Tuesday, February 26, 2008

FedEx Cup Changes: They're Volatile Now

As expected, the PGA Tour modified the points system for the FedEx Cup so as to encourage more volatility in the points race and increase the number of players with a reasonable chance to win the FedEx Cup from the start and at the Tour Championship. Before I get to making fun of the Tour a little bit later on in the post, I want to say that I support these changes by and large.

They made two changes. One was expected: increasing the difference in points between places by an absolute 2000 for each and every position. So, where a difference used to be 200 points, it is now 2200.

The other change is that the points "reset" done after the "regular season" is now tighter so as to make players closer to one another from the start of the Playoffs. Also, the points for the Tour Championship are increased.

The Tour also did the lazy work for me and identifies the results of the move retroactive to last season.

More volatility: Instead of only two players "playing their way in" to the next event by moving into the top 120 for Deutsche Bank or 70 for BMW, we would have had 11 players moving up into the Deutsche Bank field and 17 into BMW. THE TOUR Championship would have had at least eight players moving in, instead of three.

More chance to win the FedExCup going into THE TOUR Championship: Instead of only six players with a mathematical chance of winning, we would have had 12, and instead of only four players with a realistic chance of winning, we would have had six.

Importance of the Regular Season / integrity & credibility of the Playoffs: The top seeds still had the advantage, and the players in the Top 20 who finished the first three events would still have made it into THE TOUR Championship. At the same time, the players who played best in the Playoffs -- Woods, Stricker and Mickelson -- would still have finished 1-2-3 in the FedExCup.

Examples (Volatility)

Rich Beem, who started as the 134 seed, finished seventh at The Barclays and only moved up to 113th. Under the revised structure, he would have moved up to 68th. Vijay Singh started as the No. 2 seed, but missed the cut at The Barclays. He dropped to sixth, but would have dropped to 23rd under the revised structure. At 23rd, he would be in danger of missing THE TOUR Championship, especially if he missed another cut.

Good example with the Beemer in particular. He, in my mind, was the most obvious person to get shafted by the rigidity of the points structure - at least in the spirit of an anything goes playoff. In the spirit of the kind of season he had, he got what he sewed.

I like how the Tour threw this one in for good measure in the FAQ section.

4. Do you think with this change that the top players will play all four?
Each player, including the top ones, has to decide what strategy gives him the best chance to win the Cup. One or more of them may decide that they will play better by taking a week off. That is a high "risk-reward" strategy. For example, last year, that strategy worked very well for Tiger, since he went on to finish T2-1-1 and win the FedExCup going away. By the same token, the strategy could backfire if the player has an off-week in one of the events he plays. That will be especially true this year, since there are more points available at each event.

Well, the answer should probably read like this:

We really hope so! Now that Westchester is off of the docket, Tiger might just play The Barclays. Since we skipped an extra week to the Tour Championship, most of the Ryder Cup players should have no problem playing. We placated to Phil and Tiger's demands for more cash payment in the FedEx Cup payout. That means Phil won't call out the Commish on national TV. So, a definitive maybe!

And, another gem right after it:

5. Will the Playoffs be a success if the top players don't play all four?
The Playoffs were an enormous success last year -- strong ratings, record number of spectators, fantastic sponsor activation and support and four incredible tournaments. Steve Stricker's heroics, the Tiger-Phil battle at Deutsche Bank, Tiger's duel with Aaron Baddeley and Steve Stricker at the BMW Championship, and then Tiger's dominance at THE TOUR Championship. We expect the Playoffs this year will provide just as much drama and excitement, and with the minor changes we've made in the points structure, possibly more.

The real answer is that the FedEx Cup was a huge improvement over its predecessor - nothing at all. We had some great tournaments for four weeks. But, this "frequently asked question" was a veiled opportunity to show the Tour's perspective on the FEC. This whole FAQ read like a press release that talked down to the media and fans, but the explanation at the top was extremely helpful. So, as far as communications go, I'll give this a B+.

Wait a second. Did I see "fantastic sponsor activation" in there? I did! Ok. B.

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