ATLANTA - No matter how much they tinker with the FedEx Cup, there's never going to be a system that pleases everyone.
That said, it's hard to argue with this photo op from the PGA Tour's season-ending moneyfest: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson standing side-by-side on the 18th green at East Lake Golf Club, each of them posing with a trophy of his own.
Woods won the FedEx Cup - and, oh yeah, another $10 million for his overflowing bank account. Mickelson won the Tour Championship to close an emotional roller-coaster of a year with a flourish.
Golf's two biggest stars, each of them a winner Sunday.
Just what PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem had in mind when he came up with a playoff system to spice things up after all the majors were done.
"Had I put myself in a position to where we had the entire FedEx Cup on the line coming down the stretch, that would have been even more exciting," Mickelson said. "But I felt like the day turned out well."
Woods didn't win a major in a year for the first time since 2004, but it's hard to complain about a season with six wins and three runner-up finishes - all after recovering from major knee surgery.
"To be as consistent as I have been all year is something that I'm very proud of," Woods said. "I certainly wouldn't have expected that."
Mickelson closed with a 5-under 65 to go from four shots behind to a three-stroke victory, his first since his wife and mother were diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring.
"It means a lot to finish the year off on such a good note," he said. "We've been through a lot, and I'm very proud of my wife and my mom on the fight that they've been through. We're in good shape. Although day-to-day is tough, and it's not easy for them, we're fortunate that our long-term outlook is good."
While Mickelson was pulling away in the tournament, the chase was much tighter for the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus. Three other players beyond the Big Two had a legitimate shot at the big prize.
- Kenny Perry started with a two-shot lead and doubled it after two holes, only to implode with poor tee shots, bad chips and missed putts that led to a 74.
- As it became clear Mickelson was headed toward victory, Steve Stricker only needed to finish ahead of Woods. He was in position until he found mud on his ball in the 16th fairway, sailed the green and made consecutive bogeys to shoot a 69.
- Sean O'Hair stayed within range of Mickelson until a bogey on the 17th hole and wound up with a 69, alone in third.
"There was so much riding on the line," Stricker said. "There might be some tweaking again. Who knows? But I thought it provided a lot of excitement for the fans and the players. All the players coming in here this week had a legitimate chance at winning the FedEx Cup."
Indeed, this third incarnation of the season-ending playoff was certainly more compelling than the first two. Woods won easily in 2007, even while skipping one of the playoff events. Last year, Vijay Singh merely had to show up for four rounds at East Lake to ensure his title.
This time, there was more emphasis on who played well late in the season, and the points system was altered to give all 30 finalists at least a semblance of a chance going into the Tour Championship.
"What is right? Every year you're going to have a scenario that's going to jump out and you're going to say, 'That just doesn't seem right,'" Stricker said. "You've got to put something together like they did this year that creates a lot of excitement like this did. With five guys having a chance to win, it did do that."
Mickelson finished at 9-under 271 and earned $1.35 million. He also collected $3 million for being second in the FedEx Cup. It was his third victory of the year, the 37th of his career and it pushed him back to No. 2 in the world ranking.
Woods, playing in the final group with Perry, struggled most of the day with his putter, but two late birdies helped him lock up the cup.
As he stood on the 18th green with his biggest rival, perturbed by his inability to make putts inside 20 feet, Woods found it hard to consider himself a winner.
"I'm sure I would probably be more happy tomorrow than I am right now, because you're in the moment trying to win this event," he said. "I'm trying to beat Phil, he's trying to beat me."
Mickelson seized control with a 31 on the front nine. His lone birdie on the back came from a chip-in out of a nasty lie behind the 16th green that essentially secured his victory.
Lefty's only hope for the FedEx Cup was for Woods to finish eighth or worse, a slight possibility until Woods made his first birdie of the final round with two putts at the par-5 15th. He followed with a 35-foot birdie on the 16th - his first one-putt birdie in 24 holes, which brought out his first fist pump of the day.
"I just needed to push, needed a run or two or three birdies to get me right back in the ball game," Woods said. "Unfortunately, that run didn't happen until 15. And that's a little late."
Still, Woods got the title - and the prize - that mattered most to another of his rivals.
"I'd prefer the 10 million bucks in my pocket," O'Hair said. "I think Tiger wins today."
The PGA Tour was a winner, too.
Just check out that picture from the 18th green.