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Breaking down some FedEx Cup misconceptions

The fourth and final week of the first FedEx Cup playoffs is upon us, and while we can easily offer up a few best bets for who will walk away with the first $10 million bonus in PGA Tour history, getting a grip on this entire concept still remains elusive.

The competition has been compelling through three events, but off-the-course talk has often threatened to overshadow the proceedings. Players have grumbled about the bonus payout, the number of events they've been asked to play, and their input (or lack thereof) regarding the whole thing.

No doubt, some tweaks are coming after this week's Tour Championship at East Lake.

But not everything is an easy fix. Here is a look at the pressing issues:

• If there are "playoffs," why is it that not everyone has played?
While all 30 who are eligible for the Tour Championship are expected to tee it up in Atlanta, that was not the case at the first three playoff events. In fact, the No. 1 player in the points standings (Tiger Woods at The Barclays and Phil Mickelson at the BMW Championship) skipped tournaments. Ernie Els did not play at the Deutsche Bank Championship, while British Open champion Padraig Harrington pulled out of the BMW last week.

The four events came just two weeks after the PGA Championship, which followed the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Throw in the British Open two weeks before that and you have a scenario in which some could be playing seven out of nine weeks.

"We all didn't think it was in the best interest for us as players to play that much," Woods said. "We normally don't play that much, especially toward the end of the year."

Several ideas have been presented, such as reducing from four to three the number of playoff events or having a week off in the middle of the four. But that appears unlikely to happen next year, when the schedule is even worse as the Ryder Cup follows the Tour Championship.

"Currently our agreements are for this schedule next year, sponsorship, television and the rest," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. "I think that unraveling contracts is not something we normally do on the PGA Tour."

• Why is the FedEx Cup bonus not paid in cash?
Several players have expressed concerns about this. There is a $35 million bonus pool with $10 million going to the winner in the form of deferred compensation to be placed in players' retirement accounts. Some, including Woods, would prefer it be paid in cash.

"I think it's one of the major issues for all of us is that it's not a true payout," Woods said. "How great would it be like in the World Series of Poker, at the first tee starting at the Tour Championship, that's all you see is it stacked up there and what you're playing for. That would create a lot of buzz."

True, but this system will create a lot of cash for players down the road. It has erroneously been reported that the payout is in the form of an annuity. It is not an annuity. Sometime after the Tour Championship, the winner of the FedEx Cup will have $10 million placed in his tour-based retirement account. That's tax free. And the money can be invested in as many as 15 different options.

Players cannot touch the money, of course, until the age of 45 or when they stop playing the tour, whichever comes later. They must start taking payments by age 60. But if you do the math, you can see just how lucrative the plan can be. In Woods' case, if he wins the $10 million, draws an annual rate of return of 8 percent and cashes in at age 45, he would have more than $29 million sitting in his account.

To a guy who is making some $80 million per year, that's probably not a big deal. But the New York Times used the example of Hunter Mahan, 25, who would have $46 million at age 45 with an 8 percent return. If he waited until age 55 and was able to get 12 percent, the number would be a whopping $299 million. Meanwhile, if he took the cash now, he'd likely get socked with a tax bill of some $4-5 million.

And all of this overshadows the fact that each of the four FedEx Cup playoff events has a purse of $7 million, with more than $1.2 million going to the winner. And two of the tournaments have no cuts and short fields, meaning a big payday even for last place.

• Why did PGA Tour players seem surprised about many aspects of the competition?
In addition to being surprised about the payout, many players have said they were unaware of how the points worked, that they didn't realize some of the events would not have full fields, and were stunned to see how many events would be crammed into a jam-packed schedule from the British Open through the Tour Championship.

"We need to get closer to the big decisions because then we won't get into problems down the line," Els said. "It wasn't directly asked. Unfortunately, we're in this position now because they didn't either listen or they just went on with the decision, and this is where we are."

Finchem and player board rep Stewart Cink take issue with such comments.

Both pointed out that the FedEx Cup concept was officially unveiled in June of 2006. Several months of tweaking took place. The payout was debated. Player meetings were held.

"Everybody was given an opportunity," Cink said. "We had player meetings, and we had abysmal attendance. That's our forum. If you can't take the time to come to the player meetings and voice your opinion, then how else are we supposed to get it?"

Mickelson suggested he voiced various concerns about the FedEx Cup and they were not addressed. Did other players speak up? Or were they not paying attention?

• Are there too many big events in too short a time?
There is no doubt that the four straight tournaments that make up the FedEx Cup playoffs are too many, especially when they are right after the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship. And yet, players such as Woods and Mickelson had called for a shorter season. They didn't like the fact that the PGA Tour schedule droned on into November.

"I think for us to compete against football, and for us to continue our season after the PGA Championship as long as it does, I just think it kind of loses its luster," Mickelson said in 2005. "It's just not exciting. I'd love to see a lot less tournaments on tour, so the top players play in a greater percentage of those events."

And yet, isn't that what we have with the current format?

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.