Impressive cast in hunt for BMW win

CARMEL, Ind. -- For all of its maddening permutations and calculations, for all of its flaws, the FedEx Cup gets it right when it offers up a leaderboard such as the one on display heading into the final round of the BMW Championship.

There are major championships that don't look so good, and even the powers that be at Augusta National would love to box up this board and stash it at Amen Corner, then post it for the back nine on Sunday next April.

Masters champions and World Golf Hall of Famers Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson; fan favorites Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson; world No. 3 Lee Westwood. Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell.

It just doesn't get much better.

And PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem must be sporting a nice, wide smile.

The FedEx Cup has taken its shots, mainly because it can be difficult to follow the various points scenarios, but also because golf already has its big tournaments in the form of major championships.

Nobody ever said these "playoff" events would replace them, but they have served a purpose: bringing the best in the world together at a time of year when they otherwise would be in other places, doing other things.

Without such a tournament this week, we wouldn't have old adversaries Mickelson and Singh tied at the top, a shot ahead of Westwood and world No. 1 McIlroy. Scott is tied with Dustin Johnson and Robert Garrigus, another shot back. Woods trails by three, with Zach Johnson and McDowell four back.

"It's been great for the tour," said Mickelson, whose 8-under-par 64 on Saturday gave a boisterous crowd plenty to cheer about at Crooked Stick Golf Club. "A number of players would shut it down after the PGA Championship, but now it's a huge motivating factor for us to keep our games sharp."

Yes, it's mostly about a huge cash grab, as each of the four FedEx Cup playoff events has an $8 million purse, with $1.44 million going to the winner. And if that's not enough, there is some $35 million in bonus money at stake, with the overall winner of the FedEx Cup getting an extra $10 million.

The money is obscene, but the truth is we in no way would have a tournament of this caliber on the second weekend of September with the college football season under way and the kickoff to the NFL season looming without such a setup.

Before the FedEx Cup began in 2007, players typically scattered following the final major championship. Guys such as Westwood and McIlroy might head to the European Tour. (In fact, neither was a PGA Tour member last year, and that's exactly what they did.) To get one or two players ranked among the top 10 in any of the remaining events leading up to the Tour Championship was considered decent.

And even the Tour Championship couldn't attract Woods and Mickelson in 2006, the last year prior to the FedEx Cup.

"It's the playoffs, so guys come to play golf," Dustin Johnson said. "This year we've got a lot of the other guys, Europeans are playing the tour this year. ... There's always been a few, but this year there's a lot more. All the top guys in the world are playing over here now."

Among the top 10 on the leaderboard are six major champions -- Mickelson, Singh, McIlroy, Woods, Zach Johnson and McDowell. That's a combined 25 majors.

There also are four players among the top 10 who have held the No. 1 ranking -- Woods, Singh, Westwood and McIlroy, who occupies that spot now. Throw in Scott, and the leaderboard has four current top-10 players.

"I watched [the FedEx playoffs] on TV and saw that I was missing out on big tournaments, and I wasn't wrong," Westwood said. "It's been great to play them. After the major championships, there's some big tournaments to play for once the majors are gone, and they've managed to put together a great series. ... It's been really sort of a bit of a second wind for me."

Singh, 49, is bidding to become the seventh-oldest PGA Tour champion and trying to win for the first time since 2008, when he claimed two playoff events and the overall FedEx Cup title.

For Mickelson, it's been a welcome return to form after a summer of struggles. Since winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February and making a strong run at a fourth Masters before finishing third, Mickelson had one of his worst runs of golf in his PGA Tour career.

But he began to turn things around last week at the Deutsche Bank Championship, where he tied for fourth. That ended a run of seven PGA Tour events in which he missed two cuts, he withdrew after a 79 at the Memorial and his best finish was a tie for 36th.

"My game went south for a while, and I was trying to piece it back together," said Mickelson, who made 10 birdies Saturday. "It started with some iron play, and it progressed to getting my driver back to where I was hitting the ball straight and getting my speed back, and now the putter is back.

"It's taken me a little while to piece it back together, but I could tell last week that my game was back and I was ready to play at the highest level again. I knew heading into this week I was going to have a good week. I came out very anxious on Thursday and forced it a little too much on the front nine but after that I've been able to settle down and play some good golf.

"I'm looking forward to tomorrow's shootout. It should be fun."

A shootout it is. Nothing has been able to stop the best players, although Woods struggled Saturday, doing well to shoot 71 after going 3 over par through eight holes. He was one of only four players in the top 17 who failed to shoot in the 60s.

"I grinded hard," he said. "[I] didn't have much, and [on] top of that, I made two really bad bogeys on 7 and 8 from the middle of the fairway, but at least I fought back to where I have a chance going into tomorrow. It's probably going to take 63 or 64 tomorrow, but it can be done out here."

For all his troubles, Woods still finds himself in the mix. He'll be grouped with Dustin Johnson on Sunday, with Scott-Garrigus a group behind, followed by Westwood-McIlroy and then Mickelson-Singh.

We could get into all the FedEx Cup ramifications, but why bother? The leaderboard is good enough.