The PGA Tour huddled for 3 ½ years, consulted with the geniuses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and ran countless simulations for its strokes-based system.
It still didn’t get it right.
In a move that surely will alienate many of its hardcore fans, the Tour on Tuesday unveiled its new format for the Tour Championship. Beginning next year, players will begin the week at East Lake with a predetermined total based on their position on the points list, the leader starting at 10 under par.
In an age of points and projections, the Tour’s desire for simplicity is understandable – RIP, Steve Sands’ whiteboard – but its new-look finale violates the spirit of competitive sports.
There are no head starts in sports. That’s the beauty of them.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots don’t open the Super Bowl with a 7-0 lead.
Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors don’t start the best-of-7 NBA Finals with a one-game advantage.
Lindsey Vonn doesn’t begin the Olympics with a three-second lead.
Roger Federer doesn’t automatically take a 1-0 lead on his Wimbledon opponent.
But the PGA Tour has essentially created a handicapped tournament for its grand finale, for the 30 best players of the season.
What a missed opportunity.
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No system is perfect, but this is exactly the kind of contrived idea that emerges when the Tour continually tries to conflate season-long performance with a season-ending “playoffs.”
It’s messy and unnecessary.
The most common criticism of the current FedExCup model is that the best players are rarely rewarded for season-long success. (Example: Brooks Koepka, a two-time major winner this season, starts this week as the No. 7 seed.) That’s taken care of with the new Wyndham Rewards Top 10, which will pay out $10 million in bonus money, including $2 million to the top points-earner, after the regular-season finale at the Wyndham Championship.
End it there.
Celebrate Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas or Bryson DeChambeau for their season-long excellence.
Then start the playoffs – a real playoff – where everyone starts at zero and where past performance guarantees nothing but a spot in the elimination tournament.
Only those who make the cut in the 100- or 125-man Northern Trust advance to the 70-player BMW Championship. If Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth play poorly and miss out, well, tough luck. Play better. Survive and advance.
At the BMW Championship, it’ll be a fight to finish inside the top 30 on the leaderboard, and it’s easy to imagine a 5-for-2 playoff at the conclusion of play for those attempting to crack the Tour Championship field.
Once the top 30 is finalized, there’s no need for a staggered stroke start.
Play a three-round stroke-play qualifier (Wednesday-Friday), then cut to the low 16 players and have a knockout match-play bracket over the weekend for $15 million.
Sure, some of the stars will have been cut in the previous two playoff events.
Others will fail to make the top 16 at East Lake.
But even if the final is whittled down to Kyle Stanley vs. Patton Kizzire, how cool would it be to watch two players go head to head for the richest prize in all of sports?
At least they’d have earned their spot in the championship.
At least the event would have stayed true to what it really is – a well-run tournament at the end of a long season that is a glorified cash grab.
The Tour wanted to create a unique end to the season, but that shouldn’t mean turning its big-money finale into a net tournament.