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It's all about the money at East Lake

ATLANTA - On an East Lake course that might require a canoe, Padraig Harrington is looking for a wheelbarrow.

The Irishman is not the first player to suggest putting $10 million cash for winning the FedEx Cup on the 18th green to remind everyone what's at stake this week at the Tour Championship. He simply painted the most compelling picture.

'I do believe they should give out the cash on the 18th green,' Harrington said. 'Just sit it there, have a good look at it. We could take it in a wheelbarrow up to the clubhouse. Anything that falls out, it's the caddie's.'

For the moment, that's what the FedEx Cup is all about - money.

The value of the trophy remains a work in progress.

Does it reward the best year?

It did the inaugural season in 2007. Tiger Woods won five times before the playoffs began, skipped the opening playoff event and then turned the FedEx Cup into a coronation with a runner-up at the next tournament and victories in the last two.

That wasn't the case a year ago, when Harrington had a magical summer by winning consecutive majors and was voted player of the year by every golf organization. Yet because of a volatile points system, he didn't even make it to the Tour Championship. Vijay Singh got hot at the right time - August - won the first two playoff events and captured the FedEx Cup.

This year has it just about right - maybe.

The top two players are Woods and Steve Stricker, and rightly so. They have the most victories (Woods with six, Stricker with three), yet they only kept their spots at the top of the standings by winning a playoff event.

Next in line is Jim Furyk, steady as ever, although mysteriously winless over the last two years. Even so, he was consistent enough to start the playoffs at No. 16, and good enough when it counted the last three weeks to rise to No. 3. Zach Johnson is No. 4, courtesy of two victories during the regular season and one good week in the playoffs, when he finished fifth at the BMW Championship.

Heath Slocum is No. 5, whom the PGA Tour can tout forever when it says everyone has a chance. Slocum only qualified for the 125-man start of the playoffs by a mere two points, yet he finished atop a world-class leaderboard at The Barclays.

The top five have the best chance because all they have to do is win the Tour Championship to claim the FedEx Cup.

Mathematically, all 30 players East Lake have a chance. The lower they are in the standings, the longer the odds. Too much is made of the points system being confusing. It's a safe bet that hardly anyone knows how much money Woods has won this year, only that it's more than anyone else. The same principle applies.

Here's the simple math:

· The players who had the best regular season began the playoffs with the best odds of getting to the Tour Championship.

· The players who performed the best during the playoffs have the best shot at winning the FedEx Cup.

'It rewards you for playing well in the regular season, and even more for playing well in the playoffs,' Stewart Cink said. 'Every tournament is meaningful. So I think it's good. I think the skeleton that we have right now of the major part of the system will stay in place. There probably will be some major changes, but I think this year is closer to what the intent was when we first started out.'

The FedEx Cup will be decided on an East Lake course that could be more challenging than ever.

The Atlanta area has received about 2 feet of rain over the last week, including nearly 4 inches on Monday when it covered the first fairway with water and closed the course to the 30 players until noon Tuesday.

Salvation comes from a new drainage system and sub-air pumps on the greens that have left them in immaculate shape. Still, officials were still trying to get a lawn mower on the fairway, and it could be a while before they can clip the thick, wet rough. That could make East Lake and its 7,304 yards a beast of a par 70.

Whether the FedEx Cup can be seen as a universal success depends largely on the winner.

Woods' name on the trophy gives it credibility. Ditto for Stricker, and a case could be made for Johnson, or even Geoff Ogilvy, Kenny Perry and Phil Mickelson, all of whom would have won three times this year. The worst-case scenario would be Furyk or Harrington, who could win the FedEx Cup without having won a single tournament this year.

The points have been reset for the Tour Championship to guarantee a compelling a finish. The only problem is that does not guarantee a winner who has played well all year.

Considering how meaningless the Tour Championship was the last two years, that's not a bad trade.

SideBar: TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta

Yardage: 7,304 yards (par 70)

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

Television: Golf Channel (Thursday, 1-6 p.m., 8:30-11:30 p.m.; Friday, 1-6 p.m., 10:30 p.m.-1 a.m.; Saturday, noon-2 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) and NBC (Saturday, 2-6 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30-6 p.m.).

Last year: Colombia's Camilo Villegas won his second straight event, beating Sergio Garcia with a par on the first hole of a playoff in the FedEx Cup finale. Vijay Singh, the winner of the first two playoff events, took the $10 million FedEx Cup prize.

Notes: The top 30 players in the FedEx Cup standings advanced to the final event of the four-tournament playoffs. The points were reset after the BMW Championship, with Tiger Woods entering the finale with 2,500 - 250 more than second-place Steve Stricker. The tournament winner will receive 2,500 points. ... All 30 players have a chance to win the $10 million FedEx Cup prize. Woods, Stricker, No. 3 Jim Furyk, No. 4 Zach Johnson and No. 5 Heath Slocum are in position to win the title with a victory, regardless of where the other players finish. ... East Lake, the course where Bobby Jones learned to play, was designed by Donald Ross and renovated by Rees Jones in 1995.