PGA Tour Announces 2009 FedEx Cup Playoff Format

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistNovember 28, 2008

On Tuesday, the PGA Tour announced its latest modifications to a FedEx Cup format that was in desperate need of yet another face-lift.

For the second time in its two years of existence, the FedEx Cup was modified to allow for more volatility, particularly at the playoff’s final event, the Tour Championship.

After PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem’s embarrassing moment where he was forced to hand Vijay Singh the 2008 FedEx Cup while Mickelson, Garcia, Kim and Villegas were still on the course battling out for the Tour Championship, something clearly had to be done.

The need to modify the FedEx Cup format was accelerated by the European Tour’s unveiling of its 2009 Race to Dubai, which has already begun to garner the interest of tour superstars such as Phil Mickelson, Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott, and Anthony Kim. 

The Race to Dubai is simple, easy for fans to understand and offers something the FedEx Cup has so far been unable to provide: a dramatic conclusion.

In sharp contrast to the Fed Ex Cup, which contains a points system that you need a Masters degree in mathematics from Harvard University to comprehend, the Race to Dubai has two simple rules.

First, the top 60 players on the European Tour’s order of Merit (otherwise known as the money list) make it into the final event which will be played in Dubai.

Second, the winner of the final event played in Dubai wins The Race to Dubai and $3 million.

Now, let’s have a look at the new modifications to the 2009 FedEx Cup. 

Get out your calculators and if you know a good math tutor, it might be beneficial to call him or her up before continuing.

·        The winners of standard PGA Tour events will receive 500 points.  The World Golf Championships are worth 10 percent more points and 20 percent more points will be awarded to the winners of the majors.

·        The number of players to make the FedEx Cup playoffs will be decreased from 144 to 125.

·        Players will carry their regular season points into the first three events of the FedEx Cup playoffs; however, they will now receive 2,500 points for winning any of the first three events.

·        There will be a 36-hole cut in each of the first two events. 

·        70 players will move on to the BMW Championship and 30 players will make it to the Tour Championship, each event having no 36-hole cut.

·        At the Tour Championship, points will completely reset, giving the current leader in the FedEx Cup points more points as he starts the event but making it mathematically possible for anyone in the Tour Championship field to win the FedEx Cup. However, for the 30th-ranked player to win the FedEx Cup, he would need to win the Tour Championship while the top 5-10 players in the points standing would all have to have very poor finishes.

Did you get all that? 

Me neither until I slowly reread the new rules at least five times.

So, in the grand scheme of things, what do these rule changes actually mean?

Well, yes, they do offer more volatility to the playoffs and particularly to the Tour Championship.

However, that volatility basically extends to only the top 5-10 players heading into the Tour Championship.

After the resetting of points for the Tour Championship, any one of the top-5 players could secure the FedEx Cup title and $10 million with a win. 

For a player who falls between fifth and 10th in the standings, if he wins the Tour Championship he will have a very good chance to win the FedEx Cup but will need some help from players who began the event in the top-5.

Players who enter the Tour Championship outside of the top-10 still mathematically have a chance to win the FedEx Cup, however, they would need to win the event while receiving a tremendous amount of help through a complete meltdown by the top 5-10 in the field.

Yes, it is mathematically possible for anyone in the Tour Championship to win the FedEx Cup, but extremely unlikely unless you enter the tournament within the top 5-10 in the point standings.

This new format also does not seriously address another major issue with the FedEx Cup, that being the possibility of a player skipping an event and still winning the FedEx Cup title.

This new format does indeed make it a lot more difficult for a player to skip an event and still secure the FedEx Cup title, but not impossible.

If a player were to win the first two events, as was the case with Vijay Singh in 2008, he could conceivably skip the third event and still fall within the top-5 when the points are reset for the Tour Championship, resulting in that player having an excellent to win the title.

After each of the first two FedEx Cups, modifications have been made to allow for more volatility in the hopes of providing a more exciting conclusion.

Yet after two tries, the 2009 FedEx Cup is still lacking in the excitement factor.

Sure, it is more exciting when at least 5-10 players have a legitimate chance of winning the FedEx Cup with a win at the Tour Championship, but that is just a baby step towards the obvious solution that everyone is waiting for.

Why not make the winner of the Tour Championship the winner of the FedEx Cup, similar to what is being done with the European Tour’s Race to Dubai?

This solution offers an exciting, climactic conclusion to the FedEx Cup playoffs which would make the Tour Championship comparable to even a major championship.

Winning the FedEx Cup would demand that a player perform well for four straight weeks culminating in a win at the Tour Championship, an achievement that would be arguably more impressive than getting hot for four days and winning a major.

Granted, this solution does not necessarily reward consistently great play over the period of four events.

But, as is the case with any genuine sports playoff format, it rewards play in allowing players to move on to the championship event where they are given the opportunity to win and become the FedEx Champion.

Even golf’s majors do not reward great play leading up to the major championships other than allowing players admission into tournament based on previous wins or money list rankings.  Once in a major, a player needs to perform during that particular week to win.

Providing more volatility to the Tour Championship is a step in the right directions.

However, if the PGA Tour has a genuine interest in the survival of the Fed Ex Cup, they are going to have to provide the ultimate level of volatility to really get the fans on-board, that being a format where the winner of the Tour Championship wins the FedEx Cup. 


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