Time for a few FedEx Cup tweaks
ATLANTA -- The PGA Tour's season comes to a lucrative conclusion this week at the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup points having been reset so that all 30 players at East Lake have at least a mathematical chance of being crowned the overall champion, thus earning a $10 million bonus.
In general, it is hard to argue with a format that has brought the game's best together for such a stretch since the year's final major was played more than a month ago at the PGA Championship.
Since the FedEx Cup's inception in 2007, the best thing about the often-derided format has been that the four-tournament playoff series attracts strong fields that otherwise would have been a dream. August, September and October had been no-man's land for the PGA Tour, the season limping to a lackluster conclusion.
Now it ends earlier, and while a new season begins in a matter of weeks, the playoff events have created some drama while fattening the wallets of the elite. Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Zach Johnson won the tournaments, Jim Furyk shot 59, Tiger Woods holds the FedEx Cup points lead.
But now comes the endless points permutations, the computers spitting out data and nobody able to keep up with it. It's easy for the top five: Woods, Stenson, Scott, Johnson and Matt Kuchar. The winner of the Tour Championship will be the FedEx Cup champion.
Beyond that? Possible chaos. You need to add the points available per position to the adjusted points each player has going into the Tour Championship.
This is not to say the Tour Championship has not been compelling, but wouldn't it be even more so if all 30 players came here knowing that a win got them the Cup?
Many view it as unfair, and for good reason. What's the point of building up points all year and then through the playoffs, to then have no advantage?
Fair point. So why not split the $35 million in bonus money and dole it out based on the points finish at the BMW Championship, with another bonus paid out at the Tour Championship?
That would make both competitions all the more intense. There would be a big fight to be No. 1 in points after the BMW -- Woods, say, would have received a $5 million bonus for that. And then the battle just to get to Atlanta becomes even more important because once here, if you win, you get a $5 million bonus, with all of the other payouts trickling down from there.
Such a plan gets rid of all the points nonsense. It's straight golf. You shoot the lowest score over 72 holes, you win the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup. Simple.
And one scenario might change it all: a player winning the FedEx Cup without winning a tournament all year. Every year, it seems that possibility exists, at least remotely. This year, Steve Stricker is in that position. If he were to finish second at East Lake, there is a mathematical chance for him to win the FedEx Cup. Any such possibilities are erased if the FedEx Cup champion is simply the Tour Championship winner.
Of course, other scenarios have been tossed about, such as a cumulative system for all four events, or match play. All of them have flaws. The PGA Tour wants to have the best of both worlds: It wants the best players throughout the year to be rewarded with a trip to the Tour Championship. It doesn't want to see them eliminated along the way. And it also wants there to be some volatility, some movement from week to week.
The tour seems to have struck that balance, as just eight players who were outside of the top 30 heading into the playoffs moved in -- meaning eight got bounced out.
As good as the system is for rewarding golf fans with the top players -- 22 of the top 30 in the world are playing in Atlanta -- there is room for improvement.
While there does not appear to be big changes coming to the FedEx Cup playoffs, commissioner Tim Finchem acknowledged there will be discussions about tweaks to the system.
Specifically, the amount of volatility that can see a player zoom so many places for high finishes in the playoff events.
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"We like volatility, but is it too much volatility?" Finchem said. "We want players focused on playing pretty well during the season, then, 'I've got to keep it going during the playoffs, and I've got to play well in Atlanta,' ...
"The question is if you have that much volatility in the first couple of weeks of the playoffs, does it throw that off a little bit? You want the season to mean a lot. So that's what we're looking at."
There have been comments made by players that too many points are offered at the playoff events. A win during the regular season at a non-major event is worth 500 points. It's worth 2,500 points at the Barclays, Deutsche Bank and BMW Championship -- or as many as five wins during the season -- before the points are reset heading into the Tour Championship.
A couple of ideas have been kicked around, such as reducing the points at the first three events to three times the amount awarded, or 1,500 for a win. Or perhaps gradually raising them as the playoffs progress.
Finchem said he expects the issue to be taken up by the PGA Tour's policy board in November, with any decision being rendered before the start of the new year.
"I sit here and think it's great now this year," said Adam Scott, who won the Barclays and is third in the points. "But I was cursing it last year because I played well [in the playoffs] and go backwards.
"But I think it's working well. I think we've all got our heads around it now."
1. Zach Johnson. His victory at the BMW Championship with a closing 65 capped a strong two-month stretch that saw the 10-time PGA Tour winner often in contention.
2. Jim Furyk. His 59 at Conway Farms was an amazing round: Furyk hit all 14 fairways and 17 of 18 greens. And he overcame a bogey, the first player to shoot 59 with that blemish on the scorecard.
3. Luke Donald. The Englishman rallied to make the Tour Championship field with a final-round 66 at Conway Farms, getting the 29th spot in the FedEx Cup standings, and he has qualified for East Lake every year dating to 2005.
1. Tiger Woods. Another rules controversy cost him two strokes at the BMW Championship, and he again had another lackluster final round.
2. Harris English. A bogey on the final hole, a par-5, likely cost English a spot in the Tour Championship and assurances of spots in the U.S. Open and Open Championship.
3. Rory McIlroy. He began the year as No. 1 in the world. He ended the PGA Tour season without a victory, dropped to No. 4 in the world, and didn't qualify for the Tour Championship.
Presidents Cup watch
The 10th Presidents Cup is in two weeks at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Ohio, and the American team again appears to have a strong advantage. All 12 of the team members are in the Tour Championship field, compared to just five International players -- Adam Scott, Graham DeLaet, Jason Day, Charl Schwartzel and Brendon de Jonge.
And the U.S. has a whopping advantage with a 7-1-1 record.
"I think we've done really well in the Presidents Cup because generally we have a very deep team," Tiger Woods said. "The Presidents Cup is different than the Ryder Cup in which every player must play every day. So if you're one of the 12 guys, you're playing four matches guaranteed, and that has always suited us because we've always had very deep teams."
This is the fifth time Tiger Woods entered the FedEx Cup playoffs as the points leader -- including, remarkably, 2008, when he didn't play after the U.S. Open ... All 30 players in the field have a mathematical chance of winning the FedEx Cup but No. 30 Dustin Johnson needs a lot to happen. He needs to win, and then among other things, needs Woods to finish No. 29 or worse and No. 2 Henrik Stenson to finish in a three-way tie for sixth or worse ... Woods has finished second at the Tour Championship four times, the most of any single event in his career ... Steve Stricker at sixth in the standings is the highest-ranked player without a victory this year ... Eight players are making their Tour Championship debut: Stenson, Graham DeLaet, Jordan Spieth, Billy Horschel, Charl Schwartzel, Roberto Castro, Brendon de Jonge and D.A. Points ... Spieth will be the youngest player in Tour Championship history, barely surpassing Woods, who also was 20 when he played in the 1996 tournament.
"It's here with me. It comes pretty much everywhere. I wear it in my hotel room all the time just by myself ... I don't mind carrying it around." -- 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott on his green jacket