Sept. 20, 2010
Sept. 20, 2010

Table of Contents
Sept. 20, 2010

The Amazing Race
The Vault


It's a bit of a stretch to call it golf's Super Bowl, but the Tour Championship has served the same purpose since its inception in 1987: End the season with a bang and resolve all of the game's plotlines. Golf's measuring stick has always been money, and the Tour Championship has been a big part of the hyperinflation. The tournament gave us golf's first million-dollar man—Curtis Strange, in 1988—and now annually bestows a cool $10 million on some lucky soul as the culmination of the FedEx Cup. In fact the Cup has reinvigorated the Tour Championship, transforming what had become a mellow working vacation into a cutthroat stress-fest at which success is measured in both strokes and points. And money, of course. Almost a quarter century later, that hasn't changed.

This is an article from the Sept. 20, 2010 issue

10 1994

Olympic Club San Francisco

Purse: $3 million | Winner's share: $540,000

Winner: Mark McCumber

66-71-69-68--274 (-10)

MCCUMBER, 43, clinched the 10th and final tournament win of his career by draining a 40-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole in a playoff against Fuzzy Zoeller. But perhaps the most memorable shot of the week was hit by Greg Norman in the third round at the 146-yard par-3 8th. Norman flushed a seven-iron that landed 10 feet short of the hole and trickled in for an ace that elicited a massive roar from his gallery, which was the largest of any on the course even though Norman wasn't in contention after a second-round 75. After retrieving his ball, Norman, who would finish 13th, handed it to a five-year-old boy in the crowd. Later that day, when Norman was handed a bar bill for $18,413.60 to cover the drinks he was obliged to buy for making the ace, Norman was nonplussed. "Don't worry," he said. "I've got insurance."

9 2009

East Lake Golf Club Atlanta

Purse: $7.5 million | Winner's share: $1.35 million

Winner: Phil Mickelson

73-67-66-65--271 (-9)

IT'S HARD to fathom that someone could be disappointed about winning $10 million, but that was the only way to describe how Tiger Woods felt after the stirring '09 Tour Championship. Woods entered the final round in second, two shots behind Kenny Perry and two ahead of Mickelson. Perry struggled to a 74 to tie for fourth, while Mickelson and Woods battled for the title. Mickelson seized control with a four-under 31 on the front nine and finished with a three-stroke victory over Woods. Mickelson was elated with his first victory since his wife, Amy, and mother, Mary, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. "It means a lot to finish the year off on such a good note," said Mickelson. Meanwhile Woods, whose net worth had been estimated to be more than $600 million, didn't seem as interested in the $10 million he got for winning the FedEx Cup as he was in the victory that had eluded him. "I'm sure I will probably be more happy tomorrow than I am right now," he said.

8 2008

East Lake Golf Club Atlanta

Purse: $7 million | Winner's share: $1.26 million

Winner: Camilo Villegas

72-66-69-66--273 (-7)

VIJAY SINGH had drained the drama from the Tour Championship by clinching the FedEx Cup title before setting foot on East Lake. He had prevailed at the first two FedEx playoff events—the Barclays and the Deutsche Bank—and his 44th-place finish at the BMW Championship gave him enough points that he only needed to finish four rounds at East Lake to claim the $10 million. During the trophy ceremony Tour commissioner Tim Finchem noted that he was a member at TPC Sawgrass and had watched Singh, also a member, routinely tear up the practice range by hitting thousands of balls. The normally stoic Singh replied with a rare quip, saying, "Now I can afford to help pay for sod, Tim." Also able to afford sod was Villegas, who won by overcoming a five-shot final-round deficit and then beating Sergio García on the first hole of a playoff. The victory was not only the second of Villegas's nascent career but also his second in two weeks, as he had won the BMW.

7 2007

East Lake Golf Club Atlanta

Purse: $7 million | Winner's share: $1.26 million | Winner: Tiger Woods

64-63-64-66--257 (-23)

THE TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP took on added luster in '07 as the event became not only the final stop in the regular Tour season but also the culmination of the inaugural $65 million, four-tournament FedEx Cup playoffs. The tournament was short on drama but long on jaw-dropping golf as Woods delivered one of the best performances of his career. After an opening six-under 64, Tiger took command with a second-round 63 that included a career-best nine-hole score of 28 on the front side capped by an eagle at the 9th hole. Woods's four-round total of 257, which gave him an eight-shot victory and made him the only two-time winner of the Tour Championship, was the lowest in tournament history and the third lowest in Tour history. When Woods left East Lake, about the only scoring record he didn't hold was best single round. That mark belonged to Zach Johnson, who shot a 10-under 60 in the third round.

6 2003

Champions Golf Club Houston

Purse: $6 million | Winner's share: $1.08 million

Winner: Chad Campbell

70-69-61-68--268 (-16)

CAMPBELL WASN'T on anybody's list of favorites before the Tour Championship. Yes, he had won an amazing 13 times on the minor league Hooters tour, but now, at 29 and in his second season on the PGA Tour, he was winless and mostly unknown. A runner-up finish at the PGA Championship should have foreshadowed what was to come at Champions, as Campbell, who at UNLV had developed a reputation for going low, shot a tournament-record 11-under-par 61 in the third round. That gave him a one-shot lead, which he increased by two with a 68 on Sunday. Campbell thus became the first player to make his first Tour victory the Tour Championship. The '03 Tour Championship was also notable for who wasn't there. Phil Mickelson ranked only 38th on the money list going into the event, so he didn't qualify for the 31-man field. That year marked the only time in Mickelson's career that he finished outside the top 30 in earnings.

5 2002

East Lake Golf Club Atlanta

Purse: $5 million | Winner's share: $900,000

Winner: Vijay Singh

65-71-65-67--268 (-12)

PHIL MICKELSON and Tiger Woods have been paired together many times on Tour, including on Sunday during the final round of the BMW Championship, but humorous moments between the longtime rivals have been few and far between. Still, both players couldn't help but laugh on the 1st tee at they were about to play the opening round of the '02 Tour Championship. As is the custom, the tee announcer ticked off the players' accomplishments that season for the gallery. As he was going through the list of Woods's five victories—the Masters and the U.S. Open among them—Mickelson (who had won twice) interrupted by saying, "All right, all right!" Mickelson and Woods, along with the crowd, broke into laughter. Mickelson shot an even-par 70 that day to edge Woods by a shot, but both players would finish far behind Singh, who used a long putter to win by two over Charles Howell.

4 1993

Olympic Club San Francisco

Purse: $3 million | Winner's share: $540,000

Winner: Jim Gallagher Jr.

63-73-72-69--277 (-7)

AFTER THE final round, even Gallagher admitted that he didn't win as much as Greg Norman had lost. This was unexpected, because in the months leading up to the Tour Championship, Norman seemed to have put his string of final-round collapses behind him by winning the British Open and coming in second at the PGA. At Olympic, Gallagher finished his final round before Norman and watched at 18 as the Great White Shark concluded a stunning collapse by making his fourth bogey in his final seven holes, leaving him a shot back. Standing in the fairway with only 133 yards to the 18th hole, Norman overclubbed, hitting an eight-iron that sailed over the green into rough on a hillside. Norman chipped 20 feet past the hole, then left his par putt short. "I kind of backed into that one," said Gallagher. Moments later, as he shook Norman's hand in front of the scoring tent, Gallagher told Norman, "Sorry about that, Greg."

3 1998

Pebble Beach Golf Links Pebble Beach

Purse: $2 million | Winner's share: $360,000

Winner: Curtis Strange

64-71-70-74--279 (-9)

MONSTER PURSES and huge paydays have been a trademark of the Tour Championship since its inception, and the second playing of the event (then called the Nabisco Championships) underscored that fact. During a rainy final round, Strange and Tom Kite battled down the stretch, with Kite birdieing the par-5 18th to force a playoff. Because of weather delays the sudden-death playoff was held on Monday. Both players parred the par-4 16th hole, but at 17, the famous 178-yard par-3 overlooking the Pacific, Strange hit what is arguably the greatest shot in Tour Championship history—a four-iron to two feet for a kick-in birdie that gave him the victory and what seemed, at the time, to be an unheard-of winner's check of $360,000, the biggest in Tour history and more than Strange had won combined that season for taking the Memorial ($140,000) and the U.S. Open ($160,000). Strange finished with $1,147,644 in earnings to become the Tour's first player to win more than $1 million in a season.

2 1997

Champions Golf Club Houston

Purse: $4 million | Winner's share: $720,000

Winner: David Duval

66-69-70-68--273 (-11)

WHEN DUVAL joined the PGA Tour in 1995, he seemed destined to win fast and often. A four-time All-America at Georgia Tech, Duval had won two of his first nine starts on the Nationwide tour and was expected to continue piling up victories on the regular Tour. But that didn't happen. Instead, Duval piled up runner-up finishes as he came in second seven times during his first 2½ years on Tour. Then something clicked in Duval's game at the end of 1997. He took his first Tour title at the Michelob Championship during the second week of October, and the following week at the Disney he became the first player since Billy Andrade in 1991 to have his first two wins come in consecutive starts. Duval capped his magical run at the Tour Championship by winning his third straight start. Entering the final round, Duval was tied for the lead with three players but finished a shot clear of Jim Furyk. The hefty payday vaulted Duval from ninth to second on the final money list, with $1.9 million.

1 1999

Champions Golf Club Houston

Purse: $5 million | Winner's share: $900,000

Winner: Tiger Woods

67-66-67-69--269 (-15)

WOODS CAPPED a dominating eight-win season with a runaway four-stroke victory, but this wasn't the most memorable Tour Championship in history because of anything that happened on the course. On Oct. 25, three days before the first round, Payne Stewart and five others died in a Learjet crash in South Dakota. Stewart's shocking death—only 42, he had won his second U.S. Open and 11th Tour title four months earlier—cast a pall over the golf world. Tour staff and players considered canceling the tournament, but then tournament official Ben Nelson devised a plan to play 27 holes on Thursday and 27 on Saturday to allow players to attend Stewart's funeral in Orlando on Friday. At Champions the pros paid tribute to Stewart in many ways. Most of the players wore knickers, Stewart's trademark on-course attire, during the final round. (Stuart Appleby wore a pair that came from Stewart's closet.) Bob Estes tapped a 15-foot putt off the 1st tee, commemorating the 15-footer Stewart had made that June to win the Open on the 72nd hole. Hal Sutton, who tied for ninth at Champions, summed up the emotions of the week: "We are reminded how short life really is, and how we are just passing through. So all the people you haven't told you love lately, tell them, and live your days like you mean it."

Next week, the final leg of the 2010 FedEx Cup playoffs at the Tour Championship will add another chapter to the event's (very) rich history. Here are the most memorable championships, as selected by the editors of SI Golf Plus

THREE PHOTOSFRED VUICH (CHAD CAMPBELL)PHOTOJAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES (TIGER WOODS)PHOTOJOHN BURGESS (DAVID FROST)PHOTOJOHN BURGESS (FROST)SCARY GOOD When the tournament was in late October, players such as David Frost would get into the Halloween spirit.PHOTOFRED VUICH (WOODS)TOP CAT Tiger (right) wasn't happy to lose the battle to Mickelson, but winning the FedEx Cup war was worth $10 million.PHOTOFRED VUICHEASY DUTY Villegas (left) won the tournament, but all Singh had to do was show up to take home the FedEx Cup.PHOTOFRED VUICH (WOODS)UNBEATABLE Woods was simply amazing while easily winning the final event of the inaugural FedEx Cup playoffs.PHOTOFRED VUICHTHE LOWDOWN Thanks to a 10-under 61 in the third round, Campbell made the Tour Championship his first PGA Tour victory.PHOTOJAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES (WOODS AND MICKELSON)FUNNY PHIL Mickelson (right) broke the ice before teeing off with a joke that cracked up the crowd and his longtime rival, Woods.PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISIN (GALLAGHER)BACKING IN Gallagher (right) took advantage of a brutal collapse by Norman, who bogeyed four of the final seven holes.PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISIN (STRANGE)MIL-STONE Strange won a Monday playoff to become the first PGA Tour player to earn more than $1 million in a season.PHOTOPAT SULLIVAN/AP (DUVAL)THREE FOR DD After seven seconds, Duval broke through with three consecutive wins, including the Tour Championship.THREE PHOTOSDARREN CARROLL (PLUS FOURS); PAT SULLIVAN/AP (BAGPIPER); JIM GUND (FLOWERS)REMEMBERING PAYNE Following Stewart's shocking death, his fellow pros found many ways to honor one of the Tour's most popular players, from wearing Stewart's trademark plus fours (top), to holding a memorial service (above) and turning his parking spot into a shrine.