Stricker, Woods have separated themselves

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LEMONT, Ill. --- Steve Stricker owns one PGA Tour record that is sure to never be broken. He was voted comeback player of the year in back-to-back seasons, usually awarded to someone who came back from playing poorly.

It has become a running joke with Stricker, so when someone brought up the possibility of a third such honor after he won the Deutsche Bank Championship, it was hard for him to keep a straight face.

"I think I'm over that now," Stricker said with a grin.

What about PGA Tour player of the year?

Stricker found that funny, too.

"We all know who the guy is out here," he said.

That would be Tiger Woods, who averages more victories in a year than some players have in their lifetime. Even though Stricker replaced Woods atop the FedEx Cup standings with his birdie-birdie finish to win at the TPC Boston, he knows there are two playoff events remaining before someone takes home the $10 million prize.

Even so, the prospects of Stricker being voted player of the year suddenly has merit. And there's a good chance that the FedEx Cup could go a long way at the polls.

"The players are voting," British Open champion Stewart Cink said Tuesday. "And they think it's important."

Majors are the most important trophies. No one disputes that outside PGA Tour headquarters. Only three times since the PGA Tour player of the year award began in 1990 has the winner not captured a major that year -- Wayne Levi (1990), Greg Norman (1995) and Woods (2003). There were no multiple major winners those years except in 1990, but Nick Faldo was not a PGA Tour member.

"Stricker and Tiger are ahead of everyone right now," Cink said. "The four of us didn't do a whole lot. Yang won another tournament, but I would think you'd have to do more than that over the course of the year."

Woods said two weeks ago that "absolutely" the FedEx Cup could be decisive. Asked to handicap the race at the start of the playoffs, he mentioned the four major champions "and I think my name might be up there, as well."

Woods has won five times this year and has a $2.3 million lead on the money list, which remains the easiest barometer to understand.

"Playing well at the end of the year in the big events ... it can swing votes, because usually guys remember what you've done later in the year," Woods said. "There have been guys that have won three or four tournaments, but they were all at the beginning of the year. Somebody does it all late in the year, then people remember those."

That might be happening now. U.S. captain Fred Couples said as much Tuesday when talking about possible partners in the Presidents Cup next month in San Francisco.

"They all want to play with Tiger, and now they all want to play with Steve Stricker," Couples said. "Every text I'm getting is, 'I want to play with Steve.' "

All this does is make the end of the year even more compelling.

It already was heading in that direction. Consider the past two weeks. Five players came to the 18th tee at The Barclays with a chance to win the tournament. A week later at the Deutsche Bank Championship, six players had a chance on the final hole.

Those who spend too much time poking fun at the FedEx Cup are missing a good show. Now, there's an additional element -- Woods or Stricker?

Steve Stricker has a tie for second and a win in the first playoff events.


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