Philadelphia, PA – Give the PGA Tour credit for its proactive approach to make golf more interesting as the leaves start turning colors and football season begins.
Instead of having a field full of mostly unknowns, as the European Tour is doing this week in Austria, the PGA Tour has its top 30 players of the season competing for a hefty $10 million sum in Atlanta.
So, as the fifth FedEx Cup champion is about to be named, it's a good idea to revisit the whole system and decide if it's working or not.
The FedEx Cup playoffs were born in November, 2005, with the first champion being named in 2007. To nobody's surprise, Tiger Woods took home the inaugural title and is the only golfer with the distinction of winning it twice.
It's not a perfect science, but it's good enough that it boosts the excitement levels after all the majors have been played.
For those who don't know, points are accumulated over the PGA Tour season and the top 125 players through the Wyndham Championship advance to the first of four playoff events played in succession in late August through September.
The format of the playoff events is no different from a regular season event -- 72 holes of stroke play and a cut after two rounds for the first two events. Points are still accumulated in the playoffs as they would be in the regular season, except the fields are gradually reduced from event to event until there are only 30 players left for The Tour Championship, the last of the playoff tournaments.
Naturally, the player with the most points at the end of the final event is declared the winner and given the $10 million prize.
Over the first couple of years, there were two fundamental changes -- both for the better. The first was to make playoff events more valuable than regular season events in terms of points, setting up both a penalty for skipping an event and an extra reward for winning one. The second was to reset the points for The Tour Championship, giving each of the 30 players a chance to win and the top five a guaranteed title with a final victory.
There was also a change in how the money was distributed, but that doesn't have much of an effect on the excitement of the event.
The PGA Tour will likely keep tinkering with the format as the years go by, trying to put together as best a product as it can. This year, it's possible that one of the more anonymous players could take home the title, as Webb Simpson leads the way heading into the final week.
One of the fundamental changes that would make things a bit more interesting is to introduce some match play into the playoffs. It would provide a nice wrinkle, giving the lowest-ranked players a better chance to ascend the list by beating the higher-ranked players head-to-head.
The playoffs start with 125 participants, but how about a 128-player match play event for the first tournament? One end result of that hypothetical event would be to eliminate the first-round losers, but at the same time that could discount a great regular season a bit too much. It would make for some exciting matches, but the PGA Tour should probably stick with its points method, even in match play.
Another is a slight adjustment to the points method, making them irrelevant for The Tour Championship. Since the final event is only 30 players, shouldn't the winner automatically win the FedEx Cup?
Instead of resetting the points, which was much better than the original plan to keep the points the same and give certain players a clear, easy path to the title, eliminate the points and have a winner-take-all format. It might not be the most fair idea, but it's the most exciting.
A third change could be to give each of the top 125 players in the world an opportunity to compete in the playoffs, regardless of membership status with the PGA Tour. If it forces the total number of players to be more than 125, so be it, but it would be more exciting to have guys like Rory McIlroy playing in these events than not. A non-member would have to work his way up the leaderboard like some of the last players in, but they should at least be afforded the opportunity to battle it out with the best in the world.
The verdict is that the FedEx Cup Playoffs have provided an exciting ending to what would otherwise be a drab beginning to the autumn series of events. New endeavors are always likely to be lined with small faults, and it's already evident the PGA Tour is trying to constantly improve its methodology.
Hopefully, The Tour Championship can provide the last bit of excitement before the season winds down.
LOOKING AT THE CONTENDERS
We have a good chance to see the most unheralded FedEx Cup winner yet. Other than Woods, Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh are the other champions -- both notable major winners. Heading into The Tour Championship, though, Simpson is the leading contender.
The favorite, though, has to be Luke Donald -- not a major winner, but the No. 1 player in the world and the fourth-ranked player on the points list. As No. 4 on the points list, he's assured of the FedEx Cup with a win this week, and he doesn't have to beat as many players as he normally would to win a tournament.
Other big names include Phil Mickelson and Singh, who is trying to become the second multi-winner of these playoffs. On the other end of the spectrum is rookie Keegan Bradley, who can cap off an incredible year that includes a major championship with a $10 million payday.