For playoffs to work, finish up before NFL

September, 22, 2009

ATLANTA -- They should have a little room reserved for us here at East Lake Golf Club. Nothing expansive; even a windowless retreat in the clubhouse basement would work.

We would set up 10 or 12 folding chairs in a circle, then take turns as each attendee proffered a personal tale of admission to fly in the face of majority rule.

I'd listen intently, nod in agreement every so often. Then it would be my turn. Time to stand up, introduce myself and join this small army in defense of unconventional wisdom.

Hi, my name is Jason, and I … like the FedEx Cup.

There. I said it. Feels good to get it out in the open, to finally get it off my chest. And you know what? It feels good to be right, too.

Golf is an endeavor that hasn't been altered much in the past half a millennium, give or take a few years. No, the first Scotsmen to play the game didn't use graphite-shafted clubs on 7,500-yard courses, but the basic premise remains: Players attempt to hit a ball into the hole in fewer strokes than the competition.

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Maybe it's this fact that has left the attitude of so many -- from players to media to fans -- resistant to change. In the three years since the FedEx Cup was instituted, the playoff format has been constantly and consistently dismissed as a gimmicky finale to the regular season, with most observers pining for the good ol' days.

There's just one problem with such an idea: The "good ol' days" weren't all that good. Back in 2006, the last year before the FedEx Cup, the season-ending Tour Championship was contested in the first week of November -- and the top two players didn't even bother showing up. Neither Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson was injured or ill; each simply chose some couch time with the family over competing in the tournament.

When asked Wednesday why he had skipped that event, Woods claimed, "I can't remember," which serves as further proof that the late-season schedule was truly insignificant in pre-FedEx Cup times.

Fast-forward three years, though, and you'll find the world's best players -- Woods and Mickelson included -- taking part in each of the four playoff events, adding some oomph to a previously lifeless autumn on the PGA Tour while providing a tangible conclusion to the season. That alone should be enough to warrant universal backing for the format.

Instead, it has been quite the opposite.

There remains an overwhelming notion that the FedEx Cup is simply a contrived money grab, a setup destined to fail before it ever succeeds. It's enough to leave people like me searching for a support group.

You say it's not a "real playoff" because players can skip a week or miss a cut and still advance. I say this isn't the NFL and can't be treated in the same manner.

You say this is never going to own more significance than a major championship. I say that was never the intent. After all, despite including them as sanctioned events, the PGA Tour isn't the governing organization in charge of any of the four majors. The FedEx Cup gives it a crown jewel to conclude its season as opposed to a gradual, unintriguing finish.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not totally drinking the PGA Tour "Kool-Aid." The current format is hardly infallible, with plenty of issues still up for debate.

Trying to figure out the points list is a mind-numbing experience, with so many numbers flying around, it might take a few NASA computers to tally the totals each week. In the Cup's third year, the points already have undergone multiple tweaks, although most players still can't compute such numbers, especially during the course of play.

"I haven't paid attention," Mickelson said before the first playoff round at The Barclays. "I think that it's been fixed, but you know, we thought that the last couple of years, too. So who knows?"

Then there's the points reset, in which players are reseeded before the Tour Championship. What that means is that whether Woods led No. 2 man Steve Stricker by a single point or 1,000 entering this week, his lead would be the same going into Thursday's first round. Doesn't make much sense.

Neither of those is the biggest problem of the FedEx Cup, though. That would be pro football. Quite honestly, there was more of a buzz around the first two playoff events -- each of which occurred before the NFL's regular season opened -- than around the final two, which is obviously contrary to the goal of any playoff system.

My suggestion: Move 'em up and end this thing on Labor Day. Yes, that would mean the PGA Tour would need to axe three other regular-season events and somehow contest the playoffs around the year's final major, the PGA Championship, but it would be worth it to keep general interest before the entire nation turns to the gridiron.

Those are all just tweaks, though. Future adjustments can and should be made, but the idea of a playoff to end the PGA Tour season is here to stay -- and for good reason: It beats the alternative.

A part of the season that often dragged into oblivion before the FedEx Cup has been replaced by four weeks of golf featuring the world's best players. This time around, there could actually be some drama surrounding the $10 million first prize, too, something lacking in each of the previous two seasons.

I'll admit it. Despite some flaws, I like the FedEx Cup. Even if that puts me in the minority.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for He can be reached at

Jason Sobel | email

ESPN Senior Writer




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