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US PGA Tour heats up at Deutsche Bank Championship

NORTON, Massachusetts -- Precision as well as power will be at a premium when the 100 players remaining in the U.S. PGA Tour playoff race tee off Friday in the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Nick Watney won The Barclays, the playoff opener held last week at Bethpage Black, where the playoff field was whittled from 125.

Watney's victory vaulted him into first place in the points list ahead of Brandt Snedeker and two-time playoff champion Tiger Woods.

Woods, who battled back trouble at Bethpage, warmed up for the event with an appearance in his old friend Notah Begay's charity tournament this week.

Although he closed out The Barclays with a disappointing 76 to finish tied for 38th, Woods said his back was better and he was excited about his playoff prospects.

“I'm not that far off,” he said of his game. “The back is good. It was nice to have the treatment there on the weekend and then have Monday off. It's nice this tournament starts a little bit later, so I've got an extra day to kind of get some more treatment at home.”

The elite field at the TPC Boston also includes Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Ernie Els and Bubba Watson is scheduled to tee it up at the TPC Boston.

While the par-71 layout has been known as a haven for long hitters, it also rewards precision, and changes to the par-5 18th will place more demands on the short game there.

Last year, Webb Simpson birdied 18 twice — in the final hole of regulation and in the first hole of a two-hole playoff win over Chez Reavie — to seize the title.

But Simpson, who won the U.S. Open in June, says he isn't particularly sorry to see the changes to 18.

“I had never really played that hole that well in the first place,” he said. “The two birdies I made in regulation and the playoff — I hit two poor approach shots, so I didn't really have the hole down.”

Still a reachable par-5 for many, the hole now features a smaller green with tricky run-off areas.

“It's going to be a lot harder,” Simpson predicted. “I think guys might lay up in certain situations where they would have gone for it before. Better or worse? I don't know, but it's definitely harder.”

The top 70 players in the standings after the Deutsche Bank concludes on Monday will advance to the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick, with 30 players ultimately qualifying for the Tour Championship Sept. 20-23.

Jason Dufner ended the regular season second in the standings but opted to skip The Barclays. He comes into his 2012 playoff debut at sixth in the standings.

Dufner will be paired with Zach Johnson and McIlroy, who didn't compete in the playoffs last season because he wasn't a U.S. tour member.

“I'm excited to be back,” McIlroy said. “I think I shot 64 in the first round here the last time I played, so obviously I've played some good golf around here, and hopefully want to do more of the same this week.”

“I think it's a good course for the long hitters,” McIlroy said. “I think you've got to take advantage of the par-5s. The scoring is usually pretty good. Make your scores there, and it's a course where, I don't know, maybe 15- to 18-under is a good total to try and win.

“I feel like I'm playing well enough, I'm driving the ball well and giving myself enough chances, so if I can get the putter to cooperate a little bit better than it did last week, then hopefully I'll have a good chance.”

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