Van Cynical Mailbag: Current FedEx Cup Playoff system is no match for a hot golfer

Van Cynical Mailbag: Current FedEx Cup Playoff system is no match for a hot golfer

Despite the PGA Tour's best efforts, Henrik Stenson ran away with the FedEx Cup title.
Fred Vuich / Sports Illustrated

The FedEx Cup series proves that try as you might, you can't stop superior golf.

The PGA Tour has it figured three ways from Sunday on how to keep things close and how to keep golf's most attractive names in the hunt until the Tour Championship at Atlanta. It works well for what it is, a series of TV shows. But it's certainly not a real playoff. Which is fine.

When one player goes off on a spree the way Henrik Stenson did at the finish, however, there's no way to create drama. Hey, sometimes players run away with golf tournaments. Sometimes, they even do it at the Tour Championship. That's just the way it goes. You're not going to have Bill Haas getting up and down from a lake for par in a playoff every year.

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Here are my recurring two criticisms of the FedEx Cup format, which I would not alter just because of the lack of an exciting finish this year.

One, I don't like bringing the whole field back to the same lap, like some kind of NASCAR race, for the last event. Stenson, who'd won one of the first three FedEx Cup events, had exactly the same point lead he would have if he'd won all three FedEx Cup events. It's almost like giving his pursuers handicaps to give them a better chance. It also takes away from a whole year of assorted TV talking heads harping on how many points this week's win was worth to Joe Schlabotnik and where he stands now. Why should I ever follow along on the convoluted points list if the points are going to reset before the finish?

Two, no one can follow along at home because of the obtuse points system and the fact that it's based on a player's position in the field. He can be waiting to hit on a par-3 hole and because another player birdied somewhere, his position and his points total changes. We've seen the poor talking heads using chalkboards to try to explain the variables. Even more laughable are the point projections after the first round of any FedEx Cup event. That's like projecting the final score of a baseball game after the second inning. It's meaningless.

The only scoring that's going to be relevant to golf viewers and other golfers is score in relation to par. That's why, every year, I bring up this same point. It doesn't guarantee an exciting finish. It doesn't guarantee anything except that we would all know where everyone stood at all times, based on the players' cumulative scores during the four events.

My system would have produced similar results to the Tour's points system, and possibly with only a smidgen more drama. Here are how my final cumulative scores looked, factoring in that only players who played in all four events could be included (eliminating players who missed a cut or skipped an event) and that I added a five-shot bonus for each player who won one of the events (a reward for winning).

Stenson actually would've had a little tighter finish in my system. He finished just two shots ahead of Jordan Spieth overall, at -41 to Spieth's -39, but the five-stroke victory bonus pushed him to -46.

Jim Furyk was third at -35, followed by Nick Watney, -34; Roberto Castro and Jason Day, -32; Justin Rose, -31 and Hunter Mahan, -30. Tiger Woods finished at -23 and Phil Mickelson at -22.

I like the suggestion of having the four top point-getters go back out for 18 holes and play for the $10 million, which would be dramatic no matter who was involved. That could work.

It also seems as if the FedEx Cup process drags on too long. Four weeks may be one week too many. Send the BMW Championship back to Fourth of July weekend at Cog Hill, where it was a hugely popular tour stop, and go with three so-called playoff events. Switch the points to cumulative scoring and let people follow along at home.

The FedEx Cup has been a success in attracting, or possibly forcing, the game's top players to tee it up in September, something they didn't previously do often.

By the way, you shouldn't feel sorry for the guys who didn't get the $10 million bonus. In the FedEx Cup, everybody gets bonus money — even the guys who don't qualify for the FedEx Cup. The players who finished 126th-150th on the points list score a $32,000 payday from the $35 million FedEx Cup bonus pool. Zach Johnson, who placed fifth, still got $1 million, the equivalent of a tournament win. Justin Rose, tenth, won $500,000 while Kevin Streelman, who was 25th, racked up $200,000. Daniel Summerhays at 40th got $135,000.

Free money for everyone. Nice work if you can get it.

Meanwhile, here are the projected questions for the Van Cynical Mailbag:

Vans, Who wins a major next year, Rory or Tiger? I think neither will but I hope they both do. — Sanjay Iyer via Twitter
Rory was on top of the world and had nowhere to go but down, a trip he accelerated by switching out his clubs and his ball. Big mistake. When life is as good as Rory had it, a little adversity like 2013 is just what he needed to get him refocused and motivated. I'd give him the edge over Tiger, who looks pretty sharp at times but not quite the putter he once was. Also, his swing can be very effective but it looks way, way more complicated than it once was (under Butch Harmon).

Van Sickle, For PGA Player of the Year, should Phil Mickelson's Scottish Open win count? It's not an official PGA event, as far as I know. — Brad Schwarzenbach via Twitter
You are correct, B.S. The Scottish is a European Tour event and technically should not count toward PGA Tour Player of the Year. While all four majors are part of the PGA Tour calendar, none of them are under the control of the PGA Tour, either. But let's count them anyway. I'd give Tiger Woods the PGA Tour Player of the Year for his five wins, No. 1 ranking and winning the money title. Overall, I'd give Phil the World Player of the Year for his British Open title and the wins in Phoenix and Scotland.

Van Cynical, Is Henrik Stenson going to win a major next year or is he just another guy on a good run? — Doug S. via email
There is always room for a late bloomer, whether it's Tom Lehman or Jason Dufner or Padraig Harrington. Mickelson, by the way, snagged his first major championship at the same age Ben Hogan did — 34. Henrik is 36 and had fallen out of the top 200 in the world rankings not too long ago. He's a fun personality and would be a good major winner to write about, but he'll have to keep playing at a high level before we elevate him to the next level of a likely major winner.

Vans, What's your biggest "What If" story of 2013? — Sharil S. via email
If Tiger Woods had won the Masters after signing for a wrong score in Friday's second round, which should've resulted in disqualification but didn't because Fred Ridley of the Masters decided it was okay, it would still be controversial now. It would be known as the M*asterisk, as I wrote in April, and Ridley and the tournament never would have lived it down. Especially if Tiger reached 18 major titles to tie the iconic mark of Jack Nicklaus.

Van Cynical, Who do you like in the Presidents Cup? — Kirby via email
I'll take Clinton and the elder Bush and give you Eisenhower and Coolidge, even up. I'll take the U.S., too, if anyone cares.

Vans, In a follow-up to last week's question, who are you tracking now at the Tour Championship? — kokomice via Twitter
Well, koko, there are a million stories in the naked city. We're all still trying to get a handle on how this deal is going to work. I'm following Peter Malnati, a Tennessean who finished 18th on the money list and is guaranteed a card. He is currently 24th on the "playoff" money list and that would be his ranking. There are plenty of familiar names who are either out or pretty far down the pecking order, including Bud Cauley, Ricky Barnes, Chris DiMarco, Heath Slocum, Sean O'Hair, Chad Campbell and one-hit wonder Jhonattan Vegas, to name a few. I think the fairness of the system will get a second look after this debut. Kevin Tway, who finished fifth on the money list, is currently 43rd in the pecking order. That's not much reward for a season's good work.