The FedEx Cup playoff system has been a part of golf for over a decade now. There have been tweaks and adjustments throughout, but for the most part, what was originally viewed as a contrived, complex attention-grab has become an important part of the golf calendar.
It’s now arguably even more important than the PGA Championship, which next year moves to May in part so the FedEx Cup playoffs can finish in August to avoid competing with football; that the PGA Championship will now coincide with the NBA playoffs means it may end up coming out on the short end of that deal. One issue with the FedEx Cup the PGA Tour has tried to fix for years: the finale at the Tour Championship, where it’s still possible for a player to win ostensibly the most important playoff event and still not win the $10 million FedEx Cup itself.
That happened last year, and it could happen this year; as it stands, only the top-five players entering the Tour Championship automatically win the FedEx Cup if they win the Tour Championship. This, obviously, is complex, and features plenty of frantic calculations on the back nine on Sunday in an effort to see who is in line to win which trophy, taking attention away from golf and putting it on, say, Steve Sands in front of a video board. Not to diminish Sands, who has done good work in the role, but viewers likely aren’t tuning in for that.
To that end, AP golf writer Doug Ferguson reported that the Tour is considering an overhaul of the playoff format, one that would eliminate the points heading into the Tour Championship in favor of a scoring head start for the leader and result in a true winner-take-all finale:
Five people aware of the discussions say FedEx Cup points will not be involved in the final playoff event at East Lake. Instead, the No. 1 player would start the Tour Championship at 10-under par, with scores to par staggered depending on the 30 players’ position in the standings.
The winner will be the FedEx Cup champion, and the bonus is expected to be more than the current $10 million prize.
That means whoever gets the 30th spot at East Lake would have four rounds to make up as many as 10 shots. The change eliminates the awkward moment — and divided attention — of one player winning the Tour Championship and another winning the FedEx Cup, which happened last year for the second time.
This would indeed simplify things for the Tour Championship, and removing the need for constant updates on who stands where is also appealing. It does signal a change, though, as golf’s playoff system right now is somewhat unique in its ability to reward both season-long greatness and playoff hot streaks. That’s the give and take most sports struggle with; playoff moments are awesome, but a small sample doesn’t always reward the best team or player.
The PGA Tour had (sort of) found a balance to that equation, but with the cost of an awkward point system, issues with the broadcast, and with the Tour Championship itself. If this proposed change goes through, it’s a sign that golf is coming down hard in favor of the playoff moments. Combined with the massive calendar change, and it’s clear the PGA Tour is hoping to capture the August sports dead zone.