Why can’t the season-ending playoffs on the PGA Tour get it right?

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Published: August 25, 2019 12:10:22 AM

Who can forget Tiger and playing partner Rory McIlroy walking down the fairway on the 72nd hole, trailed by a sea of fans held back by a tenuous rope. And, when he dropped the bogey putt to win, in Tiger’s words, “All hell broke loose.”

This will ensure that, for the first time, the tour championship winner will also win the FedEx Cup.

The 2018 Tour Championship was the most memorable event on any tour in professional golf last year. The grand finale to the season, and the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup, had a dream finish when Tiger Woods, yet again, returned to the winner’s circle, notching up his 80th victory. Who can forget Tiger and playing partner Rory McIlroy walking down the fairway on the 72nd hole, trailed by a sea of fans held back by a tenuous rope. And, when he dropped the bogey putt to win, in Tiger’s words, “All hell broke loose.”

It was an amazing spectacle for those who had the privilege of watching it. And a clear reaffirmation of Tiger’s superstar status; the rarefied air that, say, the likes of Michael Jordan, or David Beckham, inhabit. That win didn’t do as much to elevate Tiger’s standing, as it did for the Tour Championship: it’s the one edition of the event that no golf fan is ever likely to forget.

And that’s why I can’t get over the sheer idiocy of not opening a door for Tiger to defend his title this year. In case you’re wondering why, Tiger missed the first event of the playoffs—that have been reduced from four to three events this year—and couldn’t finish 11th or better at last week’s BMW Championships which would have ensured a tee time this week.

Considering that the PGA Tour has been struggling with the format for the FeDEx Cup pretty much since the inception of the playoffs, and has yet again changed the format and rules this year, not including Tiger, or for that matter British Open winner Shane Lowry, is beyond egregious. Golf’s richest tourney—the winner takes home $15 million—and one that’s always struggled to attract fans, decides to leave out two of the hottest players of the season because of some ill-conceived format. The main issue in question is the number of points awarded for winning Major Championships—a paltry 600 points—that are significantly fewer than the 2000 points awarded to the winner of the first two events in the Playoffs.
The result of all this complicated inanity is that Tiger and Lowry aren’t in the field, while 11 players, who didn’t win a tour event this season have teed it up. Not grudging their presence, but rather the omission of two players who just had to be in the field.
What the mandarins at the PGA Tour have tried to rectify, is the convoluted scoring system. I’m not going to explain it, because I never understood it. Until last year, a complex system of points determined the eventual winner (who may or may not have won the last event). This year, it’s been simplified: players start on a score that commensurates with their FedEx rankings going into the Tour Championship.
So, top seed Justin Thomas, started the event at 10 under par, with the second seed at eight under, and so on, down to even par for the 26th-to-30th ranked players in the 30-man field. This will ensure that, for the first time, the tour championship winner will also win the FedEx Cup.

I’m dyslexic when it comes to complicated betting systems. If you’re one of those who finds it easy to keep track of scores in your weekend nassau; what with press and repress, then you’re probably scoffing, and you’ve got every right. All I can keep track of is simple matchplay—either I win the hole or I lose it. Golf is hard enough, and I really couldn’t care less for additional number crunching. So, at least from point of view, the new system works.

On the other hand, plenty of players aren’t particularly happy. Rory McIlroy pointedly expressed his disagreement at the event. “You can shoot the best score of the week and not win the golf tournament,” McIlroy said. If that happens to someone it’s going to be hard for them to wrap their head around.”

The Ulsterman also questioned the playoffs’ relentless emphasis on the winner’s purse. “I don’t think the money needs to be front and centre, because I don’t think that’s what the fans care about,” McIlroy said. “Players might care about it, and we want to be rewarded and paid for what we do, but at the same time, competitively, it’s not about that. It’s about trying to win golf tournaments.” Thank you Rory. That is, pardon the pun, bang on the money. And that’s why the Playoffs have failed to generate an iota of the excitement that an event like The Masters Tournament does. Tiger won that in 2018; and there’s not a golf fan who doesn’t remember that. But hardly anyone knows that the payout to Tiger at the Masters was about two million dollars. It’s not important.

The whole idea of creating a season-ending playoff was to create an end-of-year pot of gold that would keep players and sponsors interested and involved on the PGA Tour. Arguably, the FedEx Cup has managed to do that, but it has failed spectacularly to create an emotional investment for the game’s fans. McIlroy put it well earlier this week: “If the FedEx Cup wants to create a legacy that lasts longer it doesn’t need to be about the money, it should be about the prestige of winning an event that you’ll be remembered for.” I’ve got no idea who’ll take the Cup home this week; And unlike last year, I don’t really care.

 

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