A Head-to-Head Answer


2006 The TOUR Championship presented by Coca-ColaATLANTA – Is it the FedEx or FedUp Cup? Playoff golf or a payoff? A Tour Championship or a four-day lottery with a $10 million jackpot?

The answer, at least for the half dozen or so media types who used the “bye” week to pick apart the PGA Tour’s postseason carcass, is the latter. And a half dozen golf writers can’t be wrong, can they?

For some, the fourth year of the Tour’s playoff experiment is a bust. It’s golf’s version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, this edition has too much volatility, that option has too little Tiger Woods, and whatever the big brains in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., come up with one gets the feeling it’s never going to be just right.

Five years ago when the Tour introduced the FedEx Cup formula commissioner Tim Finchem likened it the BCS, something people would talk about and debate. Congrats and enjoy.

Lost in all the finger pointing, however, have been the only voices that matter – the players. Much like The Players Championship and its unofficial quest for fifth-major status, the playoffs will be awarded true legitimacy only when the rank and file – not the media or fans or Tour suits – say it’s the real deal.

So like a 6-year-old after 15 minutes on the highway we asked, are we there yet?

“It’s been a success,” said Steve Stricker, as thoughtful a soul as one will find in a player parking lot. “It’s done what it was set up to do and that’s gain more interest in our sport during a time period where our interests kind of fade a little bit because of the start of football season.”

And had Stricker stopped with that company line we could have dismissed the Cheesehead’s thoughts as marketing claptrap. But he didn’t.

“Right now every shot doesn’t matter,” said Stricker, taking aim at a playoff slogan. “You could finish 120-something on the list and still win the FedEx Cup.”

Kevin Streelman, as if the transplanted Midwesterner did anything wrong, has become the poster child of the playoff debate having started the postseason 102nd in points, posting a single top 10 (The Barclays) on the road to East Lake and is now on his way to three of next year’s four majors.

If Stricker is less than amused by Streelman’s climb he can take it up with the Tour’s mathematicians, but if the circuit is married to the idea of calling its postseason push a playoff, the Streelman scenario is part and parcel.

In fact, if player reaction on Wednesday at East Lake was any indication the Tour should start coming up with a way to inject even more volatility into the proceedings.

If excitement is the ends, then the means must be volatile.

“It’s hard to know what playoffs feel like in an individual sport, but if you want a playoff go head-to-head,” Ryan Palmer said. “In golf a playoff is one hole, except for the majors. But it’s head-to-head.”

The Tour considered different variations of a match play theme when they concocted the cup but the concept was ultimately rejected for the same reason it is the only format that fits neatly into the playoff theme. The capricious nature of match play is the bane of television executives everywhere. But then the thought of Tiger Woods losing in an early round of a match play event loses some steam as one walks the Tiger-less East Lake grounds this week.

There’s no need for the Tour Phd.s to do this math. Play the first three playoff events as is, cutting the field progressively from the top 100 on the points list (honestly, if you’re 125th and just keeping your Tour card you don’t deserve a playoff start unless you play hockey or little league football), to the top 75 for the Deutsche Bank Championship and top 50 at the BMW Championship before making a final trim to 32 for East Lake.

Seed the brackets accordingly. Give Nos. 1 and 2 first-round byes if a Sunday without Woods or Phil Mickelson makes you go cold, just let them play.

“That’s a true playoff,” Hunter Mahan gushed. “There’s a reason why they did this, they needed a bang. That’s exciting.”

If the idea of millionaires putting for millions offends the senses consider the current format. If you want to see a play-for-pay type gag a 3-footer tune in for the four majors, or if the pressure of playing for God and country is the ultimate we’ve got a cup of some sort every year now.

The FedEx Cup, however, has always been about the cash. Nothing more. It is why two-time cup champion Woods has yet to kiss the big silver salad bowl.

“If the money wasn’t there I don’t think guys would care as much,” Mahan said.

Nor would the fans. But enough zeros left of a decimal point can make anyone sit up and take notice, so why not make the most of all that loot with a 36-hole, winner-take-all Sunday shootout at East Lake between the last pairing standing?

“How exciting would it be to have two guys going head to head for $10 million?” Palmer said. “That would be a playoff.”

It would also be the democratic answer to all those who dub the current system too volatile. No one outside Indianapolis called last year’s Super Bowl a tad harsh after the Colts’ stellar regular season. There was no use, because that’s a playoff.

And the only way for the Tour to answer all the current questions is to stop tinkering and start a playoff – a real playoff.