August 25, 2008

Spicing Up The Cup

The PGA Tour did a good job with their changes, but it's not enough

There is something missing at the FedEx Cup, and it is more than Tiger Woods. Call it buzz, call it pizzazz--gee, call it interest. Instead of snap, crackle and pop, the competition is a bland bowl of day-old oatmeal begging for someone to spice it up. But this is a meal that can be saved.

The PGA Tour is to be praised for moving the Tour Championship from November to September. While not freeing the event from the shadow of football, the date change lessened it. And the tour gets high marks for the FedEx Cup playoff structure and the fact it altered the points system after year one.

But the job is not done. Last week's Barclays, the first FedEx Cup playoff event of the year, clearly demonstrated that. Two things need to be done to make the FedEx Cup better. One involves format and the other identity.

Let's start with identity. The FedEx Cup is not a season-ending event, and it does not determine the year's champion player. If someone wins three majors but not the FedEx Cup is there really any doubt who is player of the year? And there are PGA Tour events after the FedEx Cup.

The identity for the Tour Championship should be that of a uniquely structured, richly funded tournament that captivates the fans, thrills television executives and entices big-name players with big bucks. The money angle is already addressed by the $10 million first prize. That's not chump change, even to those guys who never have to worry about lost luggage or airport security lines. So let's get to the format. The season-long point system to determine the 144 players eligible to win the big prize is a great idea, as is the three-tournament playoff to establish the field for the Tour Championship. What needs to be changed is the structure of the final tournament.

Right now it is a 72-hole stroke-play event involving the top 30 players. That's pretty much what the Tour Championship has always been. The only significant difference is not at all satisfying--the winner can be someone who doesn't actually win the final event but merely has accumulated enough total points.

How can this be made more exciting? This is delicious irony. When Ty Votaw, now an executive VP for the PGA Tour, was LPGA commissioner, he helped change the format of the ADT Championship to make it a multiple-cut event. The tour needs to steal the LPGA's idea and make it even bolder.

Here's how: The three FedEx Cup playoff events select 32 players for the Tour Championship. After 18 holes the field is cut to 16 and all scores are erased. Next, the field is cut to eight and all scores are erased. Then the top four play Sunday, starting even, for the $10 million prize. (The ADT has its first cut after 36 holes and an eight-player finale.)

There would be the excitement of a cut each day and the possibility of a playoff each day as well. There would be virtually no chance of a runaway win because the scores would be reset after each round. The ADT is already a clear success.

Like many bold ideas, the FedEx Cup fell short of perfection in its initial two efforts. Let's try again. Four players on a Sunday chasing a $10 million first prize wth $3 million for second. Very compelling, and we won't have to do all that math about who has how many points.