Maybe it’s not broken. Maybe the FedEx Cup and it’s playoffs have matured into something more than the sum of their parts, a coherent, if not confusing, formula that delivers a product that is as close as golf is ever going to get to a real post season.
But if that’s the case, why was the TPC Boston practice tee abuzz last week with all manner of FedEx fixes?
Since the playoffs underwent a dramatic makeover following the 2008 post season, the PGA Tour has been reluctant to tinker, and the 2009 finish, when Phil Mickelson won the season finale and Tiger Woods took the cup, suggests that the end justifies the math.
“We just determined that after we got it to a point, we'd take a break and continue to monitor it and see how it works. And it's worked well,” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in February. “But I think we should keep our minds open about changes in the future and listen to people.”
Cue the people.
If all is well in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., no one has told the players. And not just any players. On Wednesday at the BMW Championship, Tiger Woods addressed what some see as the fundamental FedEx flaw.
“It's interesting, you can go and win the first three playoff events, finish second in the last one and not win it,” Woods said at Crooked Stick. “It's a different type of format, but it's what we have, and the whole idea is if the guys who are near the top 5 or just outside the top 5 win the last two events, you know you're going to win it, so the idea is to go out there and get Ws.”
The problem is a system designed to put the playoffs on a pedestal by awarding five times the amount of points as post-season events and to assure that the Tour Championship is meaningful via a reset that narrows the front-runner’s lead – which is currently 1,331 points – to 250.
“I always thought it should be about two-and-a-half to three times the point differential (in the playoffs),” Bob Estes said. “You want it to be a bigger difference than the regular season. But if you were to win last week, you’re saying it’s the equivalent of winning five times during the regular season, and I don’t agree with that.”
Estes’ take, which is shared by many frat brothers, is worth pointing out because he has leveraged the current point differential to play his way into the Deutsche Bank and BMW, jumping from 103rd to start the playoffs to 62nd with a tie for 10th at Bethpage and maintaining his spot inside the top 70 with a tie for 42nd in Boston.
On Monday at the Deutsche Bank, one veteran player suggested a graduated system that, for example, would reward two times the regular-season points at the playoff opener, three times the normal amount at the Deutsche Bank, four times at the penultimate stop and five times the points at the finale.
Estes, a thoughtful sort with little interest in political correctness, took the brainstorming a step further. He suggested that four playoff events – to say nothing of the 125-man post-season field, that’s 100 percent member participation in something called a playoff – is one event too many.
“I always thought it should be three events, not four, so guys were less likely to skip an event,” he said. “Guys don’t like to play three in a row typically. Just make it three consecutive weeks. When you stretch it out over five weeks, people kind of lose interest.”
Call it the Jason Dufner Accord.
Dufner skipped the playoff opener to rest for his post-season run and the Ryder Cup, which is played the week after the Tour Championship, and dropped three spots on the FedEx Cup points list, while Tiger Woods played The Barclays, finished tied for 38th and dropped two spots.
Given the condensed post season that comes on the heels of the year’s final major, and, in even-numbered years, before the Ryder Cup, it’s easy to envision a day when top players begin scheduling for a “bye” week, either during The Barclays or Deutsche Bank.
Yet for Estes, and many Tour types, the debate always returns to East Lake, site of this month’s Tour Championship, and the $10 million golden ticket.
“However you do the points for the first three rounds, that’s not as important as everyone starting at zero at the Tour Championship,” Estes said. “The main thing is to be in that top 30 for the majors and everything like that.”
Since the experiment began in 2007, with just two exceptions (2008 and 2009), the FedEx Cup went to the winner of the Tour Championship, and the most recent member of the $10 million club, Bill Haas, followed the standard blueprint last year.
Haas began the 2011 playoffs 18th on the points list, didn’t finish better than 16th in his first three post-season stops but won the finale in overtime and claimed the “season-long” race.
All of which suggests that the only recipe for playoff success is to make it to East Lake and win the Tour Championship, which gives Estes’ “jump ball” idea for the finale some weight. It’s already an all-or-nothing proposition, why not just own it?
Earlier this year, Finchem said he and the Tour are listening, but after making the rounds last week at TPC Boston, one has to wonder exactly who they are talking to.