NORTON, Mass. – Here in the shadow of Foxboro they know a thing or two about playoffs, if not semantics (Would someone please settle the score between Foxboro and Foxborough).
Storied Fenway Park is just up the interstate, a bastion of October glory. It may no longer be the “Garden,” but the Celtics don’t seem to mind. And the Patriots, well what can one say of the Pats that head coach Bill Belichick hasn’t already coined?
It is a reality that makes this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship, the second of four FedEx Cup “playoff” events, seem like an infant in an ancient world.
To be fair, the watered-down initial version that begat the wildly volatile 2008 edition which begat something in between the last two years appears to have at last taken root.
Maybe the biggest problem with the entire shebang is a matter of semantics, golf is no more adaptable to the vagaries of a true playoff than football is to the concepts of self-policing and competitive integrity.
From the outset, the word “playoff” never fit Finchem’s grand plan, but then “a $10 million money grab to make the Tour Championship mean something” doesn’t really move the marketing needle.
But if one can get past the title, what the Tour has created is better than the alternative, which was a Tour Championship that rarely held any drama and a competitive calendar that faded into the darkness of football season.
Last year, with Tiger Woods hoisting the FedEx Cup and Phil Mickelson taking the consolation prize at the Tour Championship, is as good as it ever may get for the playoffs. But that’s not to say the Ponte Vedra Beach math and minutia is without sin.
Geoff Ogilvy for one is a fan, albeit a fan with a footnote.
“If you want them to be a playoff they are really good,” says Ogilvy, one of the circuit’s most thoughtful types.
To prove his point, Ogilvy explains that Matt Kuchar, who won the first postseason event in New Jersey, could win this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship, he is currently tied for 13th place, and next week in Chicago and still not win the FedEx Cup.
“The whole deal is that if you’re in the top 5 going into East Lake and win (the Tour Championship) you will be (the FedEx Cup champion),” he says.
Such is the mathematical tinkering the Tour instituted two years ago following Vijay Singh’s waltz to the cup in 2008, when the Fijian needed to only remain upright for four days in Atlanta to cash the $10 million lottery ticket.
“I don’t think that’s quite right,” says Ogilvy before quickly conceding, “For the most part the right guy has won it three years in a row. Vijay won it before he went to East Lake and that can’t be right either. This is about as good as you can get it.”
Six frat brothers played their way into the top 100 and onto the first tee at TPC Boston with solid week’s at The Barclays, a formula that is largely considered a cozy middle ground between the sleepy first year and the explosive second try.
But if Ogilvy’s support seems couched, he’s not alone.
Jason Bohn considered the question on Sunday for a long moment before pointing out that the current playoff system seems to reward too generously for good, but not great, finishes. Exhibit A: Martin Laird began the playoffs 95th on the points list, finished runner-up last week at Ridgewood and vaulted to third on the list.
“Someone can finish second at a playoff event and lock themselves into the Tour Championship,” Bohn says. “There are too many perks to play the Tour Championship. You get in all the majors and all the invitationals. I think they over-value second place.”
With that the Atlanta-area native paused to consider the other options. If the Tour wants the four playoff events to be considered in a similar light to the majors, a wildly lofty yet understandable goal, maybe the current system isn’t that bad.
“That’s tough. Maybe they have it right,” says Bohn, who was a member of the Player Advisory Council when the Tour was tinkering with the FedEx Cup format.
By comparison, quantum physics suddenly seems remedial. Without a stake in any of the game’s Grand Slam gatherings, the Tour made the most with what they had – four deep fields in major markets and something to talk about in September.
It’s not perfect. It’s not even a playoff. But all things considered, it’s better than the alternative.