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Inside the Ropes: Champ Snedeker on track for FedEx final

The SportsXchange

In the PGA Tour's version of "Star Trek," otherwise known as the FedEx Cup playoffs, Brandt Snedeker might boldly go where no man, or Cup winner, has gone before, back to the Tour Championship.

Starting with the FedEx Cup's inaugural season of 2007, the first five winners were Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Woods, Jim Furyk and Bill Haas. Not one of them made it back to the final event of playoffs, the Tour Championship, the following year because of sub-par play and/or injury.

Snedeker, the reigning FedEx Cup champ, enters the playoffs this week at the Barclays at third in the standings, trailing leader Woods and Matt Kuchar. That makes him virtually a lock to make it back to the finale at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, as long as he avoids the chronic rib injuries that have dogged him in recent years.

Having played in tournaments five consecutive weeks, Snedeker is going to make it seven in a row through the Deutsche Bank Championship next week, after which the playoffs will take a one-week break before the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship.

Snedeker isn't simply thinking about a return trip to Atlanta. He wants to join Woods as the only multiple winners of the FedEx Cup.

"I've got a big stretch of golf coming up, and this is a great time of year to be playing your best golf," said Snedeker, who captured the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the RBC Canadian Open this season.

"I knew this stretch was coming at the beginning of the year. I took a lot of time off in the middle of the summer, so now I'm kind of in my big part of my schedule, important part of my schedule, and I feel like I'm rested, I'm ready to go.

"Golf game feels as good as it's felt in a long time, and I'm excited to keep playing. I did the exact same schedule last year, and it worked out pretty well, so hopefully I can (win the FedEx Cup) again this year."

Steve Stricker and Hunter Mahan are the only players who have teed it up in all 24 tournaments since the playoffs began, but that will change this week because Stricker is staying home in Wisconsin, in part to rest his torn right hamstring.

Stricker said at the start of the season that he was going to play in only 11 tournaments this year, and right now he is at 10. He wasn't planning on playing in the playoffs unless he believed he had a good chance to win the FedEx Cup.

In fact, he has an elk hunting trip planned for the week of the Tour Championship, but that might have to wait.

Stricker said recently that he isn't going to completely skip the playoffs because he is 11th in the Presidents Cup standings and wants to make sure he qualifies for the team on his own merit instead of relying on a captain's pick from Fred Couples.

"At the beginning of the year, I was definitely not going to play the playoffs," said Stricker, who is 20th in the FedEx Cup standings. "Now I've got some thoughts about playing. If I make the (Presidents Cup) team, I need to be playing.

"I can't play the (first) three, then not play the Tour Championship and expect to play well at the Presidents Cup. I don't know what I'm going to do out of those first three. Play them all, play two, play one, play none. I don't know."

To use a term from "Star Wars," that other sci-fi epic, the force has been with Stricker in the playoffs. He is one of six players with two victories in the series, winning the 2007 Barclays and the 2009 Deutsche Bank Championship.

Not only that, but he is one of three players who have a series-high 10 finishes in the top-10, the others being Furyk and Camilo Villegas.

Stricker finished second in the FedEx Cup in 2007 and third in 2009. He has been so consistent in the playoffs that he has earned the nickname "Mr. September."

There is $8 million on the line in each of the four FedEx Cup tournaments, and a $35 million bonus pool will be divvied up at the end of the playoffs at East Lake, with $10 million going to the winner.

The top 125 in the standings will tee it up this week at Liberty National in the Barclays, with only 100 of them making it to the TPC Boston for the Deutsche Bank Championship next week.

After a week off, the top 70 in the standings will make their way to Conway Farms outside of Chicago for the BMW Championship, where the field will be whittled down to 30 for the Tour Championship in Atlanta.

Snedeker figures to be there, but with Stricker, it remains to be seen.
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