The problem with the FedEx Cup points race, as I’ve repeatedly written, is the complicated scoring system.
As a case in point, take the finish at last week’s BMW Championship at Cog Hill. Brandt Snedeker needed only a bogey on the final hole to advance to the Tour Championship because John Senden had butchered the 18th hole moments earlier. Due to the complicated points system, however, Snedeker had to ask a reporter where he stood. (Maybe he shouldn’t have asked. He four-putted and handed his spot to Senden.)
Last year, Vijay Singh finished early at the BMW and left the course without comment. By the time the rest of the field completed the final round, it was official: he would clinch the FedEx Cup as long as he completed four rounds at the Tour Championship. That’s right, he wrapped it up on the way to the airport.
In all tournaments, a player tied for fourth and waiting to hit on a par-3 can drop to sixth if the two players in front of him make birdie. That’s complicated enough. In the FedEx Cup, the guy who drops to sixth also has a new point total. To find out where he stands in the playoff, we have to 1) determine the point value of his new position and 2) determine the point value of everyone else’s new position and 3) recalculate everyone’s total playoff point values. By the time we get all that done, something else has likely happened on the course to mix up the positions again. It’s simply too hard for players, fans and the media to follow along.
NBC must have had a posse of computer geeks trying to calculate the permutations last week at the BMW, and it still had difficulty keeping up.
This year’s rejiggered points format created much more volatility. The Tour reset the players’ point totals on Monday. That’s like letting the field spread out at a NASCAR race and then, with five laps to go, putting everyone on the same lap for a sprint to the finish. Why follow the first seven months if the point totals are just going to be reset at the 11th hour anyway? Good question.
Maybe that’s good TV. It means Woods, who has the point lead after the reset, still needs a strong showing in Atlanta to win the $10 million bonus. Theoretically, No. 30 Senden could still win the $10 million. He’d have to win the tournament outright and Woods and the other top six players would have to falter. That’s a stretch, but it’s possible.
Resetting the points also devalues playoff victories. If Woods had won all three FedEx Cup playoff legs, he’d be in the exact same situation he’s in now with one win. (He has 2,500 points, a 250-point lead over Steve Stricker; 2,500 points will go to the Tour Championship winner.)
If a player sweeps the first three FedEx Cup events, should he have it wrapped up? Or does the Tour Championship require that reset excitement?
I have argued in the past to replace the points system with something golfers can relate to — cumulative scores. For example, Woods shot 8 under par at the Barclay’s, 12 under at the Deutsche Bank and 19 under at the BMW. His total going to Atlanta would be 39 under par. Using this type of system would make it easy to know where every player stood in the playoffs.
There should be a reward for winning, though, so I’d give each winner of a playoff event a five-stroke bonus. That would boost Tiger’s score to 44 under par.
A real playoff system would probably involve match play, but that isn’t realistic because it would defeat the event’s primary mission — to get the best golfers playing more often. As we’ve seen in the World Match Play event in Tucson, the top players often get bounced, sometimes in the early rounds.
One other thing about using my cumulative score system: A player would be rewarded if he wins by a big margin. Tiger’s eight-stroke victory at Cog Hill would give him a big edge. Under the current points system, he gets the same amount of points whether he wins by 1 or by 15. A dominant performance is the same as a lucky playoff win.
One potential problem with my system: There is no guarantee of drama at East Lake, just like last year when Singh clinched early. Good play wins out, and that’s all there is to it. But stroke play does leave wiggle room. Woods outdistanced Steve Stricker, who started the BMW with the points lead, by 25 shots last week. Big leads are not insurmountable.
One other notable part of my plan: players who miss a cut in either of the first two FedEx Cup events would be out of the running for the big prize. Heath Slocum won at Liberty National the first week but then missed the cut at the Deutsche Bank. Unable to post 16 rounds, he would be eliminated. Under this rule, four of the top 15 players headed to Atlanta would be out. Besides Slocum, No. 7 Sean O’Hair, No. 10 Jason Dufner and No. 13 Geoff Ogilvy all missed cuts.
Here’s how the scoreboard would shape up if my cumulative scoring system were in use this year. As you can see, Woods would have a substantial lead with only three pursuers within 20 strokes. Is that more exciting than the current system? Probably not this year. Is it easier to understand and follow? No contest.
FedEx Cup total score (to par)
(Winners get five-stroke bonus)
-44 Tiger Woods
-29 Padraig Harrington
-27 Jim Furyk
-24 Steve Stricker
-18 Scott Verplank
-18 Kevin Na
-18 Zach Johnson
-16 Dustin Johnson
-12 Steve Marino
-9 Mike Weir
-9 Nick Watney
-7 John Senden
-5 Luke Donald
-5 Retief Goosen
-4 David Toms
-4 Hunter Mahan
-3 Jerry Kelly
-1 Phil Mickelson
+1 Brian Gay
+4 Kenny Perry
+12 Y.E. Yang
Tour Championship competitors who missed a cut and would’ve been eliminated (with current FedEx Cup rank in parentheses):
Heath Slocum (5)
Sean O’Hair (7)
Jason Dufner (10)
Geoff Ogilvy (13)
Marc Leishman (16)
Lucas Glover (20)
Ernie Els (22)
Angel Cabrera (24)
Stewart Cink (26)