Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Best FedEx Cup Format

Steve Dennis of the PGA Tour and Geoff Shackelford debate the subject on Dennis is in favor of the current format for a few reasons - each week has meaning, generates a deserving champion, and keeps the stars in it. Shackelford disagrees because the format is tough to understand, there is little chance for a nobody winning, and eliminations in each tournament focus on the crappier players being whittled down to the elites.

For me, I think that the format is on the right path, but it still missing something. That something is a true sense of playoffs. The Tour did a good thing in making the points system much more volatile in nature by narrowing the points reset and increasing the number of points awarded per place in playoff events by 2000. That means that fringe players that perform will be more likely to pave a path to the lucrative Tour Championship and FedEx Cup bonus money.

The PGA Tour has taken the approach that the four events together should combine to determine the champion. I am of the mind, though, that the first three events should lead to a final chase for the cash in the Tour Championship. Players are gunning to get into the final 30 to get a piece of the bonus pool (FedEx Cup).

Why not continue the trend of having three elimination events and then attaching real value to the Tour Championship by clearing the slate? Have the thirty golfers battle for a chance to win the title without having to worry about finishing in a certain place to win. To win $10 million, a player should have to win a marquee event - primarily, the Tour Championship.

You can get there a lot of ways. You could have a 72 hole medal play event and the winner takes all. Boring format, but exciting. The Tour could adopt the LPGA Tour's exciting ADT Championship format of having eliminations after every round - leading to a final round free for all for all of the cash. That's being done already, though the event may die after this year and then it would be for the PGA Tour's taking. Finally, the Tour could have 32 players in the Tour Championship and have a match play tournament.

Perhaps the best situation is a combination of these ideas. Wipe the scores clean for the 30 men who make the Tour Championship. They then play 36 holes on Thursday and Friday. After Friday, we knock it down to 8 players. On Saturday, there are two sets of matches - 8 down to 4 and 4 down to 2. On Sunday, there is one marquee match for everything. Can you imagine a close match play battle leading to a single putt for $10 million? WOW! And that's what the PGA Tour has been hoping for from this format.

This hybrid format leads to the highest probability that Sunday in East Lake matters to determine the FedEx Cup champion. Last year, it was pretty much done by Saturday. Sunday was a coronation and boring for Tiger Woods. While the Tour may tell you that it would be more exciting were Woods not involved (like this year), the reality is that the format should be tweaked to account for the reality of Tiger's dominance.

Look, I know the original intent of the FEC was to determine the best player. Guess what? That player may still be an injured Tiger Woods unless Paddy Harrington wins the FEC. So, the original intent can be shot and forgotten. The intent of the FedEx Cup SHOULD be to make golf exciting and relevant in September season. If there is genuine volatility, regardless of how dominant Woods is, fans will tune in to watch a $10 million putt. If people watch poker in droves for the money, they'll watch golf for the same reason.

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