NORTON, Mass. – In the playoffs, so the mantra goes, every shot counts.
With four postseason events gradually whittling down the list of contenders for the FedEx Cup, the difference between safety and elimination can often be small.
Last year, the gap between Ernie Els and Ryan Palmer after the Deutsche Bank Championship was less than one point: Els finished 70th and went on to play in the BMW Championship; Palmer finished 71st and earned an extra week of vacation.
With the stakes raised in the postseason, the value of a single good round can often be magnified. Except that for the second straight week, a handful of players won’t receive an opportunity to go low one last time.
Because more than 78 players advanced, the field will again be trimmed to low 70 and ties after the third round. The rule is rooted in the logistics of weekend television windows, and comes up with some frequency: it was used 12 times during the regular season.
It rarely impacts the playoffs, though, and occurred only once in the postseason from 2008-2013. But this year both playoff events with a 36-hole cut also required an additional trim after 54 holes, which left some players questioning whether it’s a rule that should end with the regular season.
“I don’t think we should do it in the playoffs,” said Brendan Steele, who made the 36-hole cut on the number but improved his standing with a third-round 69. “Guys have a chance to go out and shoot 65 early on Sunday, regardless of where they are, and it could be the difference in getting through.”
Steele’s sentiments were echoed by Scott Stallings, whose 1-over 72 Sunday was just enough to earn him a tee time in the final round as he looks to make one last charge toward next week’s event in Denver.
“You earn the right to play the weekend, you should play the weekend. This is the most important part of our season,” said Stallings. “I definitely think it should be re-thought, and give the guys an opportunity to play all four days. Someone got affected last week, and someone’s going to get affected this week.”
The player most impacted last week at Ridgewood was Luke Guthrie, who ended the regular season at No. 95 in the standings. Guthrie made the 36-hole cut but missed the secondary cut by one shot after a third-round 72. He fell to No. 106 in the points race as a result, with only the top 100 advancing to this week’s event in Boston.
This time around, the most notable MDF casualty was Scott Brown, who began the week on the bubble at No. 70. Brown rallied to make the cut during the second round, highlighted by a hole-in-one, but struggled to a 6-over 77 Sunday. While the secondary cut effectively ended his season, Brown has no problem with its use in the playoffs.
“I don’t think you can use them all year and then not use them in the playoffs,” he said. “That’s not fair to those guys that were MDF (Made cut, Didn’t Finish) all year. I think the bigger deal is that the points in the playoffs are weighted so high that you don’t reward the guys that have had a great year so far.”
The issue of how and when to implement the secondary cut is one that will be brought up at the first Player Advisory Council meeting of the 2014-15 season at the Frys.com Open. While PAC member Stewart Cink agreed with Brown’s assessment – “That’s the way we’ve done it all year. I don’t see why we shouldn’t keep doing it the same way,” he said – fellow PAC member Scott Langley would prefer to do away with the secondary cut entirely.
Langley is an example of what can happen when a player is afforded 72 holes. After barely making the 54-hole cut at The Barclays, he shot a final-round 66 to finish in a tie for 30th. After beginning the final round projected at No. 85 in the standings, Langley instead headed to Boston at No. 65.
“To have that opportunity, I think, is important,” Langley said. “Especially as you get later in the year, daylight is not an issue so we can still achieve the same product for TV, even with the big cut. We can play twosomes and just tee off earlier.”