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FedExCup now has Tiger factor added

Tiger Woods's presence at any golf tournament is a rubber-stamped guarantee to drive up the television ratings and this week's Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston will be no exception.

The world number one returns to action at the TPC Boston after missing last week's Barclays Classic, the first event in the PGA Tour's lucrative four-tournament season finale.

Television ratings plummeted at the Barclays with an exhausted Woods opting out after winning back-to-back titles at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship in sapping heat.

"Let's be honest about it, there's only one person that really matters in this playoff system and that's Tiger Woods," American Rich Beem told reporters at the TPC Boston on Wednesday.

"If Tiger's not playing, you're not going to have a whole lot of validity. Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Adam Scott -- all top-10 guys in the world -- played last week and Tiger is the only one that skipped it.

"But unless Tiger shows up, I think that not only the fans but the media is going to put a lot of scrutiny on it. If he's not playing, then how serious can we be about this?"

The inaugural FedExCup series, the PGA Tour's much-trumpeted "new era," was introduced to breathe fresh life into the late-season events with a NASCAR-style finale.

Fan interest has generally waned once the final major, the PGA Championship, ends in mid-August and television ratings afterwards have steadily declined in recent years.

Although most of the players feel it is too early to pass judgement on the FedExCup, Steve Stricker believes the first edition has already provided a thrill factor.

"Even though Tiger didn't play last week, it added more of an excitement to it," said Stricker, who ended a six-year title drought with a two-shot victory at the Barclays on Sunday.

"All of a sudden three guys are ahead of him after he dominated the whole year. It just doesn't seem right but it's the system. He's now got to come from behind, which he probably won't have a problem doing.

"I think it brings more attention to our game. I'm happy as heck to be a part of it and to be in the position I'm at."

Stricker's first success since the 2001 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Australia lifted him above Woods in the FedExCup points standings.

South Korea's K.J. Choi lies second, South African Rory Sabbatini third and Woods, the dominant player on the 2007 PGA Tour with five victories, is in fourth.

The decision by Woods to skip last week's event did not surprise Stricker, who accepts competing in four successive playoff tournaments is not ideal at the end of a grueling season.

"I'm sure there's going to be some tweaking with the whole structure of it," he said. "Tiger not playing last week, they see that as a negative, and there are guys not playing this week.

"People think that they may not be able to play the four in a row as it is. I'm questioning whether I can maintain my focus and desire for those four weeks, you know.

"It'll be tough, but it's the first year," Stricker added. "I think the players are going to keep getting more and more excited about it as it goes on."

The $7 million Deutsche Bank Championship starts on Friday.


August 30, 2007

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