Cash is King in the Fall


PGA Tour (75x100)ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – If all things remain equal, and it appears the status quo is now written in stone, the Player of the Year debate will come down to one player who won the FedEx Cup and another who won the money list.

“That’s tough. It’s really all about the money, but the Tour doesn’t want to hear that,” said one player who requested anonymity because, well the Tour really doesn’t want to hear that.

With gazillions invested in a season-long points race the Tour is no longer all about the millionaire with the most zeroes next to his name, the leading indicator of success since time began on the play-for-pay set.

Jim Furyk, who appears on the shelf for 2010, won last month’s Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup math quiz, a full house that will likely trump Matt Kuchar’s Tour-leading $4.88 million in earnings in the POY balloting.

But in the twilight of the season on a small island off the Georgia coast cash is once again king.

A large electronic leaderboard began flashing “year to date” earnings updates late Saturday afternoon at the McGladrey Classic and the Sunday confusion at the Tour Championship suddenly seemed years away.

The dizzying array of projected points scenarios that almost shut down IBM at East Lake is simplified this week and beyond by the economics of economics.

For pure clarity of competition, a player's earnings are still the easiest, and most telling, judge of success. It’s why Paul Azinger based much of his revised Ryder Cup selection process on money, not points or world ranking, when he took the captain’s job in 2006. And why many players still use cash as the ultimate barometer.

“Everybody out here plays for money still,” Steve Flesch said. “You don’t pay any of your bills with points. There’s nobody coming down 18 going, ‘If I birdie this I get X number of FedEx Cup points.’”

What the Fall Finish lacks in star power it makes up for in simplicity. There’s no need for a Mensa meeting to decide a player’s fate in the waning weeks of 2010 – finish in the top 125 or find your way to Q-School.

Tour media officials didn’t publish any “possible scenarios” for the likes of Johnson Wagner, who at 147th in earnings is about $200,000 shy of unfettered Tour employment next year.

“The FedEx Cup is important,” Wagner said following his third-round 67. “But the last two years the money list is truly important to me.”

In many ways the conversion to cash from points in the fall is the byproduct of performance. If you played deep into the playoffs the money list is not an immediate concern. But if you missed the postseason your cash flow for 2010 and beyond is ever present.

For the most part, the money and FedEx Cup points list mirrored each other for the first three editions of golf’s playoffs, but in 2010 there was a distinct, and sometimes concerning, disconnect between the two.

Scott McCarron finished the regular-season 130th on the FedEx Cup list, 26 points outside the playoffs, but was 124th in earnings at the time. Chris Stroud was No. 123 in earnings prior to the first postseason event but watched the playoffs from his Houston couch after finishing the regular season 11 points on the wrong side of the ledger.

Mark Wilson may be the only member of the fraternity who can truly understand the current points system with a degree in mathematics from North Carolina and he concurs there is a disconnect between money, the traditional unit of measurement, and a formula that has had more nip/tucks than a Rees Jones redesign since its inception.

“If you make a cut out here you’re going to make at least $10,000,” Wilson said. “But you could earn just one point if you finish last on the weekend. I would make it a little closer to the money so it’s not so bottom heavy.”

Of course the simplest fix is to mirror the money list – one point for each dollar earned. That way the McCarrons and Strouds of the Tour world aren’t left counting fingers and toes from the sidelines for five weeks during the playoffs.

A dollar-to-point scenario would also be nod to the obvious. Since Gene Sarazen signed out the first courtesy car the standard unit of measurement has been money, despite the Tour’s sudden aversion to the crassness of cash. How can a race with a $10 million lottery ticket be beyond the simplicity of earnings?

But then, the Tour doesn’t want to hear that.