Just more than a year ago, Tiger Woods and John Daly squared off in a sudden-death playoff at Harding Park, a refurbished public golf course along the shores of Lake Merced that staged a World Golf Championship. It sounded like a rock concert and felt like a major. And it delivered the kind of drama rarely seen this side of August.
They slugged it out down the stretch with an awesome display of power, a duel ultimately determined by a 3-foot putt Daly missed on the second extra hole to hand Woods his sixth and final PGA TOUR victory of the year.
'I don't think there are a lot of people watching NFL football right now,' Daly said, and the room erupted in laughter.
But the joke was on golf.
ABC Sports got only a 2.8 rating for that Sunday afternoon, and that was the second-highest rated golf tournament of the fall. The highest was a 3.0 at the Presidents Cup, which featured Woods, Phil Mickelson and a U.S. team trying to win for captain Jack Nicklaus.
All of which leads to an important question as the PGA TOUR looks ahead to 2007.
How can the FedExCup possibly top that?
PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem was looking to create interest in the end of the year when he came up with the FedExCup competition, a season-long points race that culminates with golf's version of the playoffs. The idea is for the top players to compete in three 'playoff' events starting Aug. 23 and ending Sept. 16 at the TOUR Championship, with $10 million going to the winner.
The concept has merit. Anyone who thinks this is a bad idea hasn't been paying attention to golf in the fall -- or maybe they're among the few who have been paying attention, because not many watch golf after the PGA Championship (or before football starts).
'If you're not going forward, you're going backward,' Finchem said. 'All the other sports are investing millions of dollars in being more competitive with each other and with us, and you have to continue to find ways to connect with the fan.'
The FedExCup is taking golf forward.
A year ago at the TOUR Championship, the rating was 1.9, and that was with Woods in the field (albeit six shots behind Bart Bryant). The rating plunged to a paltry 0.9 this year when Woods skipped for the first time in his career.
Next year can get only better.
If nothing else, this adds another element to the PGA TOUR season that will not be decided until the TOUR Championship, no matter how many majors or tournaments a player (Woods comes to mind) might win.
The PGA TOUR further helped itself Tuesday by deciding to reduce the field each week during the playoff tournaments. The playoffs will start with 144 players at the Barclays Classic, drop to 120 players for the Deutsche Bank Championship, and only 70 players will advance to the BMW Open in Chicago. The Tour Championship still gets the top 30 players chasing the $10 million prize.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether the FedExCup represents a baby step or a quantum leap.
One gets the impression from the marketing machine at the PGA TOUR that the FedExCup is the greatest concept in golf since Bobby Jones built a golf course on a former nursery in Augusta, Ga., and invited his friends to play a tournament each spring.
Realistically, it might be the best concept since the World Golf Championships began in 1999, and the novelty wore off about four years later. It was cool to have the top 50 or the top 64 players in the world competing against each other, but now they do that at least eight times a year. Add to that the FedExCup playoff series, and they could be competing against each other as often as 12 times a year.
What's important is to keep expectations at reasonable levels.
If two of the biggest draws in golf (Woods and Daly) produced only a 2.8 rating in a playoff, how is it going to get better with Woods, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia trying to pile up points as they position themselves in the FedExCup? And that's assuming the stars play their best. The fear is that the FedExCup comes down to Zach Johnson and Troy Matteson.
Plus, it would be a mistake for TOUR officials to think that the FedExCup will determine the player of the year.
If someone were to win two majors (again, Woods come to mind since he has done that four times) and far more tournaments heading into the playoffs, it would be foolish to think he would not be voted player of the year.
Golf still is defined by the four majors.
Instead of comparing the FedExCup to NASCAR and its Nextel Cup, think of golf in the same terms as horse racing.
Fame is found at the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. And at the end of the year is the lucrative Breeders' Cup, a showcase of the best horses.
And during the Breeders' Cup, most people are watching football.
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