Editor's Note: After this article was posted, the PGA Tour announced that practice rounds will be allowed on Tuesday and Wednesday at East Lake. Players may use all greens except for Nos. 2, 13 and 15.
The PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs come to a conclusion at this week's Tour Championship in Atlanta at East Lake Golf Club, where five players will have a chance at the $10 million end-of-season bonus. Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker each controls his own destiny -- if either wins this week, he'll be the overall champion -- while Phil Mickelson needs to win and have Woods finish lower than solo second, and Rory Sabbatini and K.J. Choi, well, they need lots of help.
Jason Sobel and Bob Harig look ahead to the final event in this week's edition of Alternate Shot.
Sobel: For all the moaning and bellyaching about Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson's giving themselves bye weeks during the FedEx Cup playoffs, unless Steve Stricker can spoil the party at East Lake, one of the world's top two ranked players will be crowned champion of the PGA Tour's inaugural postseason Sunday. This should impose two separate schools of thought: 1. Hey, if these guys can skip a week and still win the FedEx Cup, more power to 'em. If the other top players can't accomplish in four weeks what they can in three, well, that's their problem. Or: 2. Hey, if these guys can skip a week and still win the FedEx Cup, the system has failed. If the other top players can't accomplish in four weeks what they can in three, well, maybe the tour should start docking points to those who want to play by their own rules.
Harig: There is no question that the system will come under fire if a player can skip an event and win the whole thing. But you have to remember, the FedEx Cup is a season-long competition. We can debate whether that is the way to go or not. But in its current format, the system is heavily weighted toward players who did well during the regular season. And yet, it requires you to do well in the playoffs, too. Vijay Singh started in the second spot, just 1,000 points behind Woods. After three playoff events, he has dropped to ninth and has no chance to win the whole thing.
Sobel: Here's the thing: These guys didn't make the rules, and they didn't break the rules. Woods and Mickelson played when they wanted to play, and according to how the points are drawn up each has a great chance to win. I know there's a sentiment out there that in other sports' playoffs, teams can't simply skip a week and continue advancing, but I still don't think such a standard should apply for the FedEx Cup. The risk isn't worth the reward. What we're left with is a Tour Championship that should be pretty exciting, especially if the greens at East Lake are as poor as we've been led to believe.
Harig: I'm not sure how to fix it, but I just wish there was a way this could work out where more of the 30 players who make it to East Lake would have a chance to win the whole thing. Only five now have that chance. Of course, if Woods had not had such good tournaments in Boston and Chicago, more players would be in the mix. And had he played in New York and done well there, it might be over. So you have to be careful what you wish for. And if we can somehow get Woods, Mickelson and Stricker in the mix Sunday, then it really will be exciting -- bumpy greens or not.
Sobel: Let's talk about those greens, since they'll be the main topic of discussion throughout the week. Hot temps in Atlanta have left 'em baked and bumpy, so much so that the pro-am has been canceled and players won't be allowed to set foot on the greens until play begins on Thursday. I've never heard of such a thing, but I feel a lot better knowing Woods hasn't, either. So I guess the biggest question is: Whose fault is this? Should the tour (and the folks who run East Lake) have the greens in premium condition no matter what? Or is it, as Zach Johnson intimated, just an unfortunate product of Mother Nature?
Harig: Well, Robert Allenby seemed to suggest they should have figured it out. Ernie Els, too. Els talked about playing all over the world, including Dubai, and he's never had to play on sand greens. I don't know if that will be the case at East Lake, but it sure sounds bleak. On the one hand, the average temperature in August was several degrees higher than normal, with no rain. Then again, what took so long to react? Did course and tour officials expect the heat to subside and the grass to grow? Was it wishful thinking? For the integrity of the competition, perhaps a move to another venue should have been considered sooner. That is not unprecedented. In less than two weeks time last year, the tour moved the B.C. Open to another venue. And that was for a full-field event.
Sobel: I know they explored the possibility of holding the event at TPC-Sugarloaf, a PGA Tour-owned venue near Atlanta that also hosted the AT&T Classic earlier this year, but that wouldn't work, for whatever reason. It's really a shame. Not only does this put a black mark on the first ever playoffs, but East Lake is one of the coolest courses on the tour schedule each year. A tight, old-school track, it places a definite premium on ball-striking and putting. If no one can make a putt on the bumpy greens, though, it's anyone's guess as to what could transpire.
Harig: It throws an element of luck into the proceedings. Sure, golf is a game of good and bad breaks. You can hit a spike mark on a perfect green. But if this produces a situation in which players are missing 3-footers and need a shoulder turn to stroke long putts, it will take away from the competition. The outcome shouldn't be determined more by the greens than the stroke. Nobody wants to see any of these guys grinding over a putt worth $10 million.
Sobel: And that especially includes Tim Finchem and the folks at PGA Tour headquarters. Sure, they'd love for the FedEx Cup title to come down to a lone putt on the final hole, but if, say, Woods hits a bouncing putt that strays from its line, that'll be bad news for all involved. But like we always say when "unfair" conditions occur at a tournament, all the players have to compete on the same course, so the guy who deals with adversity the best will win.
Harig: That is true. Best to get over the conditions and realize that it's the same for everybody. And let's face it, a steady diet of fairways and greens is still going to go a long way. Maybe this week, the "proximity'' stat will be the one to monitor. A player who hits it close shouldn't have to worry as much about poor greens.
Sobel: True enough. But you know that every player is going to be worrying about them -- and talking about them -- this week at East Lake.