Tiger Woods set for FedEx Cup opener at Barclays

JERSEY CITY: Tiger Woods' final-round putting problems probably cost him the PGA Championship two weeks ago at Hazeltine. He was still trying to find his usual deft touch on the eve of The Barclays.

In his pro-am round Wednesday at Liberty National, his first look at the $250 million course a couple of par 5s from the Statue of Liberty, he struggled on the undulating greens, then spent about 45 minutes on the practice green.

"They are tough. They are going to be severe this week," Woods said. "If the wind blows like this, it's going to be tough to get the ball close. Some of the more severe greens actually are the longest holes."

Winless in the four majors for the first time since 2004, Woods is playing the FedEx Cup opener for the first time and making his first start in the event since 2003 at Westchester Country Club. He leads the tour with five victories, earnings of $7,688,163 and tops the Cup standings with 3,431 points.

Asked why he was playing, Woods replied, "I qualified."

One-liners aside, he also is chasing his second FedEx Cup — the only important title left this season and is stepping up at a time when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is asking players to do more for sponsors in a tough economy.

Woods played the Buick Open, even though his endorsement contract with the automaker ended last year. That meant playing three weeks in a row, and Woods said Wednesday that being in contention three straight weeks two victories and blowing a two-shot lead at Hazeltine to Y.E. Yang took its toll.

"I think we have to support the tour," Woods said.

He tops the 125 players who qualified for the $65 million playoff bonanza — a $7.5 million purse at each of the four events, with $35 million in bonus money for the FedEx Cup. The points system has been tweaked to put more emphasis on the regular season, with quintuple the value of points during the playoffs, then a reset that allows for a shootout at the Tour Championship for the $10 million prize.

"You want to be here. You want to be in the playoffs," said Woods, playing seven events in a nine-week stretch. "And ultimately, this is our opportunity to get in the Tour Championship."

Woods could have skipped The Barclays and won the FedEx Cup, as he did in 2007. He learned Wednesday that it was possible for him to win the next three tournaments, finish second at the Tour Championship and not capture the title. Or that someone could take the big prize without winning a single tournament this year.

"It is different, there's no doubt," he said.

Liberty National is different, too.

The links-style course sits on the site of an old oil refinery, a toxic area once dotted with empty tanks and 12 rotting warehouses.

"The first time we showed up here, it was a nightmare," said Bob Cupp, the course architect who teamed with Tom Kite to design the layout. "We were pretty sure any travesty known to man was on this property."

Paul Fireman, the billionaire Reebok founder and chairman, brought in Cupp and Kite in 1992. After seemingly endless environmental studies and red tape, they broke ground in 2003 and opened the course in 2006.

Nearly three million cubic yards of clay and soil were hauled in 200 trucks a day for 18 months to cap the toxic site and sculpt the scenic course.

"Everything out there is 100 percent created," Kite said.

The property was covered with plastic and millions of tons of clay, followed by another plastic liner, a 4-foot layer of sand, and finally soil.

"In essence, we have built an umbrella over the oil tanks," Cupp said.

When they finished, they had a 160-acre layout with 4,000 feet of waterfront and magnificent views of the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan skyline and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and Patriots owner Robert Kraft were founding members and Phil Mickelson, Giants quarterback Eli Manning and LPGA Tour player Cristie Kerr have joined the ultra-exclusive club.

"This is the ideal club," Mickelson said. "It's right by Manhattan. The practice facilities are great and the golf course is fun to play, so it was a natural to join."

The location and views attracted the PGA Tour.

"It's going to be an absolute stunning presentation on HD television," Finchem said.

Liberty National is a big change for the tournament after 41 years at Westchester and one at Ridgewood, both traditional, tree-lined courses.

"You know, you can like blondes and redheads. You don't have to be so exclusive that you only like blondes," Kite said. "Brunettes are pretty good, too."