FedEx Cup: Is This The Fix?

November 24, 2008

(AP) -- The PGA Tour revamped its FedEx Cup race Tuesday for the third straight year of its existence, this one geared toward making sure the winner of the $10 million prize is decided at the Tour Championship.

"We have great expectations for the future of this competition," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.

Based on the excitement level of the first two years, the FedEx Cup can only improve.

Tiger Woods was so dominant during the inaugural year in 2007 that he skipped the opening playoff event and could have skipped the Tour Championship and still won. This year, Vijay Singh won the first two playoff events, building such a large lead that he mathematically clinched the title before the Tour Championship -- he only had to complete four rounds.

Under the new formula, points that previously had been reset at the start of the four-tournament playoffs will not be changed until the Tour Championship, meaning all 30 players who qualify for the finale will have a mathematical chance to win.

Finchem said the top five in the standings at East Lake would win the FedEx Cup with a victory, while the next five in the standings also would have a reasonable chance by winning.

"I think we're moving in the right direction," Finchem said.

The Tour Championship at East Lake will be played Sept. 24-27, providing a one-week break after the first three playoff events. The break was created this year because of the Ryder Cup, and Finchem said players liked it so much that it will stay that way through the end of the television contract in 2012.

The change attempts to strike a balance between the regular season and the playoffs.

British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington was the No. 4 seed going into the playoffs this year, but he missed the cut in the first two events and failed to reach the Tour Championship, depriving East Lake of star power when it already was lacking drama.

In the new formula, he at least would have reached the final event -- although with little chance of winning the FedEx Cup -- because the points are not reset until the Tour Championship.

The playoff events -- The Barclays, Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship -- take on additional meaning because the points are worth five times more than a regular-season event. The majors and World Golf Championships are worth slightly more than regular tournaments.

Meanwhile, the points system was reduced dramatically to simplify and make it easier for fans to keep track. This year, for example, the winner of a regular PGA Tour event earned 4,500 points, and Tiger Woods finished the regular season atop the standings with 22,695 points (even though he didn't play after the U.S. Open). With the new formula, he would have had 3,592 points.

Finchem also decided to trim the field -- starting with 125 players at The Barclays, reduced to 100 players at the Deutsche Bank, 70 players at the BMW Championship and 30 at the Tour Championship. Previously, the playoffs started with 144 players and the field was reduced to 125 players, then 70 and 30.

Even with the change, Woods could have the kind of year he had in 2007 -- five wins and a major before the playoffs -- and still skip the opening event without doing too much damage to his chances of winning the FedEx Cup.

Finchem said he spoke to Woods, Phil Mickelson and other top players about the changes, along with some 80 other players. The policy board unanimously approved the change during a conference call Tuesday afternoon.

The tour staff rejected the idea of an 18-hole shootout, which the LPGA Tour uses, or cutting the field during the Tour Championship so that only four players were left.

"We had a range of suggestions of that vein," he said. "We were not persuaded by moving further to rebuild something we felt was working. Something this important should be decided over 72 holes."

What next year should decide is what the FedEx Cup champion will have accomplished.

There was little movement during the playoffs in the first year, putting most of the emphasis on the entire season. This year, the points were so volatile that the winner was decided by who had the best month.

"It's not one week, it's not four rounds. It's the entire season, and then you're playing against the best," Finchem said.

He said it complemented the golf season marked by the majors, and considering the strong fields in the playoff events, "it's as tough to win as anything."