FedEx Cup an imperfect system

By Jason SobelSeptember 18, 2012, 7:00 pm

ATLANTA – I promise this isn’t going to be another one of those “Death to the FedEx Cup!” columns.

I’m just going to state some facts and let you come to your own conclusion.

Here’s one fact: Louis Oosthuizen has enjoyed a very nice PGA Tour season. He owns five top-10 results, including runner-up finishes at the Masters and Deutsche Bank Championship.

Here’s another: Despite that very nice season, Oosthuizen is still seeking his first victory.

Here’s one more: At sixth on the FedEx Cup points reset entering the Tour Championship, Oosthuizen still has a chance to claim the FedEx Cup and its $10 million first-place prize at week’s end.

And one final fact: Oosthuizen can claim the FedEx Cup by finishing in second place this week, effectively securing the championship without ever securing a championship.

So … come to any conclusion yet?

I have. My conclusion is that the FedEx Cup is an imperfect system.

Just don’t confuse it for being a flawed system.

“I was in that same position,” Jim Furyk said of his 2009 contention when asked about Oosthuizen’s precarious placement in the points scenario. “I hadn’t won a tournament and yet there was still a way I could win. … Is it an imperfect system? I’m not sure when you’re dealing with points and when you’re dealing with a system, per se, I’m not sure there is anything that’s perfect.”

Therein lies both the greatest and worst reason for debate. There is no perfect system.

The idea for an end-of-season finale obviously beats the alternative. In the year before the FedEx Cup started, the Tour Championship was contested in November, with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson electing to skip it due to prolonged apathy. These days, though, it’s the source of plenty of conjecture, even though there is no correct answer.

One issue with the playoff series is just that – it’s both a playoff and a series, which are mutually exclusive. Public concern with the format often forms in the mentality. It is a season-long points race which doesn’t necessarily crown the best player of the entire season.

To wit: Last year, Bill Haas claimed the title by winning the Tour Championship from the 25th position on the list. Nothing wrong with that. To use an oft-worn Woods standby, “It is what it is.” Haas wasn’t the best player all year, nor was he even the best player all FedEx Cup, but he was the best player statistically when the points were totaled, which is evidently all that matters.

Hey, it beats 2008, when Vijay Singh won two FedEx Cup events and just had to remain upright at East Lake in order to claim the $10 million prize.

Since then, the format has been tweaked. Under the current points system, Rory McIlroy ’s two wins only puts him atop the reset, one of five players who will clinch the championship with a victory this week.

It raises the old NFL analogy. Back in 2007, the New England Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season, but got outscored in the Super Bowl and weren’t declared champion. Nobody claimed that was unfair, even within Foxborough city limits.

Using that same analogy, McIlroy’s wins at the last two FedEx Cup events is like a team breezing through its divisional playoff and conference championship games, only to falter in the Super Bowl. Once again, a very plausible predicament.

All of which leads to Oosthuizen, whose scenario underscores the imperfect in this imperfect system. While every competitor in this week’s field has a mathematical possibility to win the FedEx Cup, some are more possible than others. Scott Piercy, currently in 30th place, would require not just a win, but low finishes from the top players and the stars aligned perfectly.

In the case of Oosthuizen, though, a runner-up result must be backed only by a third-or-worse from Brandt Snedeker and Mickelson, fourth-or-worse from Nick Watney, fifth-or-worse from Woods and 10th-or-worse from McIlroy. A likely scenario? Maybe not, but certainly a very real possibility.

And that’s where things get weird. Under that NFL analogy, it’s like a team playing well but losing its divisional playoff and conference championship games before ultimately losing the Super Bowl, too – and still being rewarded with the Lombardi Trophy.

If it happens, the groundswell of outrage will reach an all-time high – not an easy task in the FedEx Cup era. And yet, it will only prove what we’ve already known: The system will always have some form of imperfection.

That doesn’t mean it’s flawed.

This year’s playoff series has undoubtedly been amongst the most successful, with McIlroy and Woods providing fireworks to keep the game relevant well into the post-major championship weeks. Anyone declaring, “Death to the FedEx Cup!” simply isn’t paying attention or they’re striving for perfection.

When it comes to the current format, perfection simply isn’t a valid option.

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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.

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

“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 four 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. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."