Next week’s Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta will conclude the FedEx Cup playoffs. With the points reset, the top five players in the standing control their own destiny and all 30 players, theoretically, have a chance to win the cup. It's setting up for an exciting finish, but would a match-play finale be more thrilling? Our writers weigh in.
By JASON SOBEL
Contesting big-time professional tournaments in match play format is like having a third slice of pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner: It always sounds like a good idea beforehand, but never turns out the way you planned.
Don't get me wrong. I don't dislike the format itself. Match play is the purest form of competition in our game. I have zero problem with it one time a year at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. And I love it at the U.S. Amateur.
It simply wouldn't work for the Tour Championship, though.
Let's not be naïve. The FedEx Cup is big business. It is dependent on things like ratings and ticket sales and overall general fan interest. As the current points system is configured, it's highly unlikely to find a season finale that doesn't have at least a few of the major movers and shakers in the mix on Sunday afternoon.
Match play provides too great of a variable. There's just as good a chance we'd get some combination of those superstars as John Huh, John Senden and Scott Piercy. No offense to those guys, but making such a change doesn't seem like a very sound business decision.
The problem with the FedEx Cup – if there is one – is that it tries to both reward the season's best player while also serving as an entertaining race to the finish. Match play wouldn't solve either of these problems.
Just like in Tucson every February, the first round would be must-see TV and each subsequent day would be met with growing apathy. Sure, there'd be a big payoff if Rory and Tiger met in the final match, but that's too much of a gamble – and it doesn't improve the current format.
By RYAN LAVNER
If done properly, a resounding yes.
The TOUR Championship still needs to have some stroke-play component to it, some way to whittle down the 30-man field to keep it from morphing into a bracket-busting free-for-all.
I’d recommend two rounds of stroke-play qualifying – on Thursday and Friday – that determines the top eight. Then, on Saturday, they would play the quarterfinals (and semifinals, perhaps). And on Sunday, they would play the semifinals and finals for the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup and everything that goes along with it, including the $10 million bonus.
Could we wind up getting John Huh vs. Scott Piercy in the match-play final? If they play well enough, sure. But they’d need to beat 22 others in stroke-play qualifying, and then win three matches against some of the best players in the world. It’s virtually fluke-proof.
There’s a particular charm about match play, too, an inherent sense of desperation not found in other events. What’s exciting about Rory McIlroy finishing sixth at East Lake, for instance, and then taking home the cash? The winner of the last event of the FedEx Cup season needs to be the overall winner – period. That’s how playoff systems work. It’s the last man (or team) standing.
At the very least, this new format would save Golf Channel’s Steve Sands from standing in front of a dry-erase board, manically writing and rewriting various formulas and explaining it to a confused TV audience.
The simple fix: Battle for three playoff events to reach the top 30, and then the Tour Championship becomes a dynamic match-play event that determines the tournament winner, the FedEx Cup winner, and, you know, the guy who never has to worry about money again.
By REX HOGGARD
When it comes to next week’s Tour Championship and FedEx Cup finale it’s not the format that needs fixing it’s the math and no amount of perceived match play magic is going to change that reality.
Each year on the eve of East Lake, pundits opine that if the FedEx Cup finish instituted some form of match play that the event would resonate more easily with the fans, yet this premise ignores the fact that the PGA Tour schedule features just a single match play event for a reason.
Match play doesn’t work with the modern game because golf at the highest level is driven by its stars and the odds of, say, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy advancing through whatever match play format the circuit concocts to face off for the $10 million payday are slim (see Accenture Match Play, WGC).
By comparison the current system – which is not without its flaws, most notably a pre-Tour Championship points reset that has virtually mitigated McIlroy’s dominance this post-season – has delivered a marquee money match in the past (2009) and the stage is set this year for a similar bout between Nos. 1 McIlroy and 2 Woods.
Besides, for all the handwringing 72 holes of stroke play is the accepted format for crowning a true champion by most tour types. It’s why the Olympics adopted the format for the 2016 Games and why it works at East Lake.