February 13, 2008

Tour Insider: You Can't Please Everyone

Is the latest modification to the cut rule a knee-jerk reaction or will it solve the problems?

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Rich Beem doesn't strike the image of a politician, whether it be the dance he did after winning the 2002 PGA Championship, the parties he once was the life of, or the spontaneous way he shimmied up the back of a Nissan after making a hole-in-one at this very golfing landmark last year.

But here was Beem, on a cold, gray Wednesday, walking down the 13th fairway at Riviera CC on pro-am day at the Northern Trust Open, engrossed in a conversation with a man in gray pants and a blue blazer -- the classic PGA Tour front office uniform -- the commissioner himself, Tim Finchem.

The subject they were debating is the heart and soul of what's going on inside the PGA Tour right now: the cut rule. Or more specific: the newly adopted cut rule scheduled to be changed when the tour policy board meets in two weeks at the Honda Classic.

This subject has caused more belly aching than anything else so far in the new season, with a petition drawn up at the Sony Open when 18 players became the first batch of MDFers (Missed the Cut, Did Not Finish). The problem is, it happened again at the Buick Invitational when 19 more were released from weekend duty with pay and FedEx Cup points. Last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, 10 players went home early after 54 holes, as is tradition in that event because of the amateurs who play on Sunday.

As co-chairman of the PAC, Beem has heard all the complaints and felt most of the pain. "I told the commissioner that I was a guy who lived on the cut," Beem said, up by the clubhouse after his round. But as he pointed out, that didn't mean Beem was totally in favor of adopting the proposal on the table of having two cuts, one on Friday to the low 70 and ties, another on Saturday night.

"Two things about that bother me," Beem said. "A, it seems like we're jumping the gun too early. Just because it happened [twice on the West Coast], everybody thinks it's a bad thing. I don't think we should be so quick to change it."

What's B?

"B," said Beem, "is that it doesn't solve the problem of Saturdays."

Or, as tournament director Mark Russell said, "It only solves half the problem."

The upside to having two cuts is that it allows players near the back of the pack to have a hot round and move up the leader board. By Sunday, the players in the back end of the field are not going to make that big a jump financially -- and most players in that position, as the injured Ted Tryba told me this past weekend during our Golf Channel show, would rather get the day off to regroup for the next week's tournament.

The downside to having two cuts is that it still slows down Saturday play and in the case of a third-round weather delay -- use the Memorial Tournament as an example -- the two cuts will create even more disruption on the weekend, especially if you have a situation the completion of Saturday's round doesn't happen until Sunday morning.

Finchem had the numbers to back this up in an interview he did on Golf Channel, citing an average of 12 times a year when the players who survived the cut totaled in the mid-eighties, and it took five hours and 20 minutes to complete a round. What sent this to the Policy Board for a vote last November was that it happened twice late in the Fall Series.

"It's not the way we want to present the product," Finchem said.

As Finchem pointed out, the heart of the issue is not solely slow play. It's competitive balance. Fields are so bunched now, that when more than 78 players make the cut, there are issues in the flow of a tournament. Just do the math. There's a two-tee start, all in threesomes, with a backup at the turn -- even with good weather.

As for the player who matters most, you can see why Tiger Woods would not want to see the rule changed back. Since he's regularly in one of the last three groups on the weekend, he's one of the guys caught waiting on tee boxes. And it's not fair to the golf viewer when the network signs off for contractual reasons, sometimes with the leader on the course. But what is fair to a guy like Jay Williamson, who was only four strokes out of the top-10 when he was sent home early at the Buick Invitational?

Williamson, discussing the dilemma in the locker room at Riviera on Wednesday, admitted the new proposal may be a knee-jerk reaction and a case of going from too hard to too soft in too short a time. Instead, he proposed a cut to the low 65 and ties, the system used by the European Tour. But that just shows what Finchem, the PAC and the policy board are up against: It's hard to please all of the players all of the time.

Instead of two cuts, Beem would like to see the cut rule changed back to the way it was at the beginning of the season and let the season play itself out. Re-evaluate it then. "I'd like to do something that makes sense," he said.