FedEx Cup an imperfect system


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.