Tiger Woods may be 0-4 in majors this year, but had his bad back not flared up down the stretch of Sunday’s Barclays finale, and his golf ball not stopped just short of the 72nd hole at Liberty National Golf Course, the world No. 1 may very well have notched his sixth PGA Tour victory of the 2013 season.
Golf is nothing if not a game of woulda, coulda, shoulda, and since a saggy hotel mattress and a few blades of grass conspired to keep Woods from at least forcing extra innings with eventual Barclays winner Adam Scott at the first of four FedExCup playoff events, the race for 2013 Player of the Year honors remains wide open. Each candidate -- five-time 2013 winner Woods, the reigning Masters champ and now the owner of two tour triumphs this year thanks to his one-shot trump of Woods and three others on Sunday, and British Open master and another two-time victor Phil Mickelson -- is worthy of the accolade.
It would appear that the contenders' closing arguments will come down to the outcomes of the remaining three tourneys in the much-maligned but increasingly interesting FedExCup series. Another trip to the winner’s circle by Scott or a W by either Woods or Mickelson could tip the scales, though with Tiger day-to-day as to whether his stiff back will let him tee it up in any of the remaining FEC events, the PoY picture has become as murky as that Jersey swamp that swallowed up Woods' approach shot on the 13th hole on Sunday.
The case for Woods is fairly obvious. No other player has five wins this season, and with three additional top-6 results (T4 at the Masters, T6 at the Open Championship, and T2 on Sunday), Tiger has had an award-winning season.
For sure, until he confiscated the crystal in Jersey City, Scott had cast his vote for Woods.
"It's hard to pass up looking at five wins," Scott told reporters Wednesday ahead of The Barclays about what criteria voters should use to choose the season’s best. "That's a great year to win that many times ... If you think winning a major is what you base success on, then if you haven't, you haven't had a great year.
"But winning," Scott added. "I've always based it around winning events, and I don't think one major makes up for five tournaments."
How about one major and a playoff event in the win column, plus three more opportunities to cash in before the season ends? Scott was not about to predict a W going forward, but his solid game pretty much speaks for itself.
"I didn't feel like I played my absolute best golf this week; certainly not with my third round, which was pretty average," Scott told reporters after carding a bogey-free 5-under 66 in Sunday’s final-round that put him at 11-under for the tourney. "But there was obviously enough good stuff, and I played pretty smart and played to my strengths and kept myself out of too much trouble.
"I don't know if it's my best golf since the Masters," added Scott, now second only to Woods in the world golf rankings and FedExCup points, thanks to his Sunday win, and heading to Boston, where he won his first tour title in 2003, with a surge of momentum. "But I think I've played consistently well since then and managed to win this week."
While his win at the Deutsche Bank was a decade ago, four years before the playoffs were a glint in the eye of tour commissioner Tim Finchem, Scott has played well at the event, closing at T7, T8, and T5 in the past three contests. With his history and recent strong play, Steve Williams’ boss certainly has to be a favorite at TPC Boston, where a victory could pave the way for the Aussie to claim that $10 million FedExCup paycheck and propel him to the top of the PoY ballot.
"To come into the playoffs, there's so much to play for and this is such an important week with all of the big points up for grabs. Now knowing I'm going to have a run at the FedExCup is going to be great," Scott said. "I need to use this momentum I've got and take it up to Boston, a course where I've had success before and I like playing, and hopefully it would be nice to kind of get back in contention again and go back-to-back."
Then there’s Mickelson, who could leapfrog both players by tacking a third tour win onto his 2013 portfolio, which includes his dramatic breakthrough at Muirfield.
"It's a tough one, all the different equations with who had the better year. Two wins and a major is a pretty strong showing. I think if that was the way it ended up and Tiger still had five, that's a pretty good argument," Scott said on Wednesady. "That's a pretty fair argument to throw Phil in the mix."
Tied for 34th at the start of The Barclays final round, Lefty, who lost his No. 2 world golf and FedEx Cup rankings to Scott after Sunday, looked to be an afterthought at Liberty National. Then came Sunday’s sizzler, when Mickelson soared up the leader board to finish T6 with a 65 that included a bogey at No. 18. It was a close that had the British Open champ looking forward to spending Labor Day in New England.
"Yesterday after the round, I felt a good round coming, because the pieces were there for a low round yesterday but I didn't put it together. I made a lot of little mistakes. I just played sloppy but I felt my ball-striking was coming and I felt the putter was coming," Mickelson told reporters Sunday about Saturday’s third-round 70.
"I feel like now, my ball-striking is coming around. It was pretty sharp," Mickelson added. " I feel really good on the greens and I'm looking forward to getting to Boston next week."
Mickelson said he played pressure-free golf on Sunday because he figured, at a touchdown and two extra points off the pace, he was pretty much out of it
"Being nine shots back starting the day, you don't think you had a chance," said Mickelson, whose aim was "just to play a good, solid round, to play smart, to hit the shots and to miss it in the proper spots and play a good, solid round and use it as a motivation or momentum-builder for next week."
Mickelson almost jumped to the top spot after posting seven birdies in 10 holes in the middle of his round.
"I do believe, had I made one or two coming in," he said, "with the wind picking up, I might have had a chance."
A strong finish this week in Massachusetts would give the popular Mickelson more than a fighting chance to ring up the Player of the Year title.
If Woods' back allows him to play this week (and the spokesperson for the Tiger Woods Foundation, which runs the event, says Tiger expects to tee it up on Friday) the three likely contenders for Player of the Year will watch the others state their cases for the nod, since they'll be in the same threesome for the first two days of the Deutsche Bank contest.