Playoff Fever Mild - But Catching On

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DeutscheBank Logo 2007NORTON, Mass. -- Playoff fever? No.
 
Despite glitzy banners on the grandstands and a large 'PGA TOUR Playoffs' logo painted in the grass on a slope beneath the 13th tee at Westchester, The Barclays looked and felt like any other golf tournament. It happened to be one of the most exciting tournaments of the year, if that counts for anything.
 
Playoff pressure?
 
Absolutely.
 
Not everyone felt it, least of all Tiger Woods, who didn't bother to show up for round one of the FedExCup finale.
 
Brett Quigley was at No. 118 in the standings, knowing that only the top 120 would advance to the second round outside Boston. He had no clue what kind of score would get him there, but it wasn't long before he found out.
 
As he bent slightly on an injured right knee to study his 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole, his eyes suddenly shifted to an electronic scoreboard behind the green that flashed the projected standings.
 
His name was at No. 121.
 
'That was the most nervous I've felt on TOUR,' Quigley said. 'I never felt that nervous trying to win a tournament.'
 
Turns out the leaderboard had faulty information, and he was not outside the 120 at that moment. Quigley didn't know that, however, and that's what made his next stroke so impressive. It was a slick putt over a bumpy green, and he rolled it into the heart of the cup.
 
Clearly relieved as he walked off the green, the leaderboard again flashed the projected standings. Quigley's caddie, John 'Cubbie' Burke, rushed over and held a towel in front of his face like a curtain. There was laughter all around, especially when Quigley hit a fairway metal onto the 18th green for a two-putt birdie to close with 67.
 
He wound up in a tie for 25th. All that work, and he only moved up to No. 115 in the standings.
 
'My thinking was if I made the cut, I would be OK,' he said.
 
Quigley narrowly made it to the Deutsche Bank Championship this week, but his season will be over if he finishes any lower than second. Ditto for Rich Beem, who had his best finish of the year (tie for seventh) and only got the promise of one more tournament.
 
It is senseless to judge the merits of the FedExCup until it ends at the TOUR Championship three weeks from now. But the first of four events shed some light on what this format is all about.
 
And it's not all bad.
 
For now, much of the attention is on the guys at the bottom of the food chain. It's almost as if the TOUR is telling them, 'These playoffs really are for the top 70, but we'll give you a chance for a week or two. After that, it's time for you to go home.'
 
They have no one to blame but themselves.
 
Players had all year to accumulate points. If anyone thought simply qualifying for the playoffs was enough -- not all that difficult with 144 players getting into the first event -- they learned at The Barclays just how well they had to play to advance.
 
It won't be much different in Boston, where only the top 70 out of 120 players will move on to Chicago. For 35 players at the bottom of the list, such as Retief Goosen and Mike Weir, a top 10 won't be good enough.
 
The second phase is the 70-man field at the BMW Championship in Chicago, where the top 30 advance to the TOUR Championship.
 
This is still the goal for a majority of the players. For years, these guys figured they had a successful year if they won a tournament or got into the TOUR Championship. Even with a $10 million prize, playing in the TOUR Championship remains their priority.
 
That's why Scott Verplank is not in Boston this week. The 43-year-old doesn't think he can play his best four weeks in a row, so he's taking one week off and gearing himself up for the tournament where he thinks he can win. He is at No. 15 and should be OK.
 
'If I'm beat up and dead tired going to Atlanta, on a course where I feel I can win, what good is that?' Verplank said before these playoffs started. 'I'm probably stupid, but I'd rather win the TOUR Championship than the FedExCup.'
 
No, he's not stupid. Just practical.
 
Of the top 30 who make it to East Lake, the best guess is that a dozen guys will have a chance to win the FedExCup. That's assuming, of course, that Woods doesn't win in Boston and Chicago. Only then will the focus shift to the $10 million prize.
 
How is this bad for golf?
 
If the tour had a mulligan, it should change its wording. When the FedExCup first was introduced in 2005, commissioner Tim Finchem referred to these final four events as the 'championship series.' A year later, they became the 'playoffs.'
 
Some international players who grew up with rugby and cricket don't have an appreciation for what playoffs are all about. Americans do, and that poses an even bigger misconception of the FedExCup.
 
Winning the playoffs means achieving the greatest thing in that sport -- the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup. The greatest achievement in golf is winning one of the four majors. Although the PGA TOUR has never said the FedExCup is greater than a major, using the word 'playoffs' can make it sound that way.
 
Consider the FedExCup for what it is.
 
The majors are over. Everyone knows Woods is the best player who had the best year, winning the PGA Championship, two World Golf Championship stops and two strong PGA TOUR events. He is miles ahead of everyone else. Case closed.
 
Instead of playing out the string until the TOUR Championship -- which Woods skipped last year, by the way -- there are four good tournaments with the best players, a trophy available at each event. Whoever earns the most points wins something called the FedExCup.
 
It's not a green jacket. It's not a claret jug.
 
It's a new idea that just might be better than the old system.
 
Related Links:
  • GOLF CHANNEL Airtimes
  • Updated Playoff Points
  • Full Coverage - Deutsche Bank Championship