Time for Players to Quit Whining

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2006 The TOUR Championship presented by Coca-ColaATLANTA -- Robert Allenby was among those who feared the worst when he showed up Tuesday at East Lake.
 
The greens were said to be in such miserable shape that the original edict was for no one to set foot on them until the opening round of the TOUR Championship. When conditions slightly improved, the ban was lifted to allow for practice on all but three holes.
 
'Not too bad,' Allenby said as he inspected the ninth green.
 
These days, that constitutes a compliment.
 
There was grass on the green, so that was good. Some of the barren patches around the edges had been filled in with green sand. The putting surfaces looked more like a municipal course than home to the tour's showcase event. Still, it wasn't as bad as they thought.
 
'It's not good, but it's not horrific,' Allenby said.
 
The conversation then shifted to a fourth consecutive week of a $7 million purse, and the finale of a FedExCup that would pour $35 million into retirement accounts for 144 players, with $10 million for the winner and 10th place getting $500,000.
 
'For that kind of money, we should play on anything,' Allenby concluded.
 
That's good advice for all.
 
The inaugural year of the FedExCup has worked about as well as can be expected. Going into the TOUR Championship, an argument can be made that the three players with the best chance of capturing the cup are the best three players in golf this year -- Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson.
 
Woods has six victories, including a major.
 
Mickelson has three victories, including THE PLAYERS Championship, despite losing 10 weeks with an injured wrist.
 
Stricker only has one victory -- in round one of these PGA TOUR Playoffs -- but he has six top 5s and seemingly has been on the leaderboard ever since the U.S. Open.
 
Even so, most of these guys have found some reason to complain.
 
Woods and Mickelson have been the most critical about making the FedExCup bonus money deferred compensation instead of a pile of cash waiting for them on the 18th green at East Lake. Some have said the playoffs began with too many players. Others have said it's too hard for guys at the bottom to move toward the top. A common complaint is that four weeks in a row is too much golf.
 
Stop for a minute.
 
Woods and Mickelson were the ones out front in asking for a shorter season. They got it. Players were invited to a half-dozen meetings to look at the new model and offer suggestions. Most of them didn't bother to attend.
 
It must be hard for fans to stomach the thought of these guys playing for $63 million over four weeks, in tournaments that have produced some of the best golf of the year, yet going out of their way to nitpick every detail.
 
And it's a comical coincidence that the FedExCup was patterned after NASCAR, where 12 drivers qualify for the final 10 races that comprise 'The Chase' to see who wins the Nextel Cup. Those dozen drivers will be in New York on Thursday doing promotional blitzes on everything from ESPN Zone to Letterman to Regis.
 
Can you imagine PGA TOUR players going out of their way to do that?
 
It was no small victory for the tour when it got Woods to do a couple of commercials, one in which all he does his lace up his shoes while whistling 'Eye of the Tiger.'
 
If the players aren't behind this FedExCup, how can the fans expect to embrace it?
 
'But if we complain about it and we say, 'Too many tournaments in a row, deferred payment,' ... then the fans are going to be turned off and it's not going to be a very good television show,' Stewart Cink said Tuesday. 'Let's see how good we can make it, instead of driving it into the ground.'
 
Being a team player doesn't have to mean playing every event.
 
It didn't help when Woods skipped The Barclays to kick off these playoffs, but he said he wouldn't be at his best if he played, and all he has done since then is tie for second at the Deutsche Bank and win the BMW Championship. K.J. Choi missed Boston, Mickelson missed Chicago, but all 30 are gathered in Atlanta for the conclusion.
 
Surely, there are ways to make it better, although complaints far outweigh solutions.
 
The one change that gets the most attention is having to play four straight weeks. Even some of the soldiers who have played them all are feeling exhausted, none more than Mark Calcavecchia. His tank is so empty that he has played as a single on Sunday the past two weeks, his only goal to finish in time for brunch.
 
'I'm wrecked. I'm destroyed,' he said. 'Tiger is tired after two weeks? I've got him by 80 pounds and 17 years. How do you think I'm doing after (playing) eight out of nine? He could run from here to downtown. I couldn't run out of a burning house.'
 
Calcavecchia has been on tour so long that he played in the first TOUR Championship in 1987. He tied for fifth and earned $68,800. Fifth place now is worth $280,000.
 
He is still happy to be here, as are most players who always viewed the TOUR Championship as a reward for a great season.
 
Late afternoon thunderstorms brought concern for the greens, and the tour risks great embarrassment if their 'Super Bowl' is played on a track that looks as though it hosted a tractor pull.
 
But everyone plays the same course. And odds are in the tour's favor that the final FedExCup event will be as compelling as the other playoff events. Someone will be $10 million richer Sunday. Heck, everyone will be richer.
 
Whether they're happy is up to them.
 
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