FedEx Cup coming into its own
Ten years ago this week, with the majors done for the season, the PGA Tour embarked on a four-week stretch that included the World Series of Golf at Firestone, followed by the Air Canada Championship in Vancouver, the Canadian Open and the B.C. Open.
Tiger Woods, David Duval, Davis Love III and Vijay Singh—the four highest-ranked members of the PGA Tour—played only the first week. Phil Mickelson threw in the B.C. Open that year, mainly to tune up for the Ryder Cup.
The PGA Tour Playoffs begin Thursday at The Barclays with the top 124 players on tour, missing only Paul Casey with a rib injury.
Mickelson was on the practice range until taking a ferry across the Hudson River to his hotel in Manhattan. There was a buzz about the arrival of Woods, competing in the opening playoff event for the first time. The four major champions already were at Liberty National, gearing up for four tournaments that could go a long way toward deciding player of the year.
“This is the third year, and it has developed a different feeling,” Geoff Ogilvy said Tuesday. “You can definitely feel it because everybody is here. It’s a bit like The Players Championship.”
And that’s just a start. The top 100 will be at the TPC Boston next week for the Deutsche Bank Championship, then the top 70 at Cog Hill outside Chicago for the BMW Championship. After a week off, the top 30 meet in Atlanta for a shot at $10 million.
You won’t find such a stretch of strong fields at any other time of the year.
Is that such a bad thing?
Perhaps it is time for the FedEx Cup to establish what it is, rather than to defend what it’s not.
It is not bigger than winning a major, as Ryuji Imada says in the latest PGA Tour commercial trying to hype the year-end bonanza. Majors define careers. For the moment, the FedEx Cup defines a bank account.
That led to a question, however, that shed some light on what this series is all about.
Would players rather win the FedEx Cup or The Players Championship, the next best thing to a major?
Ogilvy was among those who picked The Players Championship, primarily because it has more than 30 years of history behind it as having the strongest and deepest field in golf on a course that doesn’t suit a particular style.
Rick George, the tour’s chief of operations, playfully joined the conversation and picked the FedEx Cup for a reason that should not be dismissed. He called it “the hardest thing to win in golf.”
Tournaments are won over four days. This is an eight-month body of work, followed by three big events when the points are quintupled, and a Tour Championship that should finally have some meaning.
That doesn’t make it more important.
“It’s harder to win the FedEx Cup than the Masters,” Ogilvy replied to him. “But I’d rather win the Masters.”
Give Tim Herron a bonus for honesty.
“Financially? The FedEx Cup with that $10 million pot at the end,” he said. “The Players is something that’s part of history. But if you win this, you’d have to win two tournaments against pretty strong fields. And two is better than one, right?”
Kevin Sutherland was leaning toward The Players Championship until he thought it through.
“You almost have to do more to win the FedEx Cup,” he said. “It shows you’ve played better than everyone else for an extended period of time. I don’t know if you can say you played better than anyone for the whole year, because those last four events are weighted. But you’ll have played better than anyone for a month. And that’s hard to do.”
It’s not hard for someone like Woods, which explains why he won the inaugural FedEx Cup despite skipping The Barclays, and winning so handily he could have skipped the Tour Championship. Even if Woods were to win the next three weeks, he still would not be guaranteed to win the FedEx Cup.
That could be one problem that won’t be known until the next month plays out.
The FedEx Cup has changed its points system after each of the past two years. What hasn’t changed is the caliber of the winner—Woods and Singh—which leads Paul Goydos to believe this has merit.
He picked the FedEx Cup over The Players Championship.
“You won’t have too many fluky FedEx Cup champions, and I almost proved the flukiness of The Players Championship,” said Goydos, a playoff loser to Sergio Garcia at Sawgrass two years ago. “You look at major championship trophies and see names on there that make you scratch your head. You won’t see too many of those on this trophy.”
Bigger than The Players? Goydos believes so.
Bigger than a major? No.
At least not yet.
“It’s an era question,” Goydos said. “Who’s to say the next generation might be thinking the FedEx Cup is bigger than a major?”
Jim Furyk also chose the FedEx Cup.
The system is not perfect; Furyk was among the first to identify that last year rewarded mediocrity. It might even change again. What he likes is the chance for the best players to compete in four straight tournaments.
Ultimately, that’s what the FedEx Cup is all about.
“The idea is to get us all together,” Furyk said, “and let us fight it out.”