FedEx Cup Delivers


It is what it is

PGA Tour players, when pressed for an answer or cornered by an uncomfortable question, will freefall into its safe confines without hesitation. Urban legend has it that Tommy Armour III first coined the phrase in golf circles, although it has a Casey Stengel “it’s-not-over-’til-it’s-over” feel to it.

Either way, it’s become a crutch for Tour players and an occupational hazard for those who write about them.

“It is what it is,” Woods shrugged late Sunday after collecting his second FedEx Cup crown in three years at East Lake.

As platitudes go “it is what it is” is at least creative and, as it applies to the circuit’s third-year playoff experiment, about as good a summation as one will find this side of MIT.

At worst, the playoffs are mislabeled, contrived, vilified and destined to play supporting actor roles to the game’s grand four top and whatever cup is keeping time in the fall.

The last four events are no more playoffs than baseball’s All-Star Game is a tilt of any consequence.

Yet when Tour commissioner Tim Finchem climbed aboard Air Ponte Vedra Beach for the short hop to Atlanta last week the list of desirable outcomes in his hope chest were limited to – a Tiger Woods victory, computer-induced Sunday drama and a long-awaited smooch for the FedEx Cup.

Check, check and . . . well, two out of three isn’t bad.

Turns out he should have aimed a little higher.

One does not count on Woods and Phil Mickelson mugging for the cameras on the same Sunday stage apart from that awkward green jacket ceremony a few years back at Augusta National and the occasional team gathering. Yet there they were on a crisp fall afternoon at East Lake, side-by-side without mediator or caddie between them, basking in victory.

Things could have been worst. A Heath Slocum victory comes to mind, followed closely by an impromptu putting lesson for Mickelson from Sergio Garcia or a last-minute Woods withdrawal citing fatigue, lack of interest and brutal traffic in metro Atlanta.

This was not a defining moment for the sport, not a benchmark by which future Cups will be measured, not a reason to delay drafting your fantasy football teams next fall. As TA-III would say, it is what it is.

And what it is is a vast improvement over the last decade of Tour Championships. Every Tour player should pencil in Woods’ name for Comeback Player of the Year, but that is a soapbox for another day, yet if there is another reclamation project worthy of the award it is the FedEx Cup.

Four tournaments with the game’s top players, four major markets neatly brought to closure with golf’s two biggest sticks sharing the same stage. If the FedEx Cup is wrong, we don’t want to be right.

That’s not to say the system is perfect, and Ponte Vedra Beach will tinker with the current playoff format because it is what Ponte Vedra Beach does.

Among some of the “to do” items Finchem & Co. will look at in the winter:

New math. Not that there was anything wrong with the old math, at least nothing a little simplicity can’t fix, but there were flaws the circuit’s eggheads will try to work around.

Numbers crunchers discovered that Woods could have won all four majors, the first three playoff events and the Nobel Peace Prize and still could have lost the FedEx Cup to the hot-handed likes of Slocum or Jim Furyk or Zach Johnson or Steve Stricker at East Lake.

The same math wizards calculated that Woods could have just as easily skipped the first three playoff events, entered the Tour Championship seeded no lower than fourth based on his season-long performance and would have still won the FedEx Cup.

“You can play well, you can win 20 events throughout the year, and reset and it's a certain number,” Woods said. “It's very similar to what they do with NASCAR, what they try to do with playoffs in other sports. It's just kind of our version.”

Spacing. Woods played eight of the last 10 weeks heading into the Tour Championship and next year things get even tighter with the Ryder Cup being played in Wales the week after the Tour Championship.

There is a “bye” week that fell after the BMW Championship this year. Some players wanted the off week shifted to after the Deutsche Bank Championship, which ends on Monday, but that will likely wait until after next year’s Ryder Cup.

“You probably don't want to go two, week off, then three in a row, with the last one being the Ryder Cup overseas,” Woods said. “Granted, we could have the Europeans play in this thing and wear them out, too.”

Contraction. Once a dirty word in all of sports, most leagues have come to terms with the economic reality with too many widgets and not enough widget buyers. Every sports league, that is, except the Tour.

Finchem drew a line in the sand trap last week, saying there were no plans to reduce purses, but the current economic environment may force the Tour’s hand. Verizon announced this week it will not renew its contract to sponsor the Heritage in South Carolina after 2010 and all total 11 title and presenting sponsors have contracts that are up at the end of ’10.

The fix is simple. Let economic Darwinism thin the herd by three or four events, start the season a week later than normal to avoid the Super Bowl shadow and move the start of the playoffs up a week or two to avoid head-to-head competition with the start of the NFL season.

This is, of course, just window dressing to the bigger picture. For all the flaws – either real or tweeted – the FedEx Cup delivered in form if not function. It may not be a playoff, but it is what it is, and that’s not too bad.