Tweak, tweak. No, that's not a canary with a cough. That is the sound of change. Players and PGA Tour officials promised that the FedEx Cup and its so-called playoff system would be tweaked before next year. On Tuesday, the Tour announced the details of the changes, most of which had already been leaked. The Tour also outlined the specifics of its new drug testing policy, which will go into effect sometime in the second half of 2008.
Here's a look at the changes for the '08 PGA Tour season and whether they were good, bad or irrelevant.
FedEx Cup playoffs: Not much changed here, only the schedule. Players complained this year about four consecutive playoff tournaments, and next year's original lineup featured the Ryder Cup the following week. So in 2008, the first three rounds of the FedEx Cup playoffs (Barclays, Deutsche Bank and BMW) will be followed by a week off. Then comes the Ryder Cup, followed immediately by the Tour Championship.
Analysis: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, among others, were likely to skip two of the four Fedex Cup events if something wasn't done. Not changing the schedule wasn't an option. Even with the changes, you'll hear plenty of griping next year, and you'll still see some absenteeism. A top player's projected schedule looks like this in the last half of '08: British Open, week off, Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship, week off, three FedEx Cup playoff events, week off, Ryder Cup and Tour Championship. That's eight big events in 11 weeks. Expect Tiger and Phil to still skip one FedEx Cup playoff event. And it wouldn't be shocking if either one of them, or both, pleaded fatigue after the Ryder Cup and passed up the Tour Championship, too. They did their parts this year to get the FedEx Cup launched and may not feel a responsibility to carry it again next year.
FedEx Cup points: No changes yet. The regular-season points system will remain the same. The playoff points system could still change in response to criticism that it doesn't create enough movement in the standings. That is still being examined and will be decided at a February meeting.
Analysis: The Tour should've junked the regular-season points system. It wasn't much different from the money list, and the confusion it created was a roadblock that most fans never got past. In the playoffs, the points system makes a Cinderella-story, come-from-behind charge impossible. As it stands now, perhaps only six players have a shot at the FedEx Cup title the two who finish first or second in regular-season points, and the four who win the playoff events (assuming no player wins more than one). That's not a scintillating pennant race. The playoff points need to be upped, and players who miss playoff cuts should lose points.
FedEx Cup payoffs: Sure, you were concerned about Tiger Woods and his finances when you found out that the $10 million first prize he won last year was an annuity that he can't collect until he retires. Hopefully, he can struggle along until he's able to cash that check. Players were upset about the annuity plan, even though it may be a wiser investment choice, primarily because the Tour ignored their wishes on the issue. The squeaky wheels got some grease. The winner will now get $9 million in cash and $1 million in tax-deferred pay. Only the top 10 finishers will see money up front, however. They'll divide $16.5 million in cash, and another $18.5 million will be paid on a tax-deferred basis to the top 150 players.
Analysis: Look for more complaining on this issue. The top 10 finishers get cash and everybody else gets retirement-plan payments? The bottom-feeders of the Tour will see this as another case of the rich getting richer. Nobody wants that ... except the rich.