By failing to find a pass for Woods, PGA Tour has sabotaged its final event

December 9, 2011

Tiger Woods has failed to qualify for the PGA Tour's big season-ender, next week's Tour Championship at East Lake, outside Atlanta.

How ironic.

It doesn't take much imagination to visualize Tour brass huddling up in their Ponte Vedra bunker at this very moment, feverishly drafting a press release citing a "previously overlooked" sub-clause or rider that would — happy days! — get Woods in.

To whom it may concern in the fabulous world of golf: We the principals of the PGA Tour regret our failure to mention that the defending FedEx Cup champion is exempt into all the FedEx Cup playoff tournaments. Right? It's so obvious, we thought the rule went without saying, or writing, so you'll just have to trust us on this one.

When Phil Mickelson and then Woods began to no-show at East Lake, the Tour had to react, so it built the FedEx Cup from the ground up and launched the first one with copious high-concept promotion in 2007. Incredibly, the thing keeps on backfiring like someone put a balata in the tailpipe.

Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and staff have tried to fix it on the fly but have been exposed as, take your pick, flat-footed, unimaginative, or, as Michelle Wie might put it, not quite Phi Beta Kappa.

First the system was way too volatile, and then, when Vijay Singh won the Cup before the 2008 Tour Championship even started, it wasn't volatile enough.

And now the Tour — which built the $10-million playoffs as Tiger-bait — has unintentionally excluded Tiger and sabotaged one of its supposedly premier events.

Is "sabotaged" too strong a word? I don't think so.

Defenders of the status quo will credit the Tour for adhering to a strict meritocracy, but don't try selling that to NBC, which now must televise the Tour Championship absent the reigning ratings champion of the Tour.

Getting Woods to East Lake would not only help the event, but it would also help Woods. Some have said he and his new swing will benefit from the two-week break before the Ryder Cup, but I'm not buying it.

Woods played just 12 tournaments while trying to glue his life back together in 2010. This is a guy who needs game reps.

The last thing anyone thought was that Woods, of all people, wouldn't qualify for the playoffs. But being in charge requires a modicum of clairvoyance. Just ask the guys in charge of baseball and cycling, who got behind on drugs and never caught up.

There are so many ways the Tour could have regulated Tiger to East Lake next week, starting with the stipulation that the defending FedEx Cup champion gets the chance to defend. Or, stronger still: If you win the Cup once, you're exempt into all four playoff events for life. Too strong? Fine. Win the FedEx Cup more than once, as Woods has, and you're in for life.

If you lead the Tour's all-time money list, if you've won more than 50 tournaments, if you have your own yacht, then you're exempt for life.

Okay, maybe the yacht part is overboard — we can't have Sir Richard Branson playing in this thing.

Since golfers don't read the fine print, as Dustin Johnson reminded us at the PGA Championship, the Tour could almost get away with retroactively tweaking the rules to usher in Woods — but not quite.

You'd better believe Finchem would have found a caveat and given a hastily called press conference by now if the rank-and-file weren't certain to balk.

Tiger's detractors have always complained that he plays by different rules, so here's an idea: Make current-year Ryder or Presidents Cup team members exempt for East Lake. That would bring not just Woods, who wound up 42nd in FedEx Cup points, but also Rickie Fowler (32) and Stewart Cink (38) to the East Lake party that now takes only the top 30.

The Tour Championship would also get PGA Tour members Rory McIlroy (36) and Padraig Harrington (73) of Team Europe — great additions, all of them.

Exclusive tournaments are fine, but when they get too exclusive they're problematic. Not even the Tour Championship's defending champion is exempt into the Tour Championship, which we found out when Camilo Villegas didn't crack the field in 2009.

What if Mickelson, who shot a weekend 66-65 to capture last year's "ultimate" tournament, had also failed to advance to Atlanta in 2010? No Tiger or Phil would have made this Tour Championship a double-dud.

Given the latest FedEx foul-up, here's a fearless 2011 FedEx Cup prediction: another rules change.