Sunday, September 16, 2007

Modest Fed-Ex Cup Success

The PGA Tour's much-hyped Fed-Ex Cup golf playoffs have ended with modest success. As anyone would have predicted at the beginning of the season, Tiger Woods walked away with the inaugural Cup, along with the $10 million prize deposited into his "retirement" account, which the 31-year-old can tap into when he reaches age 45.

On the good side, the Fed-ex Cup successfully replaced a series of humdrum fall golf tournaments in years past with a somewhat exciting line-up of four consecutive tournaments that, at a minimum, attracted a top-flight field. At least one of those tournaments managed to feature a head-to-head match-up between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, although the rest lacked much drama.

Also on the good side, we can now declare the golf season over, except for the President's Cup in two weeks. It will be good for golf to put away the clubs for a couple of months. (Yes, of course, the Golf Channel will still manage to come up with tournaments to cover, but you'd have to be either related to one of the contestants or simply have nothing to do in your life to be watching.)

On the bad side, the race for the Fed-Ex Cup itself turned out not to have any drama at all. Indeed, if Tiger hadn't skipped the first of the four "playoff" tourneys, he might have had a mathematical lock on the Cup before the last of the playoffs--the Tour Championship--even got started. And, as it turned out, he would have won the Cup (and the moola) even if he'd stayed at home with daughter Sam this weekend. Kind of like New England winning the Superbowl two weeks before the Superbowl.

We have some suggestions for improving this new system, which clearly beats the old one. First, the 144 golfers who qualify for the playoffs based on their Fed-Ex Cup rankings at the end of the season certainly deserve a week off after the PGA Tournament played in mid-August. Tiger Woods, leading in Fed-Ex points, could afford to take a break then, but many others couldn't. For those playing in the PGA, a Major usually played in stifling heat, it's not fair to expect them to then play four more consecutive tournaments without a break.

We also think there ought to be a week off before the season-ending Tour Championship. Hey, everyone gets two weeks before the Superbowl, right?

Another problem is keeping suspense in the Fed-Ex Cup race. Wouldn't it be nice if, come the final round of "playoffs," all 30 qualifiers for the final round had at least a theoretical chance at the Cup if they won the Tour Championship. This time, only 5 out of the 30 had any chance at all. There are ways to adjust the points at each stage of the playoffs so that those who do well move up, but no one can put the Cup away. The PGA should tinker with the points system to make this work.

Finally, there was the problem, in the last two weeks of the playoffs, of the birdie barrage. It looked like the old Disney Classic, or one of the other season opening tournaments where it takes a -25 to win. In the playoffs, the golf should get progressively tougher each week. Some of that, of course, depends on Mother Nature, but the PGA could at least try to make it difficult.

Personally, we find it boring when every player is seemingly making birdie on every hole. To maintain drama, there needs to be realistic possibilities of bogey and double bogey on just about every hole. It needs to look like the Majors, not the Bob Hope. So grow the rough, put the tees back, make the greens nice and slick and put the pins where they're hard to hit.

We still think that after 10 years of this Tiger will have collected $100 million for his retirement fund. We just hope the PGA can pull it off in a way that it will look challenging, and be entertaining.

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