August 12, 2007

A Cup half empty

Has the Fedex Cup derailed Presidents Cup momentum?

"It's in!" Chris DiMarco's birdie to clinch the 2005 Presidents Cup gave the American team plenty of reason to celebrate.

"It's in!" Chris DiMarco's birdie to clinch the 2005 Presidents Cup gave the American team plenty of reason to celebrate.

When Chris DiMarco rolled in a 13-foot birdie putt on No. 18 at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club to clinch the 2005 Presidents Cup for the United States, this relatively new event pitting American pros against an international team (sans Europe) seemed as compelling as the venerable Ryder Cup. Even better for the Americans and their golf fans, it's an event the U.S. wins regularly. Since the Presidents Cup began in 1994, the U.S. record has been 4-1-1 in contrast with a dismal 1-5 in the Ryder Cup. Yet, though the Presidents Cup floated away from that dramatic day in September on an unquestioned high, it didn't float far. Instead of more exposure, it quickly lost significance in the shadow of the FedEx Cup, the PGA Tour's season-ending playoff debuting this year. The Presidents Cup got out-cupped by its own owners.

This was not a good time for the Presidents Cup to lose its appeal. Exploiting that wave of positive energy coming out of the last competition was important for two reasons. First, the biennial event still runs a distant second in prestige to the Ryder Cup (U.S. vs. Europe). Second, and perhaps more importantly, this year's competition is going to its fourth different nation -- Canada. There the Presidents Cup will be, at best, the third most-important cup, trailing the one donated by Lord Stanley for hockey and that given by Earl Grey, a former Governor General of Canada, for football.

"The Presidents Cup will be the focus as we move closer to it," says Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour's executive vice president for communications and international affairs, denying the competition has been lost in FedEx Cup hype. "Our marketing of the Presidents Cup will intensify as we move closer and through the FedEx Cup. When the golf world is watching those four intense weeks of competition, we will be marketing the event in multiple ways."

Also in question is what impact the increased intensity of the last two months of the PGA Tour schedule -- which was revised this season to promote the FedEx Cup -- will have on the quality of play, and in future years, the level of participation at the Presidents Cup. Beginning with the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which is scheduled to end Aug. 5, there are six significant events in seven weeks. Bridgestone is followed by the PGA Championship and four FedEx Cup tournaments concluding with the Tour Championship. Eleven days later the Presidents Cup begins. Overexposure might not be a problem, but overindulgence could be.

Mike Weir, a Canadian who has competed in the last three Presidents Cups, says he senses the competition has lost its significance this year. "It hasn't for me, but I think it has as a general rule," Weir says. "People are not talking about it as much, and to me it's very important. I'm paying more attention to [the Presidents Cup] than to the FedEx Cup." That's an assessment with which DiMarco agrees: "I know right now, believe it or not, I bet more guys are concerned about [making] the Presidents Cup than they are about the FedEx Cup."

But the question remains that after the intense run-up to the Tour Championship, will American stars Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson be up for the competition at Royal Montreal Golf Club on Sept. 27? The same question can be asked about Adam Scott, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh for the international team. Furthermore, with American players competing every year (the European and international sides have the luxury of alternating years) and the FedEx Cup taking place immediately before the Presidents Cup, how likely is it that some of the game's top players will sit out one of the cups? It seems inevitable.

The real deciding factor in determining the impact of the FedEx Cup on the Presidents Cup might be the quality of this year's competition. If there is a drop-off, you can bet questions will be asked.

"I mean the last two, how can you get better than that?" Weir says. "To be part of it and watch Ernie and Tiger in the playoff [in 2003] and then last time Chris making that unbelievable putt. As far as drama, compared to the Ryder Cup it's been a lot better for fans."

Not only did DiMarco make the clinching birdie putt, but Fred Couples (16 feet) and Mickelson (five feet) also birdied No. 18 to make the three-point victory possible for the United States. The Presidents Cup was, on that day, the entertainment equal of the Ryder Cup.

This year at Royal Montreal will come the first indication of how the revamped PGA Tour schedule, with its emphasis on the FedEx Cup, will impact these cherished team competitions.