The new question facing this playoff system is whether too much is made of finishing second.
Martin Laird made the biggest jump in the standings last week, going up 92 places to No. 3 for his runner-up finish at Ridgewood. It was only his third top-10 finish of the year, and it came at a good time. Barring a big collapse, he is likely to get into the Tour Championship for the top 30 players, assuring him a spot in the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.
And then there’s Kevin Streelman.
He had only three top 10s all year, one of them at an opposite-field event. He came into the playoffs at No. 102 and was not assured of making it out of the first round. But he played well – that’s what the playoffs are all about – and tied for third at The Barclays, moving him up 84 spots to No. 18.
Streelman finished one shot better than Vaughn Taylor, who started at No. 38 and now is three spots behind Streelman at No. 21.
Does that sound about right?
“I don’t think – I know – that’s too many points,” Ben Crane said about the jumps made by Laird and Streelman. “We should aspire to answer the question of who’s playing the best golf. You don’t want to answer the question of who had a hot week. The jump probably should be more gentle. A big jump should be for playing great for two weeks.”
Tiger Woods made a moderate jump, but it was good enough. With a tie for 12th at The Barclays, he went from No. 112 to No. 65, and now has a reasonable chance of making it to the third round.
Woods arrived at the TPC Boston on Tuesday for a session on the range. The tour has projected he would need to finish somewhere around 50 at the Deutsche Bank Championship to move on.
Crane holds nothing against Laird or Streelman. Everyone knew how the points worked when the playoffs began. And he finds it to be a 100 percent improvement from two years ago, when the incentive for the world’s best player was simple to make the cut. Several players referred to that system as the “Michelle Wie Cup.”
Even so, Crane is among those who wonder whether there’s too much of a reward for finishing second or third. He won at Torrey Pines this year and came into the playoffs at No. 12. Crane tied for 12th, five shots behind the leaders, and moved up one spot.
“It is a severe jump,” Stewart Cink said. “Do they award 18 percent to the winner like prize money? What about using 20 percent for the winner and 10 percent for second?”
Cink likes the system, and one thing everyone would agree to is that no system will be without flaws. Even so, he also was troubled that players could make such a quantum leap without winning.
Andres Romero started the playoffs at No. 115. With four birdies on his last five holes – the last one from 40 feet—he moved up to No. 100 to earn the last spot in the field at the Deutsche Bank Championship, which starts Friday.
By finishing third at the TPC Boston, he could move up to as high as No. 15 and be on the fast track to East Lake.
“That renders the regular season useless,” Cink said.
Then again, that’s what the playoffs are supposed to be all about—playing the best golf toward the end of the year. What troubles Crane, Cink and other players is that one good week – even if it’s not a victory – could be all it takes to reap a significant reward by going to the Tour Championship.
Everyone knows what’s at stake in the four playoff events, just as everyone knows what’s at stake at the four majors. They are playing for history in the majors. They are playing for the chance at big money (a $35 million bonus pool) and big perks in the playoffs.
Streelman knew what he was up against. If he played poorly in the opening playoff event, he was headed home for a month.
“The intent was for players to be playing well in the playoffs,” Streelman said. “That’s why the points are up so much. It’s a neat thing. If you’re playing good, your goals can change quickly.”
He was hopeful of going to Boston. Now, Streelman is assured of getting to the third round outside Chicago, where he grew up. And there’s a decent chance of going to the Tour Championship for the first time.
All because he tied for third in the first playoff event.
For all the debate, the Deutsche Bank Championship offers another strong field, with 37 of the top 50 in the world. The other 13 players are not PGA Tour members.
“How good is this for golf?” Crane said.