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September 25, 2017

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A banner year for the FedEx Cup playoffs

CARMEL, Indiana -- Phil Mickelson, an exception in so many ways, calculated the odds and did the math.

Remember, this is the guy who once had his caddie tend the flag when he was 72 yards away in the fairway at Torrey Pines because he needed eagle to force a playoff. One year at Firestone, he contemplated hitting driver off the deck on the par-5 16th and trying to skip it across the pond to get it close. And then were was Bay Hill, the year Mickelson was two shots behind Tiger Woods and tried hitting 4-iron under the trees and over the water for a chance at eagle.

He didn't pull off any of those shots, though it wasn't from a lack of effort, confidence or imagination.

Mickelson made an exception at Crooked Stick on Sunday.

He stood on the 18th tee in the BMW Championship needing an eagle on the 462-yard closing hole to force a playoff with Rory McIlroy. On this rare occasion, however, Lefty wasn't willing to risk the ridiculous odds of trying to hole a shot from 192 yards for eagle, not when it might cost him a par.

Mickelson knew a par would mean a tie for second, which would move him up to No. 4 in the FedEx Cup. The top five in the standings only have to win the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus. If he had gone for glory and wound up with a bogey, Mickelson would have been No. 8 in the standings and needing some help next week at East Lake.

His shot leaked slightly away from the water and came up 70 feet away. He made a 3 1/2-footer for par and tied for second.

"I accomplished one of my goals, which was to get in the top five," Mickelson said after his round. "The other would have been, obviously, to win. But more than that, I just feel really good about where my game is headed, and hopefully I'll keep improving on that for next week."

It was an example that six years into the FedEx Cup, at least some players are starting to grasp the points system, how it works and where it can lead. For those who haven't caught on or don't care to work it out, a bigger picture has emerged in the last three weeks about the FedEx Cup.

With so many great tournaments, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole — even the whole US$10 million.

But then, that was always going to be the case.

What initially cost the FedEx Cup credibility were too many cheerleaders from U.S. PGA Tour headquarters who made the hopeless argument that this would determine anything more than who got really rich by playing the best golf in four strong tournaments, with emphasis on the last event.

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