The New Rules Of Golf

The Mercedes-Benz Championship marked the start of the PGA Tour's novel (and complex) FedEx Cup race. After a week awash in talk of points and resets and playoff scenarios, here's how it will work
January 15, 2007

Following thefirst round of the new golf season, at last week's Mercedes-Benz Championshipat Kapalua's Plantation Course in Maui, Hawaii, Vijay Singh sauntered into thepress room expecting to discuss the 69 that had put him among the earlyleaders. Instead he was asked about the FedEx Cup, the overarching name for thePGA Tour's radically reorganized schedule.

"There's so much going on about the FedEx Cup, I'm tired of listening toit, you know," said Singh. "It's nothing else but the FedExCup."

Well, that didn't take long, did it? But if Singh (who would go on to shoot 14under and win by two shots) has exhausted his patience after one day, how arethe rest of us supposed to survive the next 36 weeks, during which the FedExCup will be relentlessly hyped as golf's greatest invention since the beer-cartgirl? For those who have somehow missed the endless analysis on the GolfChannel or the blizzard of press releases from Tour headquarters or the barrageof ads during the NFL playoffs, the FedEx Cup is a seasonlong points raceculminating in a four-tournament shootout to crown an overall champion, whowill be rewarded with $10 million. The concept was obviously cribbed fromNASCAR's Nextel Cup, though football was the primary motivator; the old Tourschedule dragged on to the point of apathy, ending on a Sunday in earlyNovember when sports fans were in the mood for Ickey Woods, not TigerWoods.

In announcing thecreation of the Cup, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said, "We're theonly major sport that doesn't have a playoff ... the only sport that doesn'thave a stronger finish than our regular season." Finchem has staked much ofhis legacy on changing that, but one week in, the FedEx Cup has raised morequestions than it has answered. At the risk of further antagonizing Singh, hereare the key issues in golf's new world order.

1 Will Tiger andPhil play more?

Sure doesn't looklike it. In formulating the Cup, Finchem went out of his way to solicit theinput and support of Woods and Mickelson, but both exercised their rights asindependent contractors to blow off the Mercedes-Benz Championship, amonumental embarrassment to the Tour.

All will beforgiven if golf's biggest draws soldier through the Cup's glitzyfour-tournament finish, but that's hardly a given. Mickelson has traditionallygone into hibernation following August's PGA Championship, and the Cup beginsits so-called playoffs two weeks after the PGA. A week after the playoffs endis the Presidents Cup. Throw in the Bridgestone Invitational (Woods is two-timedefending champ) the week before the PGA Championship, and that's sevenbig-time events in nine weeks.

Woods has alwaysplayed some of his best golf late in the year, but this time around he will beeager to bond with his first child, reportedly due in early July, and possiblyburned out from chasing a Tiger Slam or Grand Slam, or both.

2 Is the moneylist obsolete?

Not yet. LikeHollywood producers and mortgage brokers, Tour officials are all about points,but the rest of the golf firmament will still use the money list as a keymeasuring stick. All of the majors will continue to award automatic exemptionsbased on the money list, and cash remains the only qualifying criterion for theU.S. Ryder Cup team. Even the PGA Tour hasn't completely divorced itself fromdollars. Only the top 125 earners will get full Tour exemptions for thefollowing season, and the Arnold Palmer Award will still be given to the Tour'sleading money winner.

On Sundayevening, after Singh had tidied up his 30th career victory, he was asked whathe was more excited about: earning 4,500 FedEx Cup points or the $1.1 millionwinner's check? He offered only a wicked cackle in response. Point taken.

3 We're afraid toask, but how does the FedEx Cup work?

Prepare for amigraine. At each event every player who makes the cut will receive points.Run-of-the-mill Tour events have a pool of 25,000 points, with 4,500 going tothe winner, 2,700 to the runner-up and on down to 50 points for 70th place. Themajor championships and the Players Championship offer 27,500 points, and theyare distributed at the same clip--18% to the winner (4,950 points), 10.8% forsecond (2,970), down to .2% for 70th (50). World Golf Championship events willoffer 26,250 points, and the B-list events played opposite the majors and WGCswill hand out 12,500. After 33 weeks the top 144 point-earners will enter thefour-week playoff, and the totals will be reset to give the top player in thestandings 100,000 points; with second getting 99,000; third 98,500; fourth98,000; all the way down to 144th place, which receives 84,700. Each playoffevent will offer 50,000 points. The top 120 in the points race after the firstweek will advance, then the top 70 move on, and only 30 will reach theseason-ending Tour Championship (Sept. 13--16). It's possible for someone towrap up the title before the Tour Championship, and it's highly probable thatthe winner of that event won't be the overall winner. Too much math? Stick withthe commish. "It's very, very simple," declares Finchem. "You getpoints, and the guy who gets the most wins."

4 What are golffans supposed to do once the Cup is up?

After the FedExCup concludes at the Tour Championship, the next week kicks off aseven-tournament stretch that the Tour is calling the Fall Series. (The BiggestLoser was already taken.) Populated by low-wattage events, the Fall Seriesexists only to finalize the money list and allow the Tour's middle class tosave up for another Porsche. Woods and Mickelson won't be caught dead at any ofthese tournaments, but a few other elite players may show up, out of sheerboredom.

"I might playone or two," Singh says. "I'm not used to taking that much timeoff."

5 Who's the bigwinner?

The Golf Channel.The home of the infomercial has a 15-year contract to provide exclusiveThursday and Friday coverage of every PGA Tour event and four-round coverage of13 tournaments.

6 What if the Cupis a dud?

NASCAR isexpected to announce it's tweaking some elements of the three-year-old NextelCup. So don't despair, golf fans. By 2010 the Tour should have its own Cupperfected too.

Teeing Off
Alan Shipnuck sets up the 2007 season and answers the most pressingquestions.

TWO PHOTOSPhotographs by Fred VuichPOINTMAN
After six near misses Singh won his first Mercedes and got the jump in theFedEx Cup race.

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