ATLANTA Thanks to the cup, the Tour Championship finally might be worth watching.
No, not the FedEx Cup.
Six days after Anthony Kim routed Sergio Garcia in the opening singles match at the Ryder Cup, two of golf's most dynamic young players square off again in the third round at East Lake.
Kim had to settle for a 1-under 69 on Friday after making bogey from the bunker, giving him a two-shot lead over Garcia and putting them in the final pairing Saturday at the Tour Championship.
This is not match play. There are 36 holes remaining. At stake is $1.26 million, not a 17-inch gold trophy to share. Besides, it was only a month ago that they played together the first two rounds of the PGA Championship.
Even so, the fact they are playing together so close to the Ryder Cup figures to bring the Tour Championship to life.
"We had one day of golf really, 14 holes of golf," Kim said, trying to downplay the pairing and instead drawing laughter for his veiled reference of a 5-and-4 victory at Valhalla.
Kim was at 7-under 133, and while he will have a 2-up lead of sorts today at East Lake, the momentum might lie with Garcia. He was 4 over through his first six holes of the tournament, rallied for a 70, then followed that with nearly flawless play for a 65.
Not to be forgotten was Kim's tag-team partner from the Ryder Cup Phil Mickelson, who ran off five birdies over the last seven holes for a 68 that put him three shots behind.
And there's more at stake than just a big check and an elite title for the winner. Mickelson, Garcia and Kim are the top contenders to win the Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average on the PGA Tour.
"We still have a lot of golf left this weekend that will probably decide it," Mickelson said.
They were among six players in the 30-man field who managed to break par over two days, joined by Camilo Villegas (66) at 2-under 138, and K.J. Choi (70) and Mike Weir (69) at 139.
Even without their recent Ryder Cup history, Kim and Garcia are two of golf's young stars. Both can energize the crowd with their personalities, and they are loaded with talent.
Both consider the Ryder Cup history.
"It's Saturday of the Tour Championship," Garcia said. "It's a totally different event. Tomorrow is an important day to give yourself a chance on Sunday. You're not going to win the tournament tomorrow unless you shoot 52."
Kim, whose opening 64 was eight shots better than the field average, looked as though he might go even lower when he stuffed his approach inside 3 feet on the first hole and hit two more approaches inside 6 feet through five holes.
But he made enough mistakes a pair of three-putt bogeys on the front nine to keep enough players in range.
"I feel pretty positive about shooting under par on this golf course and not feeling like I got a lot out of my game," he said.
Ernie Els played in the final group with Kim and was trying to stay with him until pulling his tee shot into the water on the 17th and taking double bogey, sending him to a 71 to finish eight shots out of the lead.
"He's a good kid, a really good kid," Els said of the 23-year-old Kim. "He has a good attitude and he's got a lot of game. We need a good, younger player like him."
One difference Friday was using his caddie, Eric Larson, to line up his tee shots. Kim felt he was missing his mark by some 15 yards, and this freed him up to blast away.
"It worked out great," Kim said. "I feel like I'm on the LPGA Tour, but it doesn't matter. I'm playing good golf and making good swings."
Garcia didn't play all that badly Sunday in his loss to Kim except for a few bad drives on the front nine. He made only bogey at East Lake, chipping to firmly on the 18th hole and missing his par putt from about 10 feet.
The 28-year-old Spaniard fired off three straight birdies starting with a 9-iron into about 10 feet on the fifth, concluding his run with a 25-foot birdie on the seventh with perfect pace that brought a wry smile. Garcia also hit a delicate bunker shot for a short birdie on the par-5 ninth, and hammered a wedge to 2 feet of a tough pin on the 17th.
"If you miss the fairway, you're pretty much done," Garcia said. "Even from the fairway, it's still tough because the greens are so firm and so fast. But if you played well, you had a chance of getting on a roll, like I did."
Lurking was Mickelson, until his string of birdies at the end of the round.
Lefty won at East Lake in 2000, and he is starting to knock in enough putts to gain some confidence going into the weekend. Even so, he was intrigued by the two players ahead of him.
Mickelson and Kim were partners for three matches last week, although they never played against Garcia. Kim did that on his own in the opening match.
"I like the way it worked out last Sunday," Mickelson said. "That was nice. I've got to go out and try to track both of those guys down. That's not going to be easy."