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The New PGA

Pro golf unveils the FedExCup, a format that will crown a Tour champion with a four-tournament playoff
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Sopranos, Mar/Apr 2007

(continued from page 1)

Briefly, here's how the FedExCup works: a pool of points—25,000 for regular events, 27,500 for major championships (which includes the Players Championship) and 26,250 points for World Golf Championship events—will be awarded each week. The number of points a player receives is based on his tournament placing. One hundred forty-four players will make the field for the "playoffs," with the final qualifying tournament being the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina, the week after the PGA Championship. The four playoff tournaments begin with the Barclays Classic on August 23 at the Westchester Country Club in suburban New York City. Only 120 players will qualify for the next tournament, the Deutsche Bank Championship in suburban Boston, and 70 players will move on to the BMW Championship in suburban Chicago. From there 30 players will advance to the Tour Championship, slated for September 13—16 in Atlanta, and the FedExCup winner will be crowned.

The structure is basic enough, but the key for the players is how to plan their seasons not only to get the points to qualify and contend, but also to have enough energy to get through the playoffs. There is a World Golf Championship event the week before the PGA Championship, the Greensboro tournament after the PGA, and then the playoff tournaments and the Tour Championship and, three weeks later, the Presidents Cup competition. "That's a lot of golf right in a row. It's going to be hard," says Woods. "The only light at the end of the tunnel is that you get to have a nice break after that."

The Tour will carry on through the first week of November in a series of eight events known as the Fall Finish, but don't expect many players in the top 20 to be playing in them. Those tournaments will serve as cash cows, especially to players trying to make the top 125 on the money list to retain their playing privileges for the following season. Woods will likely be gallivanting around the world in the fall, collecting huge appearance fees and further enhancing his image. Mickelson, as he has the last two seasons, will probably hibernate at Rancho Santa Fe. Els, Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen and most other top 10 players will presumedly be seeking well-deserved R & R. Singh, just because he likes to play a lot, and John Daly, just because he needs to play more, will probably be the draws during the Fall Finish.

"We have a new format and I think getting used to that will be interesting," says Furyk, the world's No. 2 player at the start of 2007. "What is it, my 14th season, and I think being out here that many years and kind of picking the same order, the event, I knew exactly what to expect. A lot of tournaments are in a different part of the season [now] and so working the schedule is a little bit new. It's going to be hard at times picking and choosing the events you are going to play and not play."

Obviously, the impact of the competition is a great unknown. "Most guys are a bit scared, six tournaments in seven weeks, to be honest with you," says U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy. "No one has ever had to do that. I mean, you're going to have to."

It's likely that the top players will be trying to gather as many points as possible through the British Open in July, perhaps even playing some tournaments that don't usually suit them, so that they can take at least two tournaments off before the playoffs start. Having enough energy at the end will be a key component to winning the FedExCup. Woods has proven himself the most physically and mentally fit of them all, and the player most likely to survive the grind.

Although the Tour has constructed the point structure to give as many players as possible a chance to win the FedExCup, it rewards players for consistently standout play by giving them an advantage for the playoffs. When the playoffs begin, the points earned during qualifying are reset and a new points system, a way of seeding the players, takes over. The No. 1 player gets 100,000 points, the No. 2, 99,000. The 144th player gets 84,700. If a player gets hot at the right time and the leading players cool off, there could be a drastic swing. It's a bit of a concern to the man who oversees all of this, Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.

"We ran over the space of two years umpteen models, and those models told us certain things about what we should do on the interval of points that are awarded for seeding positions," says Finchem. "The struggle there was that you wanted players to have a chance to win it. On the other hand, you're trying to provide an advantage for players who played better than the other guy all year long.... The models might be wrong. First year, second year we might have a situation we didn't anticipate and we ought to fiddle with it. I think it's a work in progress."

While the FedExCup point distribution, seeding and playoff format are new to the Tour—and to pro golf—Finchem believes it will be easy for fans to settle into the format and for the media to communicate it. "I think it's the perfect thing," says Finchem. "I mean, it's very easy, simple. It's very, very simple. You get points; the guy who gets the most wins."

All of this may very well be good for the television ratings. Last year's Tour Championship, without Woods and Mickelson, and mired in its usual spot in the heart of the NFL and NCAA football seasons, gathered a nearly invisible 0.9 TV audience rating. Moving the tournament to the middle of September and having a playoff series leading up to it at least gives the commentators something new to talk about and viewers something new to chew over. "And now Singh's putt for solo third place will not only earn him an extra $100,000, it will earn him an extra 1,000 FedExCup points and vault him into fourth in the standings with a week to go..."

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