Although the third year of the circuit’s season-long race will maintain its basic structure, the changes as outlined by Tour commissioner Tim Finchem in November are less fine tweaks than they were an overall facelift. The Tour has concocted a sweeping nip/tuck that addresses at least three of the current system’s most-talked-about blind spots.
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Regular season: 37 events with 500 points going to winners (winners of majors and The Players earn 10 percent more points and WGC winners get a 5 percent bump. A champion of an opposite-field event earns 250 points.).
Playoffs: Points quintupled for first three playoff events followed by a reset before the Tour Championship that will assure that all 30 players have a mathematical chance to win the Cup.
Playoff field sizes: Fields for the first two events have been reduced (Barclays, 125; Deutsche Bank, 100), while the BMW (70) and Tour Championship (30) remain the same.
Reset: The differential between first and second place after the BMW will be 250 points, with the top 5 players heading into East Lake assured the FedEx Cup crown with a victory.
The fix? The new system will reduce the number of points awarded during the regular season. Players will earn 500 points for a victory at a regular event and victories at a major championship or The Players Championship and World Golf Championships will be worth 10 percent and 5 percent more, respectively.
“The overriding premise was that we had, and are getting strong support for the current structure. Notwithstanding the fact that the air went out of the balloon a little bit when Vijay pretty much wrapped it up after two weeks in '08,” Finchem said.
“When we went into this process, we went into it looking at it let's stick with the fundamentals here. And the fundamentals to argue are basically to make sure it's not over until Atlanta and make sure that a lot of guys are in the hunt.”
Points in the playoffs will be quintupled with winners earning 2,500. A reset – which occurred prior to the first playoff event in ’07 and ’08 – will take place before the Tour Championship. Delaying the reset, officials say, will assure a meaningful finale, with the top 5 at East Lake able to claim the FedEx Cup with a victory and all 30 players in the field mathematically still in the FedEx picture.
“We can guarantee that other players will have a chance to win (the FedEx Cup) at the Tour Championship,” said Steve Dennis, the Tour’s director of communications strategy. “Once they start to play, anything can happen, but until then we can be sure there will be a race.”
The delayed reset also alleviates what Finchem called the “cliff factor.” In 2008, Padraig Harrington won the season’s final two majors but struggled in the playoffs, missing the cut at The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship, finishing tied for 55th at the BMW and failing to earn a trip to East Lake.
“We have to make sure we have our top players there at the end,” said Brett Quigley, one of 16 members on the Tour’s Player Advisory Council.
Finchem, a former Washington, D.C., lobbyist, also seems to have borrowed a page from former President Bill Clinton’s campaign for the 2009 edition of the FedEx Cup – keep it simple, stupid.
“Smaller numbers are easier to understand,” Finchem reasoned.
In 2008, for example, a victory at a regular Tour event was worth 4,500 and ballooned to 9,000 points for the first three playoff events. Reduced totals, officials reason, will make the season-long race more digestible for the average fan.
The Tour also reduced field sizes for the first two playoff events, with The Barclays tee sheet dropping to 125 (down from 144) and the Deutsche Bank to 100 (120). The BMW will remain at 70 players.
The new plan also recognized player concerns over playing four weeks in a row with the Tour building in a “dark week” after the BMW that will remain the playoff format through 2012.
What remains to be seen in 2009, however, is whether the top players will participate in every playoff event. In 2007, Tiger Woods skipped The Barclays and still easily won the season-long race. Similarly, Phil Mickelson took the Deutsche Bank off and was third on the ’07 points list.
By delaying the reset until after the BMW in ’09 a player with a strong regular season will have the luxury of a “bye” week, hardly a best-case scenario for sponsors but a necessity if East Lake is going to count.
“I don’t think you have to (play every event to win the cup),” Finchem said. “But if you know that there are five guys up there, any one of which could win the tournament, they beat you, you're putting yourself in a big disadvantage. So I wouldn't say it can't happen, but I think the incentives are there that it's more and more important as you go on.”
Tour officials are counting on increased purses and proven venues in the playoffs to keep player interest.
This is how the FedEx Cup breaks down in 2009. Will it actually work and be effective, however, is a question which can only be answered come playoff time.
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