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FedEx Cup: Lost In Transit

August 20, 2007

Wihtout Tiger at The Barclays has Finchem delivered an empty box?

(AP) -- All you really need to know about the season-ending, sleep-inducing, moneymaking climax to the PGA Tour's regular season is this:

Tiger Woods is so excited about it that he's skipping the first event.

That surely wasn't what commissioner Tim Finchem had in mind when he persuaded a certain shipping company to part with $40 million to sponsor a playoff-like ending to a golf season that normally loses much of its audience about the same time the NFL and college teams begin tossing the pigskin around.

FedEx delivers just about everything overnight. But it couldn't bring the only real draw there is in golf to the inaugural FedEx Cup event that begins Thursday at Westchester Country Club in New York.

If the people who run the tour are as smart as they think they are, they should have taken the entire $40 million, put it in an oversized check with Woods' name on it, and handed it to him just to show up.

Woods says he's tired and needs another week off, and who can blame him. He's got a new golf course to design, and a new baby keeping him up at night.

More importantly, last time he checked the calendar, all the majors had already been played.

That's the real problem with the FedEx Cup, something no relentless marketing campaign can change, though you have to credit the PGA Tour and its more than accommodating partners at the Golf Channel for trying.

This week in New York City there is a giant 12-story billboard advertising the start of the playoffs, and actors walking around in golf clothes to remind people about how important it all is. All year long, anyone who has been near a golf broadcast has been bombarded with the message that this is the biggest thing to happen to golf since Gene Sarazen holed his second shot on the 15th hole at Augusta National so many years ago.

Never mind that the whole thing is hard to understand, players don't like much about it except the money, and that it makes every tournament after it this year irrelevant. And forget for a moment that it pays the $10 million first prize in, of all things, an annuity that can't be cashed until long after Woods loses his hair.

It doesn't have Tiger in the opening field, so it can't be important. Woods skips a lot of John Deere Classics, he's never blown off the Masters or the U.S. Open.

Woods does plan to play in the other three events after the Barclays, though, and the accountants and golf geeks who study these things say he can still win the inaugural FedEx Cup even without winning a point this week.

But suppose he is still weary from the demands of fatherhood, plays poorly, and allows someone else in the top 10 point list such as K.J. Choi or Brandt Snedeker to win? Imagine the PGA Tour trying to convince us that Choi or Snedeker is player of the year, not Woods.

Part of the reason for the FedEx Cup was to ensure that Woods played more often on tour, but he's approaching the billion-dollar mark in total earnings on and off the course so a promise to pay him $10 million when he's bouncing kids on his knee isn't much of a lure. For Woods and a few other elite players the season basically ended with the PGA Championship and begins again next April with the Masters.

Everything else is merely good practice and a chance to pick up some spare change along the way.

It doesn't help that the FedEx Cup has become an easy target of ridicule, mostly because of the way the tour went about promoting it. It could have just announced the events and watched to see how it played out, but instead golf fans were bombarded with commercials touting the greatness of an event that had never been played, while golf announcers were forced to drink the Kool-Aid and play along.

That has made the whole thing easy pickings for those -- mostly writers -- who see the folly in it all. And it's not hard to poke fun at a schedule that next year has the top players in the world playing four straight weeks in a playoff, then heading the morning after to the Ryder Cup.

The basic concept of a playoff to sort things out isn't all that bad. But the new era in golf the FedEx Cup promises actually came when Woods turned pro 11 years ago, and no playoff system will ever have the impact on the game that Woods has had.

He's the main reason there will be a total of $38 million in prize money at stake over the next four weeks. He's the reason television networks bought in even when the audience will be smaller because people will be watching football instead.

Without him in from the start, the FedEx Cup simply doesn't deliver.