Is Tour Championship now given too much weight?

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 20, 2012, 4:35 pm

Tiger Woods said Wednesday that the current FedEx Cup format was “not quite fair” because points are reset before the Tour Championship and a player who wins the first three playoff events could, conceivably, still not win the FedEx Cup. 

So we ask: Is the season finale now given too much weight?

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A PGA Tour player can win the first three playoff events, but still lose the FedEx Cup. The popular analogy is the NFL’s New England Patriots, who in 2007-08 had a perfect regular-season record, won two playoff games but were stunned in the Super Bowl. Their flawless regular season? Forgotten. They didn’t win the final game. That’s the way it works in baseball and basketball and hockey – win the final game of the season, win the whole thing.

But the FedEx Cup isn’t supposed to be golf’s version of the Super Bowl or the World Series. No, the playoffs originally were modeled after NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, in which drivers compete all season to reach the Chase, and then the 12 qualifiers battle it out in a 10-race “playoff.” At the end, the driver who has accumulated the most points is crowned champion.

Sounds familiar. Golfers competed all season and accumulated points to determine the top 125. Throughout the playoffs, golfers accumulated points that eventually determined the top 30 for the Tour Championship at East Lake.

Rory McIlroy won two of those three playoff events, and although he has a slight advantage in reset points, there now are a number of scenarios – some more likely than others – in which he wouldn’t capture golf’s biggest prize.

But think back to the NASCAR example, the original model for these playoffs. If a driver won half of the 10 races in the Chase, he would already have wrapped up the title – even if there remained little drama at the finale. It is not a Super Bowl, a World Series, a NBA Finals.

That’s because the NASCAR postseason rewards playoff excellence over 10 races, a fair measure.

The four-tournament PGA Tour postseason is a contrived – and confusing – attempt to make the Tour Championship relevant. Strange, because the two formats were supposed to be nearly identical. – Ryan Lavner

“I’ve got Vijay (Singh) to thank for that,” Rory McIlroy smiled on Wednesday when asked about the creative math that could see him win the last two FedEx Cup playoff events and, theoretically, finish second this week at the Tour Championship and still not cash the $10 million lottery ticket.

Actually, the Ulsterman should direct his faux ire at the PGA Tour mathematicians who concocted the FedEx formula, but it was the big Fijian who arrived at East Lake in 2008 with such a commanding lead in the season-long points race that all he needed to do was remain upright for four days and the cup was his.

But what that unfortunate episode created was a system that defies competitive logic, if not integrity. No less than Tiger Woods addressed the elephant in the East Lake clubhouse on Wednesday.

“It’s set up so if (someone) does win the first, let’s say, three playoff events and finishes second in the Tour Championship, he could still lose it,” he said. “I don't think that’s quite fair, but that is our current system.”

To put it in historical context, had Bobby Jones – who grew playing East Lake – collected all four of this season’s majors, like he did during his historic 1930 campaign, he still, at least mathematically, would not be assured the cup. Essentially he could get “Grand Slammed.” – Rex Hoggard

No, in fact, there isn’t enough emphasis on this final week.

If these really are “playoffs,” then the Tour Championship has to matter, and, frankly, it doesn’t matter enough, even with the dramatic re-set change that Vijay Singh inspired by virtually locking up the FedEx Cup before the Tour Championship back in 2008.

Louis Oosthuizen can finish second this week and win the FedEx Cup without having won a PGA Tour event all year long. It's not likely, but the fact that it is even possible destroys the credibility of something billed as “playoffs.”

If these are 'playoffs,' there ought to be a winner-takes-all element to the finale at East Lake.

Yes, there’s a challenge in making that fair, but something more dramatic than the current format can be worked out to narrow the field with cuts every round of the Tour Championship until we’re down to a final round with the final field battling for the $10 million jackpot.

If these are 'playoffs,' the Tour Championship has to matter that much, or it’s just a glorified money grab, a fraud when sold as “playoffs.” – Randall Mell

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.