Playoffs still seeking a dynamic, defining moment


NORTON, Mass. – They’re putting their fingerprints all over the major championships now.

Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day have combined to win five of the last six majors.

So why not the FedEx Cup, too? Why shouldn’t they also put fingerprints on these playoffs?

There’s a crackle in the air over TPC Boston this week with Spieth, McIlroy and Day leading the field at the Deutsche Bank Championship. They’re carrying their own energy and momentum into golf’s postseason with Day winning The Barclays last weekend, the first of the four season-ending playoff events.

You know McIlroy’s here this week looking to get back in the mix after skipping last week and missing so much of the summer recovering from his ankle injury. And you know Spieth wants to bounce back from last week’s missed cut and aim the intensity he used winning a pair of majors this summer at these playoffs.

While it may be asking too much for this trio to find their best form together, the possibility intoxicates.

They could take the FedEx Cup playoffs to a whole new level putting their mark on this continually evolving postseason experiment. They could give it the defining moment it still craves nine years into its existence. Because that’s the weird thing about these playoffs: as much fun as they are, there is quirkiness to their nature that we never fully grasp with the convoluted math and fluctuating points.

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It’s almost as if we’re still waiting for that eureka moment, that instance where we stop and say, “Yeah, this is it. This is what the playoffs are all about. This is the moment that folds it all together, that defines the nature of playoff golf. This is what makes it more than a $10 million jackpot for the winner.”

In nine years of the playoffs, we really don’t have that. Sure, we have some great moments. We have that image of Jim Furyk spinning his hat backward in the rain to putt out for the victory at the Tour Championship in 2010, that image of him pumping his fist in exuberance.

But if there’s anything close to a defining moment, it’s probably Bill Haas winning the Tour Championship at East Lake in 2011. His holing out from the water to keep the playoff alive is part of it, but it’s mostly his reaction after he won. It’s his confusion seeing the Tour Championship trophy and the FedEx Cup being set out in front of him without immediately knowing he had won both.

“Both trophies were there, and there was no other player,” Haas said that day. “I looked at my wife, and she nodded her head, so that was when I realized.”

There was the same kind of quirky moment for Phil Mickelson in 2009 after he won the Tour Championship but watched Tiger Woods take home the FedEx Cup.

Woods finished second to Mickelson at East Lake that day, leaving Mickelson with a wry smile.

“His check is for $10 million,” Mickelson cracked.

The FedEx Cup has been a home run in how it has given the PGA Tour the big bang finish its season needed. There’s compelling theater getting the best players in the world together for a series of four events in a row. Who doesn’t like that?

And yet there remains an uncertainty over what winning the playoffs really mean beyond the biggest payday in golf.

While Golf Channel analyst Notah Begay appreciates what the FedEx Cup brings to the game, he still wrestles with the meaning of these playoffs and where they fit into the game’s great achievements.

“It’s almost difficult to legitimize a playoff series that almost never rewards the best player,” Begay said in a national conference call advancing the FedEx Cup Playoffs. “I don’t know how many times the FedEx Cup champion and the Player of the Year coincided, but it’s probably only a handful of times.”

Three times the FedEx Cup champ has also been the PGA Tour Player of the Year. It happened when Woods won both in ’07 and ’09 and when Furyk won both in 2010.

NBC analyst Johnny Miller says he has warmed to the drama the series offers, and he doesn’t need a pretty bow on a perfect ending.

“I’m actually becoming a pretty big fan of the FedEx Cup Playoffs,” Miller said. “It used to be the Tour would just sort of fade off into the sunset, so to speak, with not too much interest. I think now there’s a second crescendo after the majors. I think it’s really interesting, and it’s getting bigger every year.”

It’s sure to grow bigger than ever if Spieth, McIlroy and Day are able to battle together to the final hole of these playoffs this year, to give us the pretty bow to the perfect ending of a terrific year in golf.