

"If I'm standing over a putt on 18 and it's for the FedEx Cup, I'm sure I'll be ridiculously nervous,'' said Webb Simpson, who entered the Tour Championship No. 1 in FedEx Cup points. "I'll be over it and thinking, 'I'm going to do the best I can to start this ball on line.'"

Simpson has some work to do to be in that position. He is tied for 15th, eight strokes back of Baddeley and Mahan.

Everyone in the top five coming into the week controlled their own fate. Those players -- Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar -- are far enough from the lead to give those who need a lot to happen plenty of hope.

Donald is closest, in a tie for fifth, three behind the leaders.

The Englishman, who is the No. 1-ranked player in the world, said earlier in the week that he would not be thinking about the money, that "it's not like I can't afford to buy things.'' Perhaps that will serve him well.

The good news is -- and perhaps it is a way to rationalize when things really get tight -- it is not an all or nothing situation. The winner of the FedEx Cup gets a $10 million bonus on top of any prize money won in the Tour Championship, which ranges from $1.44 million to the winner to $128,000 for 30th place.

But there is a substantial drop between first and second in the FedEx Cup playoffs, a number that is larger than all but a handful of entire purses on the PGA Tour. Nobody will be complaining, mind you, but the difference is $7 million. The No. 2 finisher gets $3 million, with $2 million going to third, $1.5 million to fourth and $1 million to fifth. Everybody gets something, all the way down to $175,000 for the player who is 30th in the final standings.

Some might view it as rich guys getting richer, but even for them, the money at the top is hard to ignore.

As Padraig Harrington put it so well a few years ago here: "I can stand here and tell you, no, it won't affect me, I won't think about it at all, but I'd be telling you lies.''

And here is some perspective. Jack Nicklaus ($5,734,031), Gary Player ($1,834,482) and Arnold Palmer ($1,861,857) did not combine to win $10 million in official prize money in their entire PGA Tour careers.

The $10 million bonus is enough to get their attention because it has been earned via prize money just four times in PGA Tour history. Vijay Singh was the first player to surpass $10 million in earnings in 2004. Tiger Woods did it in 2005, 2007 and 2009.

Of course, both Woods (2007, 2009) and Singh (2008) pocketed the $10 million bonus in the first three years of the FedEx Cup, too -- although that money did not count in their earnings totals for either that year or their careers. (Last year Jim Furyk was the FedEx Cup champ, winning both titles on the same day when he got up and down from a greenside bunker at the 72nd hole for a par and a one-shot victory.)

But the number is significant enough that only 118 players have made $10 million or more for their entire PGA Tour careers -- led, of course, by Woods, who has pocked more than $94 million.

Woods, who has missed the Tour Championship the past two years, was probably a poor example of someone who might fret about the money. He had signed multi-million dollar endorsement deals before he ever struck a shot as a pro. And he long maintained that the pressure of the moment in any of his victories stemmed from the history, not the cash.

"I think it's less about what's going to end up in your bank account and more about the principle of holing a putt or getting up-and-down like Jimmy [Furyk] did last year,'' said Geoff Ogilvy. "It sounds better when you say that, doesn't it?''

It's also easy to say away from the cauldron of competition.

Golfers know that if they take care of business, the financial rewards will be there. But the mind has been known to wander, and in this instance, how could it not?

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.