September 4, 2007

The Best Of Golf vs. Finchem

One by one, each of the top players delivers their message

Padraig Harrington is the latest to send PGA headquarters a message.

Padraig Harrington is the latest to send PGA headquarters a message.

LEMONT, ILL. -- So how's this look? It's the third round of the playoffs, and not only is Phil Mickelson taking the week off, but so is the British Open champion, too. Self-imposed byes or strong statements that the FedEx Cup is not delivering on the player level -- whatever your view, this needs fixing.

Tuesday, there was absolutely no surprise when Mickelson pulled his name off the commitment sheet of the BMW Championship on his way through Chicago for a corporate outing.

Hey, if Tiger Woods can make a pass through Wall Street and Chelsea Piers after skipping The Barclays, then Phil could certainly do a Bearing Point outing at Medinah on his way home to San Diego.

We blogged last Friday that Mickelson would likely join Woods (Barclays) and Ernie Els (Deutsche Bank) in taking their names off FedEx Cup events. But what we didn't report was the impending departure of Padraig Harrington, the No. 7 ranked player in the world, and ranked 25 on the FedEx Cup points list... if you care.

Harrington apparently doesn't. He missed the cut at the Deutsche Bank, realized he can't win the FedEx Cup, and headed home to Ireland.

It's been a long year and he doesn't even have a Presidents Cup to play. He does, however, have $3.2 million in the bank, a Claret Jug in the trophy case, a heavy off-season schedule in Asia, South Africa and other points on the globe. His year -- like his life -- is made.

That doesn't make him greedy or foolish. It just makes him unable to wrap his head around this concept that Tim Finchem and his marketing and television division have morphed from NASCAR in hopes of turning an endless season into a climactic finish.

This has been a public relations nightmare for Finchem, but on the course, this product has become a dramatic parade of the game's best players and the showdown we've been waiting for over a decade.

Mickelson bowed up in Boston and took out Tiger for the first time on a Sunday when it really mattered, and yet that was the second paragraph in the game story. The buzz was his interview with Jimmy Roberts on NBC. Everybody leaving messages on my answering machine Tuesday wanted to know one thing. And it wasn't what Butch told Phil about Tiger. But what Phil's problem was with the commissioner.

Here's what I can tell you:

Phil's not a big fan of the deferred payment plan. Read between the lines in his quote about wishing there were a big pile of money brought out on the 18th green like the World Series of Poker.

He's also the man who wanted a shorter season. Well, he got one: Shorter, but compressed into two grueling months of high stakes, high pressure and highly taxing tournament golf.

He's also about 0-for-20 in taking issues to the front office, and getting no satisfaction. Some would call this a pout, others a power play, but I can't imagine Lou Piniella saying he couldn't manage the Cubs this week because his kids were going back to school.

The headline is that Mickelson is taking on Finchem, but the story is he's not alone. Els skipped last week, and yes, his children were going to school. But just the week before at Westchester, he made the point of criticizing the concept of a 401k vs. money he could put his hands on, today.

And it's not just the rock stars that haven't bought into the concept. We've got dissent on all levels. I talked to Olin Browne on Monday, and he didn't like the idea of not being able to play at a venue (the TPC-Boston) where he was a past champion.

Talking to Fred Funk the same day, he was not only confused about the money, but like Browne, about what this does to some of the fall series events that to the rank and file were always a chance to keep their cards or pad theirs wallets.

All of this is the price of growth and the cost of success. Tiger isn't the only one who raised the bar. Finchem and his staff nudged the TV money higher than they should have been, and now, like the real estate market, there's a correction -- or there would have been had he not devised this FedEx Cup, rerouted the tour's brand by going to the world's most famous overnight carrier to deliver.

The numbers haven't been great, but it's gone up against the start of college football season, U.S. Open tennis, and the baseball pennant races. It's below the fold again this week in Chicago. The Bears open Sunday afternoon in San Diego.

The Cubs are at Wrigley, down 2-0 against the Dodgers, trying to hold off the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central. But out in Lemont, Tiger is playing. It's not the only game in town, but it beats what we were watching a year ago as the schedule segued into the post Labor Day doldrums.

I caught Tiger at his locker after Wednesday's news conference and asked -- after he discussed the problems with playing seven-of-eight after the majors and the deferred payment issue -- if this was fixable.

"On the record or off?" he said.

On.

"On the record, if you think about it, you have the top players three of four weeks is not bad, post-PGA," he said. "You have to say that part of it is pretty good." Off the record?

Let's just say, Tim Finchem and his staff have some work to do.