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New Tour Championship presents new set of problems

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ATLANTA – Tuesday’s housekeeping tidied up two problems, but left the potential for more messes.

After 11 years of equal parts trial and error, the PGA Tour unveiled what is essentially the final piece of a complicated and far-reaching overhaul of the FedExCup on Tuesday at East Lake, a sweeping change that will dramatically alter how the season-long champion is crowned.

Gone will be the complicated projections and confusion that inevitably settled in each Sunday at the Tour Championship as countless scenarios unfolded. It’ll be replaced next season by a strokes-based scoring system that will be determined by a player’s position on the points list entering the finale.

“It's as simple as it can get,” said Andy Pazder, the Tour’s chief of operations.

Following the BMW Championship, the second of three playoff events, the points leader will begin the Tour Championship at 10 under par. The next four players on the points list will start at 8 under through 5 under, respectively, while Nos. 6-10 will start at 4 under par with the total regressing by one stroke every five players. Those ranked 26th through 30th start at even par.

From there, it’s winner take all.

Fans will no longer have to test their math skills to follow along, with the FedExCup champion decided between the ropes and not on an Excel spreadsheet.

“It's that simple,” said Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, doubling down on the day’s buzzword. “We have no doubt it will create a compelling, dramatic conclusion for the Tour’s ultimate prize.”

The new system will also end the days of the crowded trophy presentation. Last year, Xander Schauffele won the Tour Championship, and Justin Thomas claimed the FedExCup, which amounted to a $10 million consolation prize at the time.

Along with the Tour’s move to end the season before Labor Day weekend, so as to avoid annual conflicts with the NFL and college football, the circuit has now addressed every major sticking point when it comes to the playoffs. But as is normally the case, it may have created an entirely new set issues.

The Tour has traded confusing math for what could be potentially embarrassing math by creating what is essentially a handicap tournament. Instead of countless projections to digest, fans and media will spend their Tour Championship Sunday now crunching the numbers to determine who should have won the finale without pre-weighted scoring.

If use the new format to relitigate some past outcomes, the player with the lowest score for the week at East Lake would not have won the Tour Championship outright on three occasions.

Last year, for example, Thomas would have won with a 19 under total, thanks to his 10-under start, and Schauffele would have finished tied for fourth place.

In 2011, a dramatic playoff between Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan, with Haas winning the event and FedExCup, would have been erased by Luke Donald, who would have began the week at 6 under par and cruised to a three-stroke victory.

A year earlier, Jim Furyk’s cup-clinching performance would have been in doubt with a tie for first place at 11 under with Donald, who was runner-up at East Lake in 2010.

Other than from Donald, who has $20 million reasons to support the change, the new format is certain to lead to an avalanche of criticism. The golf public may be able to understand the new system but that doesn’t mean it likes the idea of the 30th guy on the points list spotting the points leader more than a stroke a side for the week.

Nor does it sit particularly well that a victory at the Tour Championship will count as an official Tour triumph and come with a three-year exemption. That's a year more than you get for winning, say, the BMW Championship, which doesn’t use handicaps.

There’s also the issue of what the Official World Golf Ranking will make of the professional game’s only “net” tournament.

“We're in conversations with the world ranking governing board on the best manner in which to allocate world ranking points to the Tour Championship, and that will happen,” Pazder explained. “We have not reached a conclusion.”

That sounds like code that the OWGR folks aren’t crazy about this idea. And they aren’t alone.

Pazder presented the concept to the player advisory council in May, and he entered that meeting with a healthy amount of concern on many fronts, most notably how the Tour Championship format change could impact a player’s finish on the lucrative season-ending point list.

At the 2016 Tour Championship, Jason Day withdrew after the first round with an injury. The Australian had started the week fourth on the points list and dropped just two spots to sixth, earning an $800,000 bonus. Had the new system been in place, Day would have plummeted to 30th place on the final points list, a difference of $625,000.

“One of the things that we thought might cause some scrutiny or maybe even derail this whole thing is that issue,” Pazder said. “To the PAC’s credit, they quickly realized that’s great. What’s wrong with having greater consequences all the way through the final round.”

In his opening comments on Tuesday, Monahan called the launch of the FedExCup in 2007 a “calculated risk,” and the new format change certainly qualifies as a bold next step. What remains to be seen is if this most recent housekeeping is a step in the right direction.