In 2005, the PGA Tour took a look around and decided they needed to create a playoff system.
After all, almost all professional sports crowned a champion through the results of a post-season event and the general feeling was golf needed something after the “Majors” to produce some end-of-the-year excitement.
The powers to be eventually crafted a system where the last four regular season events of the year – culminating with the Tour Championship in Atlanta – would be the playoffs with the overall points leader after the Tour Championship would be declared the FED EX CUP winner would get about a gazillion dollars for that achievement.
But the plan, first instituted in 2007, had one perceived flaw. The overall points leader – the FED EX Cup champion – was not always the winner of the Tour Championship, the final event of the year.
Since the FED EX CUP was established, the PGA Tour has had to hand out trophies to two different golfers – the winner of the Tour Championship Tournament and the winner of the Fed Ex Cup – four different times, including the last two years running.
Tour officials first encountered this “problem” in 2009, when Phil Mickelson won the Tour Championship Tournament but did not have enough points to overtake Tiger Woods -- the Fed Ex Cup winner.
By tweaking the points system over the years, PGA Tour officials were hoping that the Tour Championship winner would also win the FED EX CUP. This awarding of points worked perfectly from 2010-16, when the winner of the final tournament of the year also took home the ultimate prize – The FED EX CUP.
But in 2017, Xander Schauffele won the final tournament of the year but had to share the stage with Justin Thomas, who won the overall points championship to take the FED EX CUP. But I believe awarding trophies to different winners became a real problem for Tour Officials last year when Tiger Woods absolutely stole the show when he won the Tour Championship, leaving Justin Rose to celebrate in silence for winning the Fed Ex Cup (well he did get $10 million as a consolation prize).
The entire purpose of the FED EX CUP was to crown a champion for the year but last year saw 30,000 fans on site the millions of television viewers going crazy for the Woods win and all but ignoring the accomplishment of Rose as the Cup Winner.
Whether that was the actual reason for changing this year’s rules is debatable but Tour Officials again tinkered with the system to insure that the winner of the Tour Championship will be the FED EX Cup Champion. Under this new system, the 30 golfers in the field for the Tour Championship, will start the tournament with a weighted score.
In the tournament that starts today, number one seed Justin Thomas will begin the tournament with a -10 score, basically giving him 10 birdies before the tournament begins. Patrick Cantlay, seeded second, will start the tournament at -8, while third seeded Brooks Koepka starts the tournament at -7. The strokes continue to go down until you get to seeds 26 through 30, who will start the tournament at even par.
While I get what the Tour Officials are trying to accomplish, I also see the potential for a lot of controversy.
These are the best golfers in the world, so I doubt any pro seeded 11 to 30 would be able to overcome a seven to 10 stroke deficit in four rounds to win the championship. But one scenario that has a realistic chance of happening is a player like number five seed, Rory McIlroy, shooting a 12 under 268 and end up “losing” to Thomas, who shoots an eight under 272 but ends up winning because of a five stroke head start.
Should that occur, it would be the first time in PGA Tour golf history that the lowest actual score did not win a tournament. Frankly, it sort of feels like having a baseball team with a best record having a one game lead before the World Series starts or giving the Rams a 7-0 lead over the Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl because they had a better regular season record.
Now in all fairness, the PGA Tour did not come up with this plan out of thin air. They did endless research in studying every playoff year and felt this staggered start was the best way to reward the top players heading into the final event. Furthermore, the plan was discussed and approved by the players, so it may not be a huge issue.
Still it feels artificial to me.
I think there may be a better way to get the same results without having to give these golfers an advantage. When you get down to 30 golfers after the preliminary playoffs, why not give the top four seeds a “bye,” let golfers 5-30 play in a three-day stroke event and then take the top four from that competition and the four players that earned a “bye” and play in a two-day, single elimination match play event? That way, your winner would still be both the Tour Champion and FED EX Cup champion without having to be given an unfair advantage to start the tournament.
Regardless of how it plays out, I do think the tour will get some criticism for this new format and there has to be a better way to run this event to get the desired result.