September 29, 2008

FedEx Cup: Just Plain Boring

Paired with Bubba Watson and followed by a focus group that could have fit into a school bus, ailing Vijay Singh did all he had to do last Sunday to claim the FedEx Cup. He completed what he started Thursday at East Lake GC, thereby reinforcing the necessity to Vijay-proof a serpentine points system that brought him a $10 million jackpot despite his finish in the Tour Championship, 16 strokes south of winner Camilo Villegas. Thus, this year's playoff packed about as much suspense as last year's victory lap by Tiger Woods, which is to say we are talking Banana Republic elections followed by a vote for mayor of Chicago.

Singh, who grew up on a dirt floor in Fiji, could not have imagined such good fortune as a youth, but at 45, he is still possessed. Also, he is listening to his body. Troubled by tendinitis that extends from his left forearm to the fingers, Singh removed the bandage sleeve in Atlanta while also shedding a couple of Asian events from his schedule, including the HSBC Champions in Shanghai that marks the start of the '09 Euro season. He will make only two more appearances in 2008—the Father/Son tournament, and Woods' Chevron World Challenge. All the better for Singh to hang out at that 52-acre macadamia nut farm on Hawaii's big island.

"I'm not tired. I just had a couple weeks off," said Singh. "But at my age things hurt that didn't used to hurt. I need a nice long rest." Lest you imagine he will lapse into a sedentary lifestyle, Singh vowed to perspire more than ever during the off-season, because he intends to compete until at least age 50. After a triumph at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2007, Singh went almost 18 months—a light year for him—without winning while repairing a swing he said was "shut, laid off and low at the top." Following the British Open a couple months ago, he returned to the belly putter. At the WGC-Bridgestone, everything clicked just in time for the playoffs. He caught fire at New York and Boston, thereby rendering the FedEx points list somewhat pointless.

All you need to know about Singh was on display Friday, following his second round. He was 14 shots off the lead, with no chance to win, and no chance to lose. Yet Singh adjourned to the practice green, for putt after putt after putt, caddie Chad Reynolds behind him, trainer Jeff Fronk beside a contraption, feeding it balls. "I'm not reading these right," groused Singh, who opted for the long putter as a safety valve of sorts. "I would use the short putter if I had a choice. What I mean is, it's because I think I can make more putts with it. But with the long one, I make fewer mistakes. That's why I don't rule out going back to the short one, when I get more confidence."

‘ only thing worse than having a season without a smash ending is promoting a fireworks display that goes pfft.'

Sadly for the Tour Championship, its sole resemblance to the Ryder Cup was that on Sunday at immaculate East Lake there also was anticlimactic golf being played after a conclusion regarding the main plot had been reached. On Thursday and Friday, crowds were sparse. To be fair, as a result of twin hurricanes, many areas around Atlanta—like most of the Ryder Cuppers—were out of gas. But commissioner Tim Finchem knows the system must be fixed, for he addressed the topic of accelerating interest toward the final playoff event instead of watching it dwindle. If Finchem is in a listening mode, he will not lack for input as various players are offering him advice, free of charge.

Stuart Appleby, for one, proposes compressing fields for all playoff stops, then reseeding again before the Tour Championship, at which only 20 golfers would vie for the $10 million. "Ten twosomes would be awesome," he says. "Then, for the Fall Series after that, take the top 30 on the money list following all those events, plus tournament winners, and put them in Kapalua to start the year. That keeps guys playing to the end of the season, and helps fields at the start of the new one." NBC's Mark Rolfing suggests reverse psychology. Make certain the Tour Championship, in essence the FedEx Final, will settle the issue, then go backward.

There is no perfect post-season format. Basketball and hockey admit more than half their teams. Bogus. When second-year expansion teams Carolina and Jacksonville qualified for conference championships, the NFL marketed that as a shining example of parity. But when lesser-knowns bump Padraig Harrington and Adam Scott from the Tour Championship, the tour can't seem to sell it. I find the points system confusing, but I have an excuse. I'm a sportswriter. Finchem says he'll send me his new book FedEx Cup Points for Dummies. But to capture the public, the tour should simplify the process of elimination, not require that fans be mathematicians. The only thing worse than having a season without a smash ending is promoting a fireworks display that goes pfft. Sunday evening, Singh merely grasped the FedEx Cup, which remains unkissed, unloved, and unsettled.

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