Sunday strategy key to FedEx Cup finale

September, 25, 2009
09/25/09
4:48
PM ET

ATLANTA -- There is plenty at stake here at East Lake Golf Club. The FedEx Cup. A $10 million first-place prize. And, oh, the Tour Championship itself.

Let's break down what each competitor needs to do and avoid Sunday.

Kenny Perry (8-under 202)
Needs to … continue hitting his irons like he did in the third round. Perry made seven birdie putts, but almost all came after a solid approach, as six were from distances of 11 feet or less. If Perry can continue knocking it tight, not only will he have birdie chances, but he'll avoid mistakes, too.

Harig: Cup Crazy

Sunday at the Tour Championship looks to be a roller coaster of a finish. With Kenny Perry leading the way through 54 holes, the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are within earshot of that $10 million bonus. Bob Harig

Needs to avoid … the flu bug. After suffering through cramps in the opening round, he came down with an illness that left him feeling weak. "I was drinking as much fluids [Thursday] night as I could get in me," Perry said. "I was sicker than a dog yesterday after the round."

Tiger Woods (6-under 204)
Needs to … continue dominating the par-5 holes. He's posted five birdies and a par on these holes so far this week. Two more birdies on Nos. 9 and 15 in the final round will mean he only needs to play the other 16 holes in 1- or 2-under-par in order to post his likely target score of 66 or 67.

Needs to avoid … being too patient. Usually such a characteristic is beneficial in big-time tourneys, but the conservative approach won't fly on a soft course where red numbers should be available. Instead, Tiger should take dead aim at the flagsticks and try to rack up some early birdies.

Phil Mickelson (4-under 206)
Needs to … regain the feeling of playing with something on the line. "I haven't been in contention since the [U.S.] Open," he said. "It's been a few months, mainly because of my putting, and again, I look back on Thursday where I threw 6 shots away from three holes, otherwise I'd be leading. But to come back the way I have and play the way I have, I feel like I'm playing some really good golf, that no matter how many shots back I am, I think I'll still be a factor."

Needs to avoid … the big number. Mickelson has had a habit of putting up one bad hole in a round throughout his career. Perhaps he's already gotten that out of his system with that quadruple-bogey on the 14th hole in the opening round; another such blow-up will squash his chances at a title.

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Sean O'Hair (4-under 206)
Needs to … ask Tiger for another putting tip. After receiving some advice from his buddy during Wednesday's practice round, O'Hair's previously balky stroke has looked better than it did during a two-month stretch in the second half of the summer, when he hardly made a thing.

Needs to avoid … another 17th-hole blow-up. Through three rounds, O'Hair has played the course's penultimate hole in 3-over-par; he is 7 under on the other 17 holes combined. On Saturday, a wayward tee shot into the water hazard led to double-bogey.

The field (3-under 207 and above)
Needs to … post a number. The likes of Padraig Harrington and Steve Marino (each at 3-under) and Steve Stricker and Ernie Els (2-under) are still in the mix. If they can match the tournament-best score of 64 so far, it could be good enough to win this event or force a playoff by day's end.

Needs to avoid … thinking about the cash. There is still plenty at stake, both in the tournament and the FedEx Cup race, as a good day could net some of these players a combined half-million dollars or more, whereas a poor performance could cost them some serious cash. Tabulating the prize money while standing over a putt isn't going to help anyone's game, though, so it's best to stick to the task at hand.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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