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A FedEx Cup primer

How does the system work?
Points will be allocated at every tournament, with a premium given to wins and high finishes. There will be 25,000 points awarded at most regular tour events, with 4,500 going to the winner. The top 70 players, plus ties, will get points. At majors and the Players there will be 27,500 points awarded, with 4,950 going to the winner. World Golf Championship events award 26,250 points, with 4,725 to the winner, and opposite-field events offer 12,500 points, with 2,250 given to the winner.

After the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., Aug. 13-16, the top 144 players in the standings will advance to the PGA Tour Playoffs. The playoff events are the Barclays Classic in suburban New York, the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston, the BMW Championship (formerly the Cialis Western Open) outside Chicago and the Tour Championship in Atlanta. Points will be reset before the playoffs -- the player leading the standings has his points reset to 100,000, the runner-up to 99,000, all the way down to the 144th-place player at 84,700. The four playoff events will award 50,000 points per event, with 9,000 to the winner the first three weeks and 10,300 to the winner at East Lake GC. The player with the most points after the Tour Championship will be declared the champion of the 2007 FedEx Cup season.

Why reset points before the playoffs?
Two reasons: to create an intriguing four-week run and to make everyone play through the month. Compressing the standings assures the first-place player entering the playoffs doesn't have an insurmountable lead and can be caught if he doesn't play well or doesn't play all four weeks during that stretch. To continue the baseball analogy used by the tour, the 1,000-point edge the leader has over the runner-up is akin to having home-field advantage in the playoffs. The New York Mets deserved their edge over the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2006 National League Championship Series, but when the games were played the Cardinals won the series. The same could happen in golf; the winner, no matter how big a lead he built during the regular season, can be caught.

"There is a significant advantage to doing well during the regular season and having a higher seeding," said commissioner Tim Finchem. "But like other sports, it doesn't end there. The FedEx Cup ultimately has to be won through strong play during the playoffs."

So why not call the winner of the last playoff event the champion, as baseball did with the Cardinals?
Because like auto racing and unlike the major team sports, this is a season-long chase, not a four-week sprint. Every week of the regular season is important to a player's seeding, and the playoffs become more important because more points are awarded. The tour doesn't want to honor its FedEx Cup champion based on one good week; instead, it wants to reward him for an outstanding season-long performance.

Can a player win the playoffs without winning one of the four tournaments?
Absolutely. Hypothetical models calculated by the tour using the Players, the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship and the Tour Championship as the four playoff events show Jim Furyk would have won the FedEx Cup championship in 2006 even though he didn't win one of the four events in question. Furyk would have been second entering the playoffs and, by finishing second or third in three of the four events, would have held off Adam Scott and Tiger Woods in the standings, even though they both won one of the tournaments used in the scenario.

Can a player skip an event and still win the championship?
Mathematically it can happen, but it would take an outstanding stretch of golf in the weeks he does play to accomplish this. For instance, if the point leader wins in Westchester and Boston, he can likely sit out the Chicago event and still win the series if he wins the following week in East Lake. More likely, a player runs the risk of being passed if he decides to skip a tournament. Every player who makes a cut in one of these events get points, but skipping a tournament guarantees a zero for that player.

What do you get for winning?
The four tournaments offer $7 million purses with the winner getting $1 million-plus. The overall playoff winner gets the FedEx Cup Trophy, a glass bowl designed by Tiffany & Co., and a $10 million annuity. The prize money counts toward a player's season earnings, but the annuity does not.

Is this a winner-take-all annuity?
No. The tour is offering $35 million in total bonus money. Second through fifth will receive $3 million, $2 million, $1.5 million and $1 million, respectively. Players further down the list will also collect.

Will reducing the field every week have an impact on the playoffs' outcome?
Not so much in determining the overall champion, but shrinking the field each week does provide the sport with a true playoff format, where "losers" are eliminated. In this case, the top 120 players on the points standings will advance from New York to Boston, the top 70 players move on to Chicago and the top 30 get to Atlanta. In all the hypothetical scenarios the tour ran, it determined that 87 percent of players in the top 30 at the start of the playoffs remained in the top 30 at the end. The scenarios also demonstrated that players seeded 31 to 144 would have to play great in order to win -- and even then, the odds were heavily against them.

How many players realistically have a chance to win the playoffs?
The tour said the top 15 players entering the playoffs have a great chance at the crown, but barring an unlikely change in performance -- such as the 10th-ranked player winning the first two playoff stops -- the overall champ will be someone in the top 10 or even the top five.

What happens if a player wins multiple majors? Will that help his chances of winning the playoff?
It will help his seeding for sure, but it doesn't mean anything once the reshuffle takes place. It's the one scenario the tour likely dreads. If Tiger Woods wins three majors or the Grand Slam -- always a talking point if he takes the Masters -- and doesn't win a playoff event, he may not win the FedEx Cup. Since no one has ever won the professional Grand Slam, and if that player were so good he would likely win a playoff event as well, it may be a moot point. It's a risk the tour is willing to take.

With all this talk of points, does the money list still matter?
Yes and no. It certainly doesn't matter as much during the regular season, being used only by organizations such as the Masters, which allows the top 10 in money through the WGC-CA Championship to qualify for its field. But once the playoffs end it will come back into play at the Fall Finish, as players outside the top 30 in points after the Tour Championship must be in the top 125 in earnings after those seven events to keep their tour cards for the following year. It's enough of a change that even the world No. 1 is intrigued. "We've never experienced anything like this before," said Woods after winning the Target World Challenge last week. "It'll be very interesting to see the two dynamics [at work]."

If the Fall Finish events don't provide any FedEx Cup points, are they still official?
You bet -- the wins are still official and the prize money will still be distributed. Points are not awarded because they are played after the playoffs end, but otherwise the tournaments will be run just like any other PGA Tour event.

John Antonini is a senior editor for Golf World magazine.