Sobel: Reported FedEx Cup Playoff Overhaul Fixes Some Issues, But Still Gimmicky

Sobel: Reported FedEx Cup Playoff Overhaul Fixes Some Issues, But Still Gimmicky article feature image

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

  • The Associated Press reported major changes are coming to the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs.
  • Most notably, in the Tour Championship finale, the FedEx Cup points leader will start at 10-under. Those trailing will have their scores staggered behind the leader.
  • It's an outside-the-box idea from the tour that addresses some issues with the current setup, but it's far from a perfect solution.

Next year’s FedEx Cup playoffs are going to have a decidedly different look than prior versions.

Some of this we knew already. It had previously been announced that the series would downsize from four events to three, concluding before the meaty beginning of football season, with fewer players qualifying for the postseason.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported further potential changes to the format.

Per the report, the Tour Championship finale will essentially become a net stroke-play event, with the FedEx Cup points leader starting that tournament at 10-under and those trailing staggered with subsequent starting scores to chase the man in front.

For a PGA Tour executive board that too often fails to think outside the box, it’s at the very least an innovative maneuver that solves a few current issues, but also creates some others.

Since their inception in 2007, the playoffs have drawn criticism for a variety of reasons. The chief complaint is the awkwardness of awarding two trophies after that final tournament.

Granted, it’s only happened three times in those 11 years, but as the AP report alluded to, last year’s scenario might have served as a tipping point.

That’s because Justin Thomas finished the tournament in second place behind Xander Schauffele, then claimed the $10 million first-place reward, calling it a “consolation prize” during his post-round interview.

Clearly, the powers that be at the Ponte Vedra Beach headquarters felt it was in their best interest to eliminate any potential for this situation in the future.

I’m fine with that, just as I’m fine with more out-of-the-box ideas in an effort to keep the week-to-week routine from getting stale.

Still, it feels like they’re sticking chewing gum in one hole of the dam, just to see another spring a leak.

The idea of one player opening a tourney at 10-under initially sounds a bit too gimmicky. Maybe it’ll work, but like other ideas the Tour has proposed in the past, I would have preferred to see this tried on a smaller circuit — say, in Canada or Latin America, both of which are owned by the PGA Tour — before instantly bringing it to the big boys.

If the playoffs have always been more late-summer sprint than marathon, the newest proposal could render it from a 100-yard race to a 40-yard dash.

There will presumably be more potential than before for a middle-of-the-pack regular-season finisher to post a few strong results and claim the overall title, which will reportedly increase from the current $10 million haul.

And finally, the idea that the player given a head start at East Lake will still receive credit for an official tournament victory, no matter the gross total, also seems a bit disingenuous.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Tiger Woods breaks Sam Snead’s career mark at this event next year, but didn’t actually have the fewest strokes for the week. Wouldn’t it feel wrong to set the record with an asterisk?

That said, the initial social media reaction has been more negative than it needs to be. Maybe people are averse to change, maybe they believe the above issues aren’t worth the trouble.

Here are a few of the complaints I’ve heard already …

Since the inception of the playoffs, this has been a popular refrain. Fans profess to love the match-play format, even if ratings for match-play events don’t correlate to this notion.

(I wonder about the Venn diagram of those who lobby for match play and those who claim to not be interested in the impending Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson match. There’s gotta be some overlap.)

If the PGA Tour ever went the match-play route, though, I do like the idea in this tweet.

For the uninitiated, the U.S. Amateur is a stroke-play contest to then decide seedings for match play.

In this scenario, they could handicap the initial two rounds with those net strokes to ensure the leaders had a better chance of reaching the match-play rounds.

It wouldn’t completely eliminate the executives’ biggest fear — a Sunday afternoon final between two lesser-known players — but it would certainly handicap that possibility in their favor.

I assume this is a put-down, but the smartest businesses borrow ideas that work for others.

One issue people struggle to wrap their heads around is that the FedEx Cup is a season-long championship, not a playoff like other sports.

If an NFL team goes 9-7, earns a wild-card berth in Week 17, then sweeps the postseason and wins the Super Bowl, we don’t instead declare the 15-1 squad a better team.

Or in poker parlance, all these players need is a chip and a chair. Qualify for the playoffs, and you’ve at least got an outside chance of winning the whole enchilada.

This is the most ignorant of all the immediate takes. A little history lesson: In 2006, the year before the playoffs started, the Tour Championship was held in November, and Woods and Mickelson took a DNS due to apathy.

The playoffs aren’t perfect — and they might never find a solution to appease everyone — but they sure beat the alternative, a gradual conclusion to the season that is more thud than bang.

And just so we’re not completely ending this piece on a negative vibe, here’s my favorite tweet in reaction to the latest news about the leader starting the Tour Championship at 10-under:

That’s gold, Jerry. Gold!

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