Playoffs made for compelling conclusion

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

By Doug Ferguson

The Associated Press

ATLANTA -- The $10 million had not been deposited into Tiger Woods' retirement account when PGA Tour officials huddled at headquarters to begin a review of the inaugural FedEx Cup.

Don't hold your breath waiting for changes.

The big announcement coming out of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., this week is a drug policy that will begin in 2008, although the tour is moving with great caution. This is something it has to get right the first time.

There was always room for error with the FedEx Cup.

Even before K.J. Choi struck the first tee shot of the season at Kapalua, tour officials conceded they probably would have to make a few changes that wouldn't be obvious until the FedEx Cup ran its course.

For the most part, they got it right.

They wanted the first eight months of the season to be significant, and one only has to look at Rich Beem for the answer. He played some of his best golf when the PGA Tour Playoffs began, but because he virtually went AWOL from January to the middle of August, he started too far down in the standings to last more than two weeks.

They wanted to define a season champion, and Woods won by a mile. Any questions?

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was over the top when he first described the final four events of the FedEx Cup as "the most impactful series of events in the history of the sport."

But it showed there was room for compelling golf after the majors, and it was some of the most entertaining golf of the year.

Steve Stricker winning at The Barclays might have been the most sentimental victory this year. Boston brought together Woods and Phil Mickelson for three of four rounds, including the final round on Labor Day, with Lefty scoring a rare victory that he considered the most significant this side of a green jacket or Wanamaker Trophy.

Woods owned the last two events, shattering scoring records at Cog Hill and East Lake.

Best of all, the meaningful part of the season ended four days before autumn. That's one promise the FedEx Cup delivered.

But that doesn't mean it was perfect.

Rory Sabbatini and Mark Calcavecchia were among those who thought everyone should compete in all four playoff events. A top-ranked player skipped each playoff event until the Tour Championship, when all 30 made their tee times.

Woods and Jim Furyk lobbied for starting the playoffs with fewer players.

And there was a universal cry for more volatility in the standings each week. Only three players had a realistic chance of winning the FedEx Cup at the Tour Championship, and only four guys who started the playoffs in the top 30 didn't make it to East Lake.

If those are flaws, they seem easy enough to fix, but each solution carries a potential problem:

* Make everyone play all four events.

To mandate that everyone should be at all four events is to guarantee Woods goes on a really long vacation.

* Start with fewer players.

The biggest problem with this solution is that short fields make for dull tournaments and a lousy experience for the fans. Consider the 70-man field at Cog Hill, where an entire day of golf was over in six hours. There has to be consideration given to the tournament and its fan base. Plus, it's harder to win against a larger field.

* More volatility in the standings.

Expect this area to be tweaked, mainly by how points are distributed. Rory Sabbatini was the only player to finish in the top 10 in every playoff event. All that did was move him from No. 6. to No. 4. Why so little movement? Because Woods and Mickelson each won, and Stricker moved past him with a victory and a third-place finish.

In other words, the best players in golf played some of their best golf in the playoffs.

And there's nothing wrong with that.

Doug Ferguson covers golf for the Associated Press.

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