Woods faces a new, stern test to get to FedEx Cup finale

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Rory McIlroy, left, and Tiger Woods head down the first hole during a practice round Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, for the BMW Championship golf tournament at the Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Tiger Woods at Olympia Fields brought concerns about the state of his game.

That was the case 17 years ago going into the U.S. Open. Never mind that Woods was the defending champion. He had gone all of four tournaments without winning. At that stage in his career, it was enough to raise questions about a slump.

Not much has changed this week at the BMW Championship, with a slight change in the narrative. It's not about whether he can win a major. It's whether he can avoid another early end to his PGA Tour season.

Woods has gone four tournaments outside the top 35 — three of those since golf returned from the COVID-19 pandemic in June — and he likely needs to finish among the top four against a 69-man field to reach the Tour Championship. The top 30 advance to East Lake to compete for a $15 million prize.

“I have to play well. I have to earn my way to East Lake,” said Woods, who is No. 57 in the FedEx Cup. “I haven't done so yet and need a big week in order to advance. If I don't, then I go home. This is a big week for me. I'm looking forward to getting out there and playing and competing.”

He'll be doing that on a course that is only familiar in its look — tree-lined, a few elevated greens, fairways framed by rough that can cover the top of his shoes and quick, contoured greens.

But then, it's not familiar to many at the second of three FedEx Cup postseason events. Woods, Charles Howell III, Adam Scott and Paul Casey are the only players who competed in that 2003 U.S. Open (Woods tied for 20th). Bryson DeChambeau won the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields, which featured five other players in the BMW Championship field, including PGA champion Collin Morikawa.

Harris English won a college tournament here a decade ago.