With FedEx Cup renewed, time to fix it up
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- The news somehow got buried, announced in the early morning of one of the biggest golf days of the year. Perhaps the PGA Tour didn't want to gloat, having again pulled off a rather remarkable feat, this time managing to get FedEx to renew its huge sponsorship of the PGA Tour for an additional five years.
There probably is a less compelling reason that commissioner Tim Finchem chose Wednesday morning, minutes before the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship was set to begin, to announce that the FedEx Cup will continue in all its glory through 2017, assuring that the season-long winner will get a cool $10 million bonus while the rest of us debate the merits of playoffs in golf.
Although the timing was awkward, there is no mistaking how big this is for the PGA Tour. Nobody should have assumed that FedEx would sign on for another $35 million per year after already doing so for the years 2007 to 2012. Nothing is guaranteed in these economic times, yet Finchem again checked off a big item on his to-do list for which PGA Tour players should be grateful.
He's got the network television contract done through 2021, and the FedEx deal secured -- with the possibility of future increases -- through 2017. Although there are title sponsorships to be renewed, Finchem has kept the tour fully scheduled, either getting current sponsors to come back or filling holes with new ones. It's been an impressive run, one not to be undersold.
Now comes another necessary step: improving the FedEx Cup.
It has been said here many times that the PGA Tour specifically and golf in general are far better off for having the four-tournament playoff series that begins two weeks after the PGA Championship and carries through toward the end of September.
For all of the system's faults, the biggest selling point is that it brings so many of the top players together at a time of year when they might otherwise be less engaged. The period from after the PGA to the Tour Championship before the inception of the FedEx Cup was less than appealing. Golf all but vanished from the sports' fans consciousness, to be awoken for only the Ryder Cup.
Now the top players come together for four straight tournament weeks, and although the FedEx Cup will never replace the major championships, it is far better than the alternative. If you understand that it's not meant to replace the majors and that winning any one of the playoff events might not be as big of a deal as winning the Players Championship, the tournaments still provide meaningful golf with a huge payoff.
With that said, the points system employed typically leaves fans scratching their heads. They don't pay attention, don't care or don't understand it. And things get really wild on the final day of the Tour Championship, when it is impossible to follow the various scenarios in play. The FedEx folks seem to enjoy the volatility, and Finchem has often said that some controversy is good -- in a BCS sort of way.
But all it takes for the FedEx Cup to be ridiculed until eternity if, say, someone who has not won a tournament all year, someone who doesn't capture the Tour Championship, still wins the points title. It is far-fetched but was within the realm of possibility in 2009 and 2010.
"There are some things in the system that we need to look at," Finchem said last week. "Generally we don't think that it's a big deal if you tinker with it and change it from time to time. We just determined that after we got it to a point, we'd take a break and continue to monitor it and see how it works. And it's worked well. But I think we should keep our minds open about changes in the future and listen to people."
Finchem maintains that any arguing, any discussion is good for the game. Maybe so.
But the FedEx Cup has been fortunate, too. As its winners it has had Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Woods, Jim Furyk and Bill Haas. In three of the five years, the winner of the Tour Championship also won the FedEx Cup. In 2008, when Singh was not a factor at East Lake, he had made his case by winning two playoff events -- although the system was changed afterward. In '09, Woods failed to beat Phil Mickelson at East Lake but had won six times that year, and nobody argued with his overall FedEx title.
But what if the inevitable occurs: somebody who finishes well down the list in the Tour Championship or, worse, somebody claiming the overall title after a consistent but nonwinning year?
Finchem said they'll listen to ideas. It's clear the tour wants no part of a winner-take-all scenario that doesn't reward the regular season. It wants to make sure that those who have had a good year make it to the Tour Championship. OK, so why not do something that would invigorate both? Divide up the bonus pool, and give half to those who lead the points through the third playoff event, now the BMW Championship. That would put a premium on entering the playoffs high on the list, then use the first three events to climb to the top. There would be a ton of interest centered on who comes out ahead after the BMW Championship -- which has no cut -- as a $5 million bonus would be paid to the winner of the points title.
Then let the 30 players who advance to the Tour Championship play it out for the remaining bonus money. Winner takes the top prize, all the way down to 30th place. There would be no angst over points, just a player's position on the leaderboard. First is first, and so on. It's a lot simpler.
Of course, dozens of ideas are out there. The tour no doubt studies them. But the hard part is complete. The tour got signatures on a contract that stipulates that $35 million plus will be going to players through 2017 in the form of FedEx bonus money.
Now comes the task of delivering something better.
The Honda Classic, which has been growing in stature since its move to PGA National in 2007, got a big boost when new local resident Tiger Woods committed to the tournament nearly two weeks ago. Woods announced he would play the tournament for the first time as a pro on Feb. 14, or 10 days before the commitment deadline. Woods has about a 15-mile commute to PGA National.
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"It's great he committed to us when he did, and I think it's obvious he wanted to wait until the AT&T [Pebble Beach] was complete so to not take any spotlight away from that tournament." Kennerly said ticket sales "have gone crazy" and that projections are for a 30 percent increase thanks to Woods' presence in the field.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
Birdies And Bogeys
1. Hunter Mahan. His second WGC title came in impressive fashion with a match-play final victory over Rory McIlroy at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. The win vaulted Mahan into the top 10 in the world.
2.Rory McIlroy. It's tough to knock McIlroy for finishing second in a grueling event, especially after he took down Lee Westwood earlier Sunday despite falling 3 down in the semifinals. No. 1 seems inevitable.
3. John Huh. He had to go through three stages of Q-school to earn one of the final spots on tour in 2012 and now has three top-12 finishes, including a victory at the Mayakoba Classic in an eight-hole playoff over Robert Allenby.
1. Robert Allenby. He was on his way to his first PGA Tour victory in 11 years and a final round of 63 when Allenby inexplicably hit driver on the final hole when all he needed was a bogey on a par-4. His double bogey led to a playoff and defeat to John Huh.
2. Tiger Woods. Even Nick Watney was preparing for extra holes last week when Woods stood over a 5-footer on the 18th green, then not only missed but didn't even hit the hole. It continued a trend of poor putting that knocked him out of the match play on Day 2.
3. Luke Donald. What's up with No. 1? Two poor stroke-play results followed by a first-round ouster at the match play has Donald's nine-month reign atop the rankings in peril.
We have reached the time of year when the Masters really comes into focus. After an eight-week run of nine tournaments on the West Coast, the PGA Tour now moves east for the annual Florida swing of four events, including next week's WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral near Miami.
When Doral was a regular tour stop, several years before the tour reconfigured the schedule, Doral often was viewed as the unofficial launching point to the season. Many players made their season debut at the event or were just starting to get in gear.
No longer. Now there are numerous meaningful tournaments in the first two months, although Florida really gets Augusta on players' minds. Not because there is any similarity in courses -- hardly. It's more about proximity, both on the calendar and in distance. Several exempt players will fit in trips to Augusta National throughout March. And, of course, there are four more events at which players can move into the top 50 of the world rankings to gain an invite.
Since the PGA Championship, where Rory McIlroy suffered a wrist injury, he has finished out of the top 10 just once in 11 tournaments, with a win in Hong Kong, a victory at an unofficial event in Shanghai and runner-up finishes at the Dunhill Links in Scotland, Korea, Abu Dhabi and the match play. ... McIlroy needs to win the Honda Classic to move to No. 1 in the world. ... No. 3 Lee Westwood is also in the field. ... The tournament also has all four major winners from a year ago. In addition to U.S. Open champion McIlroy, Charl Schwartzel (Masters), Darren Clarke (British Open) and Keegan Bradley (PGA) are all entered. ... Players not otherwise in the field who move into the top 50 in the world by Sunday night will get an invite to next week's WGC-Cadillac Championship. ... Tiger Woods is playing the Honda for the first time as a pro. He did play the tournament 19 years ago as an amateur in 1993, when the event was at Weston Hills in Florida. Woods missed the cut. ... Hank Kuehne returns to the PGA Tour for the first time since 2007 thanks to lingering back issues. He is playing on a major medical extension and needs to earn just more than $636,000 in 18 starts to retain his playing privileges for the rest of the year. Then he would need to be among the top 125 money winners to be exempt in 2013. ... PGA National has consistently played as one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour. Last year it ranked first among non-major venues with a scoring average of 72.540. Par is 70.