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East Lake set for record crowds after eerily quiet start

ATLANTA, Sep 13 (Reuters) East Lake Golf Club has been eerily quiet in the build-up to this week's Tour Championship with fans barred from the course until today's first round.

The greens on the par-70 layout were damaged by record August heat and a severe drought and tournament organisers took the precaution of cutting back on unnecessary traffic.

Pro-am competition was cancelled yesterday and three of the greens were off-limits to the players in the practice rounds to help with the recovery of the putting surfaces.

All that will change today, however, when record crowds of 25,000 are expected to watch the opening round of the final event in the inaugural FedExCup playoff series.

Tickets have been sold out for all four days at East Lake, the tournament's first sell-out since Phil Mickelson beat Tiger Woods by two strokes to win the 2000 edition.

''Ever since the FedExCup was announced and we were designated as the final playoff event, we've seen a tremendous increase in attention and interest in the Tour Championship,'' tournament director Todd Rhinehart said in a statement.

''Now we have the top 30 players of the season ready to tee off and compete for not only the tournament trophy but also the distinction of becoming the first FedExCup Champion.'' World number one Woods is red-hot favourite to clinch his seventh title of the year after moving to the top of the points standings with victory at the BMW Championship on Sunday.

Only two other players in the limited field of 30 have realistic chances of securing the 10 million dollars bonus as the first FedExCup champion.

American Steve Stricker would claim the lucrative bonus by winning this week, regardless of where the other players finish.

Mickelson, who skipped last week's tournament in Chicago to spend time with his family, would earn the bonus with victory as long as Woods finishes worse than second.

South African Rory Sabbatini, South Korean K J Choi and Australian Aaron Baddeley also have a slim chance of claiming the big prize but a great deal has to work in their favour.

Mickelson told reporters yesterday: ''I think the FedExCup has made a successful start and it'll get better as time goes on. I've always liked this golf course, although I've missed the last couple years here because of scheduling.'' REUTERS BJR BST1100

Story first published: Thursday, September 13, 2007, 17:41 [IST]
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