Nice Finish, but Playoffs?

Steve Stricker finished at 16 under par.
Ed Betz/AP

The FedEx Cup playoffs are one week old and the verdict is in. I saw golf that was spectacular and gripping. I saw heroic shots and colossal blunders. I saw clutch, must-make putts and drama like I haven’t seen since the last time a Ryder Cup was close on a Sunday. (Can anybody still remember that far back?) I saw eliminated players who were tearful, angry and resigned. I saw real, raw emotion. For sheer drama, I saw televised golf at its best.

Wait a minute. Oops. Sorry, I was watching the U.S. Amateur Championship on NBC, not the Barclays of FedEx Cup playoff fame. Match play beats stroke play just about every time as a spectator event, and this U.S. Amateur, in which the rotund Texan Colt Knost beat another amateur you probably haven’t heard of, Michael Thompson, was nonetheless a terrific mix of shot making and theater.

As for the new FedEx Cup playoffs, well, that verdict is in, too. The Barclays morphed into a wonderful finish, a duel between two of the PGA Tour’s nicest men, Wisconsin’s Steve Stricker and South Korea’s K.J. Choi. A brilliant run of shots by Stricker, who birdied four of the last five holes, finally overcame Choi, who holed a pair of 45-foot bombs on the final nine. It was a great show if you like great golf, but unfortunately, most of the audience doesn’t. Viewers love Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Golf? Not so much.

So viewers who tuned in to CBS to watch golf’s first so-called playoffs saw something that looked suspiciously like another golf tournament, albeit one with a pretty good field and a pretty good finish. But where were the playoffs? The U.S. Amateur on the other network had the dramatic playoff-like eliminations that the Barclays was supposed to provide.

So here’s the verdict on the FedEx Cup playoffs: The needle hasn’t even moved yet. It’s still on zero. It’s been stuck on zero all year long as the race to the FedEx Cup never materialized, which is not a surprise since 144 players made the field. That’s the whole all-exempt top 125 and another 19 bottom-feeders. No excitement there. The fact that Tiger Woods elected to skip the first of four tournaments didn’t help either. Woods dropped to fourth in the FedEx Cup standings, by the way. I’m sure he’s pretty worried. He really needs that $10 million in a deferred annuity to avoid ending up in a homeless shelter as an old man.

Give CBS credit for trying to paint a picture of the FedEx Cup race and make it exciting with graphics that showed how players’ scores were affecting their projected position in the points standings. It just didn’t work. And those graphics and assumptions quickly became annoying, especially early on the back nine during Saturday’s round, when imagining where any player would finish was wistful, at best. What if Rory Sabbatini misses this putt and finishes fourth in the tournament? Who cares? What if Emma Peel traveled back in time to help the Mohawks fight off a Martian invasion?

What about the drama of the FedEx Cup field shrinking from 144 at the Barclays to 120 in the next round at the Deutsche Bank Championship? Yeah, right. Let’s all have a moment of silence for some of our fallen heroes — Goggin, Dufner (no, not the beer, Homer), Merrick, Wagner, Bohn, Isenhour (no, not Dwight) and Buckle, among others.

The FedEx Cup faces an uphill battle to be identified as a real playoff. A one-on-one elimination seems like a playoff. This feels like just another cut at the halfway point of a tournament. Jim Furyk called baloney on the playoff designation earlier last week when he noted that in baseball, for instance, only the top teams qualify for the playoffs. In the FedEx Cup, it’s 144, and 150 players earn FedEx Cup bonus checks. Picture the baseball playoffs with all 30 major-league teams competing, along with the Yomiuri Giants and Hiroshima Carp from Japan. Does that make sense?

On the plus side, the Barclays was an excellent tournament. The FedEx Cup accomplished at least two things. It created a strong field at Westchester (except for You Know Who, who may have been mentally drained after back-to-back wins or may have simply wanted to send a reminder to PGA Tour headquarters that, by the way, nobody tells him where to play). And, it put a temporary focus on the tournament.

The big news was Stricker’s first tour win since 2001 and his first victory in the U.S. since 1996. He was crying moments after the win, so much so that he could barely speak to Peter Kostis of CBS. That’s the kind of emotion viewers want to see in this thing. In addition, it vaults Stricker into first place in the FedEx Cup standings, ahead of Woods. In fact, Tiger dropped to fourth behind Stricker, Choi and Tiger’s favorite playmate, Rory Sabbatini.

If the $10 million in deferred annuity doesn’t get Tiger’s attention (and it doesn’t, trust me), ranking behind Sabbatini will. So now Tiger’s got a mission and will have to come from behind. It may be contrived pseudo-drama, but hey, it’s drama. That’s a good thing. The Barclays also showed the kind of promising finish we may be able to expect in upcoming weeks. The leaderboards were jammed with big names within striking distance, including the likes of Ernie Els, Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott, Rich Beem and Mickelson. If Tiger squares off against Phil once or twice, the FedEx Cup will be deemed a gigantic success. If Stricker wins again at Cog Hill in the BMW Championship (where he won in ’96) and locks up the FedEx Cup title, it probably won’t play as well on Madison Avenue.

That doesn’t make it any less exciting. Stricker is a wonderful Cinderella-type story. He was comeback player of the year last season. He’s a 40-year-old kid from little Edgerton, Wis., who loves to fish and hunt and still lives in his home state. Yes, he’s a Cheesehead and proud of it. He is David wielding a mean putter versus Tiger’s Goliath.

It may make things interesting. We have three tournaments to go in the FedEx Cup, and that’s a lot of golf.

But playoffs? Sorry, commissioner, I just don’t see any.