Tour Needs To Zero In On Real Playoffs

By John Feinstein Illustrations by Mark Anderson
September 13, 2010

The party line from the PGA Tour

in recent weeks has been: The playoffs, now in their fourth year, are "starting to take hold." And, "Fans are beginning to understand how the system works."

Those are the phrases being repeated on-air by the tour's TV partners -- as commissioner Tim Finchem likes to call them. The players are using them, too, as if repeating the lines over and over makes them true.

Here is a slightly different take on the playoffs: They don't work. People do not understand them. The system is a joke. Wouldn't you just love to hear Jim Nantz or Johnny Miller say that?

They would be speaking the truth if they did.

Consider a few facts: If Phil Mickelson

had followed his victory at the Masters by winning the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship, he would have made history by winning the Grand Slam. He also would have accumulated a total of 2,400 FedEx Cup points for those four titles.

When Matt Kuchar won the Barclays, he received 2,500 FedEx Cup points.

That's right. Win all four majors, receive 2,400 points. Win one of the Playoff events, receive 100 points more.

Wait, there's more. Charley Hoffman received the same 2,500 points as Kuchar when he won the Deutsche Bank Championship a week later. The victory jumped him into second place (behind Kuchar) in the FedEx Standings and put him in good position to win the FedEx Cup. Now, the PGA Tour would like you to believe that winning the FedEx Cup is somehow emblematic of year-long excellence and thus full of prestige. But if Hoffman were to win the FedEx Cup -- which is still possible since he's in third place going into Atlanta -- he will do so without having played in any of the four majors this year.

You can't make this stuff up.

Through the years, the tour has done everything it can to diminish the importance of the four majors and build up the events it controls. The spinning that goes on during the Players to try to get people to buy into the notion of a "fifth major" is dizzying. The tour even goes so far as to separate so-called "top tournaments" in each player's section in the media guide. According to the tour, the "top tournaments" include the four majors; the Players; the WGC events; and the four playoffs events. In other words, the Doral stop is on the same level as Augusta. Most of us talk about Tiger Woods

having won 14 major championships. But in the PGA Tour's world, Woods has won 4,693 "top tournaments." (OK, the number is really 34.)

If the tour wants to make the playoffs real playoffs -- and if it wants fans to understand them -- it needs to abandon the phony myth-making of the current system. Seriously, does anyone think that Matt Kuchar or Charley Hoffman or even Dustin Johnson -- who has played wonderfully but did not win a major -- have had better years than Mickelson? How many FedEx Cups would almost any player trade for one major title? Five? Ten? How about 50?

Let's do this: Make the playoffs resemble the postseasons in other sports. Everyone starts at zero. If you are worried that the "regular season" will be meaningless, have a regular season bonus pool for the top 10 or top 20 players. That would be the equivalent of home field advantage in team sports (and would make the players happy since, let's face it, the only reason they care about the playoffs is the huge money involved).

By starting the playoffs at zero, point totals could be adjusted and thus the inference that winning the Barclays or Deutsche Bank or BMW is somehow more important than winning a major -- much less four times more important -- could be removed. (Why are the playoff events worth so many points? To ensure there isn't a repeat of 2008 when Vijay Singh clinched the FedEx Cup the week before the Tour Championship, draining the playoffs of any suspense.)

The tour is right about this much: Suspense is a good thing. So let's create real suspense: Stop trying to pretend the playoffs are something they're not and make everyone re-start their engines at the Barclays. In fact, here's a new slogan the tour can use for the Playoffs: "From zero to $10 million in four weeks: The PGA Tour playoffs."

Sort of has a ring -- or at least a cha-ching -- to it.