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PGA Tour end of season still in need of change

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the PGA Tour is taking a week off in the middle of the season.

The timing couldn’t be better.

Tour commissioner Tim Finchem built this break into the schedule last November so players would not have to compete four straight weeks in the FedEx Cup and then head straight to Valhalla for the Ryder Cup.

Little did he know that the FedEx Cup would be over by now, assuming Vijay Singh doesn’t get lost on his way to East Lake. Nor could Finchem have anticipated such negative vibes about the latest version of golf’s playoffs. Best anyone can tell, only one player liked the new points system, and that was Singh.

The LPGA Tour thought it had problems?

It worries that some of its international players don’t speak enough English to satisfy the sponsors. The PGA Tour has a player who in effect was handed $10 million from sponsors and didn’t have the courtesy of saying anything at all.

Sunday at the BMW Championship provided an embarrassing moment for the tour. By ignoring repeated requests from NBC Sports for a few minutes of his time, Singh either showed what little regard he has for the FedEx Cup or what little regard he has for a television network that helps make it possible for him to be a millionaire.

Probably both.

Meanwhile, the FedEx Cup will “resume” one week after the Ryder Cup, which offers no prize money at all to 24 players from both sides of the Atlantic who would pay to be at Valhalla. Go figure.

The Tour Championship will only have one major winner—Masters champion Trevor Immelman—in its 30-man field. And that’s assuming all 30 guys show up. Don’t be surprised if Phil Mickelson suddenly realizes there’s a PTA meeting he can’t afford to miss that week.

Some other observations from the last two weeks of the playoffs:

— The FedEx Cup needs an identity.

In words that require a series of hyphens to be published, former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy said he couldn’t care less about missing the Tour Championship because it’s not the same tournament it used to be.

He’s right.

What once was golf’s All-Star game is now a reward for three good weeks. That explains why Kevin Sutherland is going to East Lake for the first time in his career, and why Padraig Harrington will not be there despite winning two majors. Ogilvy and Ryuji Imada were in the top 10 when the playoffs began, missed the cut in the first event and didn’t play well enough to get back inside the top 30.

Is that wrong? Not necessarily.

The FedEx Cup represents the modern model of the PGA Tour. By the same token, the Tour Championship is no longer what it had been for two decades. It will take time for players to realize that. If they want the Tour Championship to return to its roots, let’s hope they also are willing to part with the $35 million in bonus money the FedEx Cup pays.

What the tour has to decide is whether the Tour Championship should reward a year’s worth of work (last year’s formula) or a month’s worth of work (this year’s formula). Ideally, it will be a little of both. And it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out.

— The “m” word.

Jim Furyk was the first to mention “mediocrity” at the Deutsche Bank Championship when he suggested too many players were being rewarded simply for making the cut. But there’s a better definition of mediocrity.

Bubba Watson.

He began the playoffs at No. 56 in the standings. Watson tied for 12th at the Barclays, made the cut on the number at TPC Boston and tied for 44th, then tied for 28th at the BMW Championship. That was enough for him to qualify for the Tour Championship.

The new system essentially offered a 2,000-point bonus for making the cut. Ogilvy suggested awarding points beyond the cut line, and it makes good sense. The FedEx Cup is all about breaking the mold, right? There’s no reason players who miss the cut by one shot or five shots shouldn’t get something out of it.

As for those who made it to the finals?

Sutherland lost in a playoff at the Barclays. Dudley Hart shot 65 and was within two shots of the lead while Camilo Villegas had three holes to play at the BMW Championship. At least they had a chance to win.

— One putt could have changed everything.

Sergio Garcia made a 30-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole at the Barclays. Singh poured in a birdie on top of him, then won on the second extra hole. What if Singh had missed that putt?

Singh would have a 2,551-point lead over Garcia going to the Tour Championship. Seven players would have gone to East Lake with a mathematical, not to mention realistic, chance to win the FedEx Cup.

— Don’t forget what the PGA Tour used to be.

It’s easy to poke fun of the FedEx Cup and its points system. Next year could feature a third points structure in three years. Even so, the best players in the world are still competing in the month after the majors.

That alone is an improvement.


September 10, 2008

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