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FedEx Cup season half way through

Time is flying so fast, the PGA Tour FedEx Cup season is already halfway to the finish line.

One minute, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are passing on a luxurious week in Hawaii and the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship. The next, Mickelson is one of only two top-10 players to show up for the Byron Nelson Championship.

Where did the time and Tiger go? The Cup may eventually runneth over with thrills, chills and dramatic spills, but the only buzz at this point sounds suspiciously like crickets chirping.

Commissioner Tim Finchem billed the FedEx points race as a way to compel the best players to tee it up more often. The underlying assumption was that the star players would go out of their way — and maybe add extra events here and there — to give themselves the best possible chance at the Cup and the $10 million pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

This week's Wachovia Championship is one of those times when the system appears to be in perfect working order. Woods will be there. Mickelson will be there. Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Adam Scott, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen will be there. With The Players Championship looming next week, all but one of the top 30 players in the world are set to tee it up on Thursday at Quail Hollow.

The tour's top two attractions, Woods and Mickelson, have appeared in the same event five previous times this season. The rub is, those are the only five tour events (Buick Invitational, WGC-Match Play, Arnold Palmer Invitational, WGC at Doral and the Masters) Woods has played this season. Woods had teed it up seven times by this time last season — and that was while tending to his ailing father, Earl, who died the first week of May.

The No. 2 player in the world, Jim Furyk, has one fewer start so far this season (nine) than at this point in 2006. Els has six starts on tour — one fewer than at this point last year. Goosen has five starts — one fewer than he did at this point last year. Scott has the same number of starts this year (six) as he did at this point last year. One of the few stars to take on a heavier workload is Singh, who also leads the point race. Singh has 12 starts on tour — two more than at this point in 2006 — because he subtracted Abu Dhabi and Qatar from his schedule.

If the first half of the season is any indication, the gap between the marquee events and all the others is getting wider than ever. For every WGC event that has dibs on the top 64 players, there's a Bob Hope making do with only one player ranked in the top 10 when the season began. For every Nissan Open landing every top-10 not named Woods, there's a New Orleans event without any star power.

Look for the summer events to suffer a talent drain, because the top players will be bracing themselves for a season-ending, four-week playoff run.

Maybe the season will build to a crescendo as the playoffs draw closer, but that isn't helping Tampa, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, New Orleans or Memphis much.

A show of hands from all of those captivated by whether Kenny Perry can hold on to his one-point lead over Steve Lowery for the 144th — and final — playoff spot. The white coats will be along shortly with the straightjackets.

Yes, 144 players will make the first round of players. In other words, 19 players who aren't good enough to finish in the top 125 — the threshold for keeping a tour card — will make it to the playoffs. Even the NCAA knows better than to water down its basketball tournament that much. The FedEx Cup field narrows to 120 to 70 to 30 in the ensuing weeks of the Championship Series.

Make no mistake: The new system should produce a season with a better flow. The season has some sort of ending instead of fizzling out in the fall. Clearly, though, there is too much disconnect between the marquee events and the mundane.


May 1, 2007

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