By Simon Evans
NORTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) - The world's top three golfers tee off together on Friday as the second FedExCup playoff event, the Deutsche Bank Championship, gets under way with scores of other players still in the hunt for the $10 million jackpot.
World number one Tiger Woods, nursing a back injury that left him in agony during Sunday's final round at The Barclays, heads the FedExCup point standings and has been grouped with second-ranked Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson (third).
Woods has won a season-high five times on the PGA Tour while Australian Scott and American Mickelson have both clinched majors this year - at the Masters and British Open respectively.
No prizes then for guessing which group will attract the most attention from spectators for the opening two rounds at the TPC Boston.
"It's a good grouping, isn't it?" world number two Scott told reporters on Thursday. "It's going to be huge for everyone to come out and watch and great viewing on TV.
"They're the big show and it's fun to be involved in that atmosphere," he said of Woods and Mickelson, who between them have won 19 majors. "I think I've learned to enjoy being a part of all that and gotten somewhat comfortable with it."
But the beauty of the FedExCup format, putting aside any debate about the competitive justice of a lucrative playoff series which began in 2007, is that being in the top three in the points standings at this stage counts for little.
American Brandt Snedeker won last year's FedExCup title and the $10 million bonus, leapfrogging Woods, Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Nick Watney with victory at the season-ending Tour Championship.
It is a format that is familiar to American sports, particularly in the National Football League where the battles of the regular season count for little when it comes to the playoff stages.
"Technically, you can win every tournament you play in all year, you win 30 events and lose the last one and lose the FedExCup," said Woods. "So that's very similar to what the (New England) Patriots went through.
"You have an undefeated season, but you don't win the last game, you don't win the Super Bowl, you don't win the FedExCup.
"They (PGA Tour officials) are trying to create some excitement towards the end of the year. They've done a great job of that."
The gradual cutting down of the field, from 125 players at The Barclays to just the top 30 at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, along with a point re-set to keep the battle open, has certainly helped keep the tension alive, according to Woods.
"The first couple of years there was really no drama going into the Tour Championship," the 14-times major champion said. "I had won it outright and Vijay (Singh) had won it outright, and all we could do is just tee it up.
"There was a minor (points) re-set, but still it didn't quite have the same drama. Now anybody that's in the top five, they win the Tour Championship, they automatically win the FedExCup."
For Woods and his rivals, the incentive to get into that top five has added another element of excitement to the PGA Tour season.
"It was a bit of a shift for us as players because we were always based on the money list, how much money we made for the year, and that basically won you the Arnold Palmer award," he said.
"And generally that led you to the Player of the Year award. So the FedExCup has changed our way of thinking, and especially now with the two re-sets, it makes it very exciting at the Tour Championship for sure.
"There's a lot of different dynamics that can happen. We saw it last year."
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)