September 28, 2008

FedEx Cup: The Anti-Drama

Spin it however you want Mr. Votaw, but there are some big problems with the FedEx Cup that need fixing before the score is 0-3

FedEx Cup: A pretty good concept with questionable execution.

FedEx Cup: A pretty good concept with questionable execution.

When the men who run the PGA Tour sit down this fall to discuss improvements to the FedEx Cup playoff series, they will mull several options designed expressly to create the crescendo effect so notably missing from the first two postseasons. In both cases, the year's final tournament was an exercise in anti-climax, the overall FedEx Cup champion all but determined before the tour arrived in Atlanta for the Tour Championship.

"We weren't that far from accomplishing everything we wanted to accomplish," says executive vice president Ty Votaw, who is paid handsomely to impart a positive spin on Camp Ponte Vedra's miscalculations and misfortunes. Votaw knows how to peddle a tough product -- he was the LPGA commissioner for seven years -- and has no problem ticking off a healthy list of reasons underscoring the success of the FedEx Cup finale.

Four of the eight playoff events have gone down to the wire, two of which required extra holes. Despite all the volatility in the standings in this postseason, no one outside the top 70 leapt into the top 30 and sneaked into East Lake. Three players have claimed multiple titles, and of the five total winners, there isn't a fluke in the bunch. Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Camilo Villegas. Phil Mickelson. Steve Stricker. Tour honchos can look you in the eye and tell you they must be doing something right.

The big picture is causing bigger problems, however, and when someone (Villegas) wins the final two playoff tournaments but still has no chance of catching Singh, who won the first two, there is something very wrong with the system. You know it, the tour knows it, and so commissioner Tim Finchem and his army of VPs will head back to the conference room and figure out a way to ensure that the winner of the Tour Championship is the same guy who takes home the $10 million overall prize.

One logical and recently discussed scenario involves an 18-hole shootout among the top four to eight players in the standings. The Tour Championship would begin on Wednesday and conclude on Saturday, leaving Sunday open for the last men standing to play one round of stroke-play golf for a whole lot of money. "In theory, it's a pretty good concept," says Joe Ogilvie, a member of the tour's policy board.

Votaw acknowledges the shootout as an option and adds, "It may seem alluring in some respects. We may come up with a better idea or receive feedback that leads us in another direction." The possibility of a mini match-play competition may warrant consideration, although the tour's contract with Accenture, which hosts the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, is believed to hold exclusive rights to that particular format.

The only definite right now is that there will be changes. Players won't receive 2,000 points for making a postseason cut, as was the case this year, and there is a good chance the original qualifying field of 144 will be cut to 125. These are minor details compared to the end result, which has failed to come even close to generating the final-day drama commonly associated with playoffs in other sports.

You can call it a work in progress. At some point, the progress has to work.