The Van Cynical Column: How to fix the FedEx Cup and the biggest surprises at the Tour Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods at Tour Championship
Stan Betz/PGA Tour
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in 2009, when Mickelson won the Tour Championship and Woods won the FedEx Cup, the last time the player who won the Tour Championship didn't win the FedEx Cup as well.

That muffled thumping you hear is a ninja warrior administering kicks to a dead horse. In this case, the FedEx Cup scoring system.

Let’s dispense with my usual rant about how complicated and un-current the FedEx Cup points system is. The only way TV can figure out the standings is to project the players’ finishes, even if there are still 54 holes or more to go. That’s like predicting the final score of every Big Ten football game based on the first quarter of the Wisconsin-Illinois game.

Old news. Dead horse. Kicking.

For the sake of comparison, I’ve compiled the cumulative scores for the FedEx Cup competitors. Cumulative score relative to par for the four-week tournament is a far better way to keep score, and the only logical way to know where everyone stands at all times. Unlike the current system, which needs eraser boards and serious math and can’t be followed along at home by viewers.

There is no guarantee that using cumulative scores for all four tournaments would produce any more drama than the current system. It might not have been as exciting, in fact, as the last three years. But we would know where everyone stood at all times.

My cumulative par system requires two tweaks to the scoreboard. One, in order to reward winning, each tournament winner earns a five-shot bonus. So when Henrik Stenson won the Deutsche Bank Championship with a score of 22 under par, my system scores him at 27 under par.

Second, for the nature of this leaderboard, a player must play all four rounds of all four tournaments. Anyone who misses a cut or skips a tournament is eliminated. Obviously, with that rule in place some players might have made sure not to miss an event. Anyway, due to this requirement, seven of the 30 players competing at East Lake are knocked out of consideration in my format. Missing cuts were Bill Haas, Billy Horschel, Dustin Johnson, D.A. Points and Brandt Snedeker. BMW Championship winner Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker are also eliminated, unfortunately, because they passed up the Barclays.

Two other players who are in the Tour Championship would’ve been eliminated in my system because their scores weren’t among the top 30. Jason Dufner, at 12 under, would’ve been 31st and ousted. Boo Weekley, at a modest one under par, ranked 42nd and would not have advanced.

Meanwhile, eight other players would’ve gone on to the Tour Championship who were left out. Canadian David Hearn and South African Rory Sabbatini finished three events at -22 but did not advance to East Lake. Daniel Summerhays, -19; Kevin Stadler, -18; John Huh -15; Matt Every, Ryan Moore and Bubba Watson, -13, all would have qualified.

In my system, 20 players are within 10 strokes of the lead going to the final 72 holes in Atlanta. Factoring in the five-shot bonus for winning and even last-place Bubba Watson still has a shot.

Another proposal, and I’m not exactly who put it out there first, possibly Brandel Chamblee of Golf Channel, is to start the Tour Championship as is on Wednesday, crown a champion Saturday, and then send the top four point-finishers out on Sunday to play for the $10 million. That way, Sunday’s show will be exciting because no matter who’s out there (even if it’s not Tiger), they’re playing for, gulp, ten million dollars. That’s a brilliant idea.

Anyway, here are the current standings to par after three events:

-32 Jim Furyk

-31 Nick Watney

-30 Graham DeLaet

-29 Jason Day

-29 Hunter Mahan

-29 Jordan Spieth

-28 Henrik Stenson

-27 Roberto Castro

-25 Brendan DeJonge

-25 Matt Kuchar

-25 Charl Schwartzel

-24 Sergio Garcia

-24 Justin Rose

-24 Adam Scott

-23 Keegan Bradley

-23 Gary Woodland

-23 Tiger Woods

-22 David Hearn*

-22 Rory Sabbatini*

-20 Luke Donald

-19 Daniel Summerhays*

-18 Phil Mickelson

-18 Kevin Stadler*

-15 John Huh*

-15 Webb Simpson

-14 Kevin Streelman

-13 Matt Every*

-13 Ryan Moore*

-13 Bubba Watson*

(*not in Tour Championship field)

From the Van Cynical Mailbag:

Van Cynical, You have to choose one tour finale to write about—the one at East Lake or next week’s Web.com finish. Which one?—Kokomice via Twitter

Easy. The Web.com finish has way more drama because it’s the new Q-school for the PGA Tour. Guys are playing for their careers and a chance to make a living. The Tour Championship is all about which millionaire gets 10 more million he doesn’t need. Not that compelling, if you ask me. Besides the scoring system, which effectively brought everyone back to the same lap like a delayed NASCAR race, is unworkable.

Van Cynical, Trump is trying to build a course near my home in Virginia. Should I be happy or sad?—Andrew Polson via Twitter

Both. You should be happy, AP, because your real estate value is about to go up. You should be sad because golf shouldn’t cost $250 a round or $200,000 a year to be a member. We screwed up by not being filthy rich. Our bad. But that’s capitalism.

Vans, Do players care for the FedEx Cup title or just the $10 million? And if poorly attended events from the regular season got together and gave the top money-winner combined from those events $10 million, would they get attendance as good as the FedEx Cup?—Kristopher Barrie via Twitter

It’s not just the $10 million, Kris, it’s the total $35 million FedEx Cup payout. Like Oprah says, “Everybody gets a check! You! And you! And you! And you!...” The guy who finishes 10th in FedEx points still gets $500,000. Who doesn’t like free money? By attendance, I assume you mean player attendance. The top players show up for this because it’s practically mandated. As far as crowd attendance, that’s pretty sporadic in the fall. Some events do OK -- Deutsche Bank kills it on Labor Day weekend -- and some don’t. If you put together a second $10 million playoff, you’d draw some players. The problem would be finding room on the schedule. It would have to be the window between the Masters and the U.S. Open, and you’ve already got the Players in there. Something like Valero, Harbour Town, Byron and Colonial or New Orleans. You’d get some but not all of the top players. It would be an interesting experiment. And I don’t know where the hell the $35 million bonus pool would come from.

Van Sickle, Who are the biggest surprises at East Lake and who’s the biggest surprise who didn’t make it? Also, would you rather shoot 59 or win the tournament?—Derek Lewis via Twitter

Anyone remember the Jethro Bodine-like tale of Boo Weekley? Boo quietly made the comeback of the year and is at East Lake. That was a surprise. It was also a surprise that Steve Stricker went to part-time status and still finished sixth. That’s impressive. Also have to tip the hat to Canadian Graham DeLaet, who is seventh and was little known a year ago. I’m not sure rookie Jordan Spieth still qualifies as a surprise but what a stunning rise he’s had. Among the shocking missing are former No. 1s Rory McIlroy (I told you not to switch the ball, the irons AND the driver at the same time!) and Lee Westwood, Bubba Watson and marketing legend Rickie Fowler. There’s no prize for shooting 59, only trophies for wins. Any player would trade a 59 for a win. Plus, how’d you like to shoot 59 and still not win? That would kinda suck.

Vans, I can’t believe the Ryder Cup is passing up Poxabogue for Bethpage. Kidding. But what’s your favorite Long Island golf course?—Tom Green via Twitter

From what I saw of the Walker Cup, it’s got to be National Golf Links. I haven’t played it yet but I’m open to invitations. Of those I have played, I’d love to go back to Shinnecock Hills, Atlantic and Maidstone. Shinnecock has got to be in anyone’s top ten in the country.

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