FedEx Cup 2008: A Work In Progress

January 06, 2008

So the inaugural FedEx Cup playoffs didn't exactly redefine pro golf's competitive landscape with an earthquake of suspense last summer. After hearing the PGA Tour insist that no player could skip a postseason tournament and win the grand prize, Tiger Woods passed on the first of those four events and still claimed the overall title by a mere 12,578 points. Tiger obviously practices a different kind of math than the arithmetic used by the folks in Camp Ponte Vedra.

In fairness to the tour, it often referred to its new format as a work in progress, and to that end, changes have been made, with additional alterations almost certainly on the way. From a fan's standpoint, the biggest tweak in 2008 involves the advent of a $9 million cash bonus to the postseason champion. Last year's payoff was made exclusively in retirement-fund credit, which is a bit like giving a supermodel a lifetime supply of eye shadow.

Phil Mickelson was among the more vocal critics of the deferred payment, wondering how anyone's knees would quiver over a five-footer for the FedEx Cup crown when they'd have to wait 30 years for the reward. Woods basically seconded Lefty's lament, as if anyone with 61 tour victories and 13 major triumphs might need financial assurances down the road, but the $9 million winner's check didn't come about simply because the game's two best players wanted it.

"That was the one thing we weren't going to listen to the big boys on," says Joe Ogilvie, a member of the PGA Tour Policy Board. "A bigger question was if [the U.S.] Congress would see how good our retirement plan is and rethink [the special tax benefits appropriated to the tour]."

In layman's terms, the tour pros didn't want the federal government prying into their fiscal matters. Whether you subscribe to the theory that too much money has become the root of all evil in pro golf, commissioner Tim Finchem and his worker bees are somewhat obligated to do what's best for the players, which, in this case, meant asking FedEx to produce a not-so-small fortune. Hey, hitting a golf ball long and straight for a living beats laying bricks.

Not that anybody ever understood the FedEx Cup point-distribution system to begin with, but a series of significant changes will be submitted in a proposal to the Players Advisory Committee when it meets next month. In an attempt to make Woods and Mickelson play in all the postseason events, playoff points would increase dramatically, perhaps by as much as 2,000 per spot. For example, the value of a 10th-place finish in Boston would leap from 1,350 to 3,350.

What's strange about this option is that the 2,000-point raise runs consistently down to the player who finishes 70th, meaning a measly 100 points would become 2,100. Nobody ever said the tour doesn't reward mediocrity, but the official purpose of the increase is to generate more volatility in the postseason standings, something that was clearly missing in the 2007 debut.

"As it turned out, the top 22 [regular-season finishers] had a free pass to the Tour Championship," Ogilvie says, referring to the 30-man season finale. "I think the consensus is that we'd like that number to be a lot smaller."

From a slightly different statistical viewpoint, only three guys outside the top 30 made it to East Lake, where Woods began the week catchable and ended it with a margin much closer to laughable. Not to throw a frog in the tour's postseason punchbowl, but do we really need four weeks of playoffs to tell us Tiger is the best golfer on the planet?