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Golf Tidbits: Sprint to the finish underway for PGA

Kevin Currie, Golf Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Is it me, or is this summer flying by? With three of the four majors under our belts, the sprint to the finish line is upon us for the PGA Tour.

The best news the tour could have received for this stretch is the return of Phil Mickelson. Lefty came back this week for the first time since the U.S. Open.

Things are going well with Amy Mickelson's cancer treatments and Phil rejoined the tour with a chance at winning some of the season's big awards. Despite making just 12 starts, Mickelson has two wins and six top-10 finishes.

Only Tiger Woods has more wins than Mickelson this season and Mickelson ranks fifth in the FedEx Cup points race.

While Mickelson is making his return at Firestone, Woods made his return last week at the Buick Open and did so in style. He trailed by eight strokes after the first round, but caught fire over the final three rounds en route to a three-stroke victory.

If you can believe it, the Tour Championship is just seven weeks away. That event concludes the four-event FedEx Cup playoffs.

This closing run will go a long way in determining the Player of the Year as well as the FedEx Cup champion. Despite not winning one of the first three majors, Woods leads the discussion for Player of the Year honors thanks to his four victories.

Mickelson as well as Steve Stricker, Kenny Perry, Zach Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy and Brian Gay all have two wins on the season. The three majors champions -- Angel Cabrera (Masters), Lucas Glover (U.S. Open) and Stewart Cink (British Open) -- all have one victory this year and Glover leads those three in standing eighth on the money list.

As tight as the Player of the Year race is at this point, the race for the $10 million first-place prize for the FedEx Cup champion is equally as close. The top-17 on the points list are within 1,500 points of each other.

That isn't as big a gap as it may seem as this week's WGC is worth 550 points and the PGA Championship winner collects 600 points.

Winners of the four FedEx Cup tournaments earn 2,500 points, but after the third playoff event, points will be re-set which is unlike the last two years when points were only re-set after the regular season ended.

With the new re-set, anyone in the top-six in the points standings will win the FedEx Cup grand prize with a victory at the Tour Championship.

So not only is there a lot to play for, the best players will be playing nearly every week battling for the top prizes.

BUSY STRETCH FOR WOODS

Tiger Woods has always built his schedule around preparing to play the big tournaments, such as the four majors and three of the four World Golf Championships events. With the addition of the FedEx Cup playoffs, he will be playing more than normal over the closing stretch.

Once Woods completes the three-event run he is currently in, he will likely take two weeks off before playing in the second FedEx Cup playoff tournament, the Deutsche Bank Championship.

If he remains eligible for the final three playoff events, Woods would again play three straight tournaments from the Deutsche Bank through the Tour Championship. Those final three events are scheduled over a four-week span with a one-week break before the Tour Championship.

The three-event stretch Woods entered at the Buick marks the first time since '07 that he is playing three consecutive weeks.

It isn't as rare as it seems for Woods to play three straight weeks. From the time he turned pro in the middle of the 1996 season, the only year in which Woods didn't play at least three consecutive weeks once was 2008, when he was injured much of the campaign.

In fact, Woods has played three or more consecutive events 18 times over his career. Prior to 2009, there were six times in his career that Woods competed three or more straight weeks more than once in a single season.

MINI-TIDBITS

- Congrats to Michelle Wie on being selected to the U.S. Solheim Cup team. Maybe this is the springboard she has needed for her career.

- Sad to see Buick ends its sponsorship of its last two PGA Tour events. One of the tour's longest running sponsors, Buick at one time sponsored four PGA Tour tournaments. The writing had been on the wall, but Buick said it would work with the tour in other areas and try to remain a corporate partner.

- Economic woes have hit the European Tour as well. Lee Westwood said in press conference at the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational that the winning share for the European Tour's Race to Dubai has been reduced from $10 million to $7.5 million. An official announcement is expected soon.

- How much does Tiger Woods mean to the PGA Tour? The television ratings at the Buick Open spiked 167% over last year, when Woods missed the event due to his knee surgery.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Kevin Currie at kcurrie@sportsnetwork.com.

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