NORTON, Mass. – In 2007 Tiger Woods skipped The Barclays, the byproduct of a dramatically reworked and compact schedule. Three years later Jim Furyk also missed the first playoff event, the result of an alarm clock snafu that led to a baffling disqualification. Both players went on to win that season’s FedEx Cup.
Since then the PGA Tour has tinkered with the post-season formula in an attempt to reduce the chances players would manufacture their own “bye” week during this final run by restructuring the playoff points math and adding an “off” week.
Because of a deal that was struck between the Tour and the PGA of America this year, this season’s “off” week now comes after the Tour Championship to give players bound for the Ryder Cup in Scotland a breather and created a scenario where skipping an event is not just an option but a reality.
Seven players will skip this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship for a variety of reasons, including Graeme McDowell (child birth), Paul Casey (child birth), Tim Clark (injury), Jason Dufner (injury), Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia.
Perhaps even more concerning for the folks calling the shots in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., was the revelation on Thursday at TPC Boston that Rory McIlroy, who began the playoffs No. 1 on the FedEx Cup point list, considered briefly taking a week off.
“I was maybe (thinking of skipping) a little bit on Denver,” the world No. 1 said. “It did cross my mind skipping one of these events, but I want to give myself the best chance to win the FedEx Cup and the best chance to do that is by playing all these events.”
Without the “bye” week this year those who qualify for next week’s BMW Championship (the top 70 on the point list) will be forced to scramble from New England following Monday’s final round to Denver and play the third post-season event on short rest.
Add to that the possible implications of earning a spot on either the U.S. or European Ryder Cup team and it’s surprising that there haven’t been more no-shows during this year’s post-season.
Consider that when the dust finally settles after the Ryder Cup McIlroy will have played seven events in nine weeks and will start up again almost immediately as the European Tour begins its run up to that circuit’s post-season in October.
It’s been an even more hectic time for Brandt Snedeker. A combination of sponsor commitments and can’t-miss events have resulted in a dance card that now stands at six consecutive weeks and counting.
Snedeker has not had a week off since playing the RBC Canadian Open and if he qualifies for the BMW and Tour Championship, he’s currently 71st on the point list, and is selected by Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson to be one of the U.S. team’s three wildcard picks he will have played 10 events in 11 weeks.
“I knew this was going to be a big stretch for me and geared my schedule accordingly,” Snedeker said. “I didn’t play a lot in the summer time. I feel I did the best I could possibly do to be fresh.”
Still, when asked if he would ever consider skipping a playoff event the 2012 FedEx Cup champion didn’t hesitate, “No,” he said.
Put Hunter Mahan in that camp as well.
Mahan, who won last week’s Barclays to lock up his spot at the Tour Championship, is the only player to have participated in every post-season event and one of only three players (including Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker) to advance to East Lake every year since the season-long race began in 2007.
“I take great pride in that (streak),” Mahan said. “I’ve never really thought about taking a week off because I knew I was going to have a week off either before (the Tour Championship) or before the BMW Championship. This time of year I want to be playing.”
Although the bye week after the Deutsche Bank Championship returns next year, skipping a playoff event continues to be a growing possibility in part as a result of some of the Tour’s own tinkering.
Because of the pre-Tour Championship points reset, which negates the possibility of a player building an insurmountable lead before the finale like Vijay Singh did in 2008, it’s becoming more of a possibility that a player could opt for rest over reps given a certain set of circumstances.
In 2012, for example, McIlroy won the second and third playoff stops and had a 3,942-point advantage over Snedeker before the reset, which narrowed that gap to 900 points. The Northern Irishman finished tied for 10th at East Lake, Snedeker won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.
In theory, a player could win the first three playoff events and still not collect the $10 million lottery ticket, which puts the focus on simply landing a spot in the top 5, the magic number where players can control their own destiny with a victory at that finale, heading into East Lake.
Based on last year’s point breakdown, Mahan (who currently has 3,276 points) is close to locking up a spot in the top 5 heading into the Tour Championship. Considering that statistical reality, why would Mahan put himself through the rigors of a four-week stretch?
Perhaps the answer is obvious – to win. But as more players become familiar with the numerical nuances of the playoff format that question is going to be asked more and more.