PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida (AP) — The U.S. PGA Tour Playoffs will take a two-week break next year to give players a chance to be fresh for the Ryder Cup, addressing a concern that American players would be worn out before one of the most tiresome weeks of the year.
The change was approved by the U.S. PGA Tour policy board.
“It probably helps us because our Ryder Cup team tends to have more players in the Tour Championship,” United States captain Paul Azinger said Tuesday. “Their guys (Europe) could be over at Valhalla for a week while our guys are grinding for a fifth week in a row. It’s not going to hurt us.”
The first three playoff events for the FedEx Cup – The Barclays, Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship – will be played on consecutive weeks starting from Aug. 21.
After the BMW Championship in St. Louis, the tour will have a week off from golf – a rarity for September – before the Ryder Cup is played from Sept. 19-21 at Valhalla in Kentucky.
The U.S. Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta will be held the following week.
“We felt it was important to give those members of both the U.S. and European teams who will be competing in the playoffs the ability to prepare for the Ryder Cup while also focusing on the Tour Championship the following week,” U.S. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.
The premise behind the four-week playoffs was to get the biggest stars competing four straight weeks concluding with the U.S. Tour Championship, where the winner of the points-based FedEx Cup received a $10 million (6.9 million) bonus.
The plan didn’t entirely deliver this year, however, when Tiger Woods skipped the opening playoff event and still won the FedEx Cup by a big margin. Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington also missed one playoff event.
The bigger concern was the Ryder Cup because 2008 was the only year in the television contract that there was not a week off between the U.S. Tour Championship and either the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. The tour feared some players might skip playoff events, perhaps even in the Tour Championship, to keep fresh for its biennial match against Europe.
“You would see a majority take at least one week off – I guarantee it,” Jim Furyk said last month.
The solution was pushing the U.S. Tour Championship behind the Ryder Cup. That means a two-week break in the playoffs for those who don’t make the Ryder Cup teams, and a chance for those who do make the team to be fresh.
“It’s a shame they didn’t think of this before,” Azinger said. “They wouldn’t have had to go through the headache of getting it right.”
The rest of the FedEx Cup remains relatively unchanged for now.
The field size for the playoff events again will be 144 players at The Barclays, 120 players at the Deutsche Bank Championship, 70 players at the BMW Championship and 30 players qualifying for the U.S. Tour Championship.
Several players lobbied to make the playoffs more volatile, giving more players a chance at winning the $10 million (6.9 million) prize. There was little movement at the top of the standings, and those toward the bottom had little chance to move up barring a victory.
But there was strong sentiment in Monday’s board meeting that for the first year of a revamped system, it worked well enough not to rush into massive changes. Finchem said the board would continue to look at ways to tweak the playoff points, although the regular season would not change.
One change was how to pay bonus money.
Woods and Mickelson were among those who wanted to be paid up front, instead of having the bonus money put into a deferred account that players could access at age 45. Starting next year, the top 10 players in the FedEx Cup standings will get most of their money in cash, and some of it deferred.
The winner, for example, will get $9 million (6.2 million) in cash and $1 million (690,000) placed into his retirement fund. The bonus money will all be deferred for those finishing out of the top 10.