Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since 2002.
JERSEY CITY - The PGA Tour has tried like crazy and has pretty much succeeded in selling the FedEx Cup playoffs to its target audience. You know who that is, of course. The American public? Nah. It is Tiger Woods.
Back when The Barclays, the perennial opening tournament in the four-stop playoffs, was held at Westchester Country Club, Woods was reluctant to attend. He was so reluctant, in fact, that he did not show up. That left PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem in the odd position of defending him. Severely disappointed at the Woods-less inaugural playoff event six years ago, but unwilling to upset the most powerful figure in the game, Finchem said back then, "He doesn't play them all."
The tour has since tweaked the system to encourage attendance, adding incentives in the points structure. It also stopped holding the tournament at Westchester, a lovely old course that hosted the event for 40 years. The problem was that the layout was unpopular among current players, particularly Woods. Earlier this year, unsolicited, he called it "quirky."
He was not so keen on Liberty National, either, in its debut four years ago, but the club did some tweaking of its own and made the course more palatable for the pros.
The bottom line is that Woods was all in this week. He played his backside off, even when his back was hurting so bad that he fell to his knees (following his second shot on No. 13 Sunday). He did not mail it in. He kept battling until his final putt from the back fringe on No. 18, a near-perfect roll from 26 feet, 8 inches that stopped after having traveled 26-6.
So he made par and finished at 10 under par, one stroke shy of surprised winner Adam Scott.
"I had a chance," Woods said. "I hit a good putt, thought I made it. It was a little double-breaker and I thought I poured it."
Pouring his heart into The Barclays this year was a stiff contrast to taking a pass in 2007. Of the 125 eligibles this year, only Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker did not enter. The former had a wedding to attend, the latter is semi-retired.
It is hard to tell how much the public has embraced the FedEx Cup, which is not easy to understand. Nor is it any match for the majors or the Ryder Cup. Still, these playoffs are about the best the PGA Tour can do, and they are not bad.
Judging by the close race Sunday and who was in it, The Barclays was arguably the best tournament of the year.
Phil Mickelson, for instance, made a stunning run from a tie for 34th and nearly won the thing. When he made birdie on No. 15, he was only one shot out of first. He nearly sank birdie putts on 16 and 17, too. After a bogey on 18, the British Open champion finished at 9 under, one stroke behind a group that included Woods and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and two shots behind Scott, the Masters champion.
"I love playing here," Mickelson said. "I love playing in the metropolitan area. The people are really fun to play in front of. It's probably my favorite place to play."
Considering the way the third-round leaders gagged and sputtered all day -- Gary Woodland, Matt Kuchar and Kevin Chappell were a combined 14 over par -- there was a ton of pressure, which means golfers saw this as a big event. The Barclays really did have that proverbial "playoff atmosphere."
So maybe you never will hear Woods say, "Give me Liberty National or give me death." He clearly has bought in to the playoffs. And if the PGA Tour can win him over, the public ought to be a cinch.