TWO MOMENTS definedthe 2008 FedEx Cup. The first came on Sunday afternoon on the 9th green atstately Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. ¬∂ The 9th green? Yes, that's whereVijay Singh, a back-of-the-pack scorer (44th in a field of 69), finished hisfinal round of the rain-delayed BMW Championship. The real contenders enjoyedthe traditional honor of completing the tournament on the 18th hole.
This is an article from the Sept. 16, 2008 issue
Still, it all camedown to this extraordinary scene: Singh had a birdie putt to possibly win theFedEx Cup's $10 million first prize. He missed. Then he had a par putt topossibly win the FedEx Cup's $10 million first prize. He missed again. Finally,Singh rapped in his third putt for a bogey. And, oh yeah, for the 10 mil. Histitle wasn't official quite yet, but it was overwhelmingly likely.
The outcome woulddepend on who won the BMW, and when Camilo Villegas withstood a posse ofpursuers more than an hour later to earn his first PGA Tour victory, it was adone deal: The FedEx Cup belonged to Fiji's most famous son. No matter whathappens in two weeks at the FedEx Cup playoffs finale, the Tour Championship inAtlanta, Singh will reign supreme. Apparently, $10 million doesn't buy much inthe way of suspense anymore.
Tiger Woods claimedthe inaugural FedEx Cup a year ago, a victory that, though lopsided, at leastinvolved the Tour Championship and thus successfully launched the series. Andnow Singh has joined him in an elite winner's circle that must be somethinglike the Tour's own Elysian Fields.
You can onlyimagine Singh's reaction to this historic feat. Really. You can only imagine.Because in FedEx Cup Defining Moment Number 1, Singh declined to be interviewedabout his then-still-probable title. A Tour media official and a determinedinternational wire-service writer chased him down later in the locker room,where Singh obliged with a few comments that included criticism of Bellerive'sgreens but nothing about his likely FedEx Cup windfall.
The playoffs hadalready suffered great indignities. The Ryder Cup captains' wild-card choicessparked minicontroversies (Nick Faldo snubs lovable Darren Clarke; Paul Azingertakes Chad Campbell), which swept the FedEx Cup into a small, dark corner. Inaddition the remnants of Hurricane Gustav had wiped out the first day of playat Bellerive with nearly three inches of rain and forced a 36-hole session lastSaturday, pushing the third round of the BMW from NBC, which was committed toairing Notre Dame football, to the viewer-challenged Golf Channel.
Finally, theconvoluted math and permutations of the FedEx Cup, as simple to solve asRubik's Cube, twisted and turned on the BMW's final nine. If contenders AnthonyKim or Jim Furyk won and Singh didn't finish with a flurry of birdies, Singhwould be mathematically catchable at the 30-player Tour Championship. AVillegas victory, however, ended the Tour Championship's relevance, although itwas close. The difference between first place and last at East Lake is 10,500points. Singh's lead over Villegas, who with the win rose from 25th to secondin the FedEx Cup's scoring system, is 10,601 points. So by virtue of a mere 101points, all FedEx Cup pursuers are hereby declared null and void.
Which brings us toFedEx Cup Defining Moment Number 2, which came during the winner's pressconference. Villegas, 26, gladly talked about the hard work he's put in duringhis three years on Tour, his college career at Florida (he broke ChrisDiMarco's record for wins, with eight) and growing up in Colombia. He discussedthe four-putt green he endured on Saturday and how it wasn't the turning pointof his week: The birdies he bounced back with on the next two holes were. Healso admitted taking a cue from Singh about putting. Vijay attributed hisrecent revival on the greens to telling himself he's a great putter. Villegastried to do likewise. Not coincidentally, he ranked first in putting for theweek at Bellerive and on Sunday had a stretch of seven consecutive one-puttgreens.
Then Villegas wasasked if it was disappointing that he tied for third at the Deutsche BankChampionship (at which Singh won after a closing 63) and won at Bellerive butcan't take the FedEx Cup as long as Vijay simply finishes four rounds inAtlanta. Villegas put on a solemn face. "We don't want to talk about theFedEx Cup, do we?" he asked plaintively.
Let's see, theFedEx Cup winner doesn't want to talk about the FedEx Cup. Neither does the BMWChampionship winner. The intensity of FedEx Cup buzzkill is apparently atCategory 4 strength.
This year's FedExCup was supposed to be the improved model. The points system was smartlyaltered to create more volatility (there was almost none last year) and, hence,excitement during the four playoff events. As it turned out, though,back-to-back wins by Singh, at the Barclays and Deutsche Bank, were simply toomuch for anyone else to overcome. Woods's magnificence carried the playoffslast year, but this year's edition is a dud. The FedEx Cup is 1--1 for itsfirst two years.
Many players, suchas Villegas, think the Cup should favor a player's seasonlong performance, andpoint to British Open and PGA winner Padraig Harrington's elimination from theTour Championship (after a 55th at Bellerive, he stands 50th overall in theFedEx standings) as an example of what's wrong with the system. But Harrington(page 36), who missed the cut in the first two FedEx Cup events, begs todisagree. He sees the playoffs as a four-week sprint and thinks there should beeven more volatility.
"Whether thebest 30 players from the season are going to wind up in the Tour Championshipis arguable," says Stewart Cink (who, standing 15th, will be at East Lake)."Probably won't happen. But the best 30 players from the last threetournaments are going. Does a playoff work in golf? We're still trying tofigure that out."
The FedEx Cupshouldn't be changed because Singh won the title early. It should be changedbecause the needlessly complicated points system is never going to be acceptedby the public.
Some options forimproving the FedEx Cup:
• Get rid of FedExCup points. They're a stopper. The Tour wants fans to pay attention to thespecial points list starting in January. When the playoffs begin in August,that list gets junked, scores are reset and a new list begins. So why did wewaste time watching the first list? Confusion reigns.
Solution: Simplyselect the FedEx Cup field (currently starting with 144 players) from thetraditional money list.
• Switch to ascoring system we can understand. What happened at Bellerive is what's wrongwith the points system. When Singh finished an hour before the leaders, therewere too many variables to know if he had clinched the FedEx Cup title. Havingto constantly update projected point totals of 70 players severely undercutsany FedEx Cup race drama.
Solution: Useeither money or cumulative scores in relation to par. With money, players resetto zero FedEx Cup dollars and whoever wins the most cash in the FedEx Cupseries is the champ. With scores, a player's overall cumulative score is kept.If Sergio García finishes 10 under in the Barclays, six under at Deutsche Bankand five under at BMW, he's 21 under. The best score in the playoffs wins.
• Throw out thechaff, keep the wheat. The playoffs should be a reward for those who had thebest seasons. So why is the guy ranked 144th allowed to play? He's not even onpace to keep his card. There should be a race to get into the FedEx Cup.
Solution: LimitFedEx Cup fields to 70 players, who all get to play all four events.
• Woods and No. 2Phil Mickelson were among the players who opted out of one of four FedEx eventslast year. Factor in the Bridgestone Invitational, the PGA Championship and theRyder or the Presidents Cup, and you're asking the best players to tee it upseven out of nine weeks. That's not realistic.
Solution: Lose aFedEx Cup event. Make it a three-week series and play them consecutively. Tigeris probably never going to play four FedEx events in one year, anyway.
Acceptance of thesesolutions is more than just a good idea. It could be the FedEx Cup's nextdefining moment.
"Not close atall."
—VIJAY SINGH, 45, when asked how close his 18-year-old son, Qass, has come tobeating him.
Stat of the Week
The FedEx Cup playoffs offer $10 million to the winner, but at last week'stournament BMW provided a fleet of courtesy cars, shuttles and display models(including a hydrogen-powered car and at least one rare antique) whose totalvalue was $13.5 million.
NEWS ITEM: The PGA Tour set up a special room off the press center at the BMWChampionship where fans could sit behind a one-way mirror and watch and listento players' postround interviews with the media. Some members of the press tookexception to the special viewing room and complained to the Tour, which saidthat it would discontinue the use of such rooms. However, that pledge came toolate to stop the following memo from leaking to the public.
TO: PGA TourCommissioner Tim Finchem
SUBJECT: Bellerive Interview Room
I am writing onbehalf of John Garrity, a writer employed by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Mr. Garrityintends to pursue an action against you and the PGA Tour vis-√†-vis workingconditions at last week's BMW Championship in St. Louis. Mr. Garrity informs methat you and the Tour, without notice and without the consent of affectedparties, installed a one-way mirror and grandstand by the media tent atBellerive Country Club, and that you subsequently allowed tournament patrons toeavesdrop, via loudspeaker, on my client and other "Golf Writers" asthey conducted interviews with "Players." Assuming that you plan toinstall this "zoo-view glass" at future tournaments, Mr. Garrity seeksinjunctive relief unless and until the following conditions are met:
1) A royalty of 1% of all ticket revenues shall be paid to the Golf WritersAssociation of America (GWAA).
2) A red light or other device shall be placed near the door of the interviewroom to signal the presence of spectators on the other side of the"mirror."
3) A buffet of "light hors d'oeuvres" shall be set out for the writersfrom 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily, with either cocktail shrimp or crab claws beingprovided at the discretion of the tournament director.
Hoping you willaddress these demands promptly and without rancor, I am....
Randall J. Uquart, Esq.
Attorney at Law (3 handicap)
How Do You Say"Backtrack"?
Last Friday the LPGA rescinded the new policy requiring that its members speakpassable English by late 2009 or face suspension. In theory the policy appliedto all 120 or so foreign-born players on the tour but seemed to take primaryaim at the 45 South Korean pros, some of whom speak little or no English. Theso-called English Only policy was criticized by the media, players,civil-rights groups, sponsors and some California legislators, who were set tochallenge its legality. Those last two opponents most likely had the biggestimpact in LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens's reasoning, although she hasn'tgiven up completely. In a statement on the reversal Bivens said, "The LPGAwill announce a revised approach, absent playing penalties, by the end of2008." The release was available only in English.
Tommy Bolt, winner of the 1958 U.S. Open and a member of the World Golf Hall ofFame, died on Aug. 30 in Batesville, Ark. He was 92. Bolt, who was born inHaworth, Okla., served in the U.S. Army in World War II and was a constructionworker for 10 years before joining the Tour at age 32. He won 15 times, butTerrible Tommy was best known for his temper. Jack Harden, a retired pro fromSan Antonio, recalls overhearing a Tour official explain to a club president inHartford that a new rule allowed players to hit only one ball onto a greenduring practice rounds. As they spoke, Bolt hit two balls onto the green infront of them. The horrified official hurried over to Bolt, reminding him ofthe $25 fine for his offense. Bolt whipped out a $100 bill. "'Here's ahundred,' he tells the official. 'Keep the change.' Then he drops three moreballs—boom, boom, boom!—hits them all onto the green. That's the kind of guy hewas."
The BMW Championship moved to Bellerive in St. Louis last week so the Dubsdreadcourse at Cog Hill—the public facility in Lemont, Ill., that usually hosts theBMW—could be renovated in hopes of landing a U.S. Open. Course architect ReesJones reports that the work is done. The course can now be stretched to 7,600yards, and the greens have been rebuilt to USGA specifications, adding anunderground pumping system to improve drainage. "We had to relocate a lotof bunkers," says Jones. "We checked ShotLink, and players were flyingthe fairway bunkers. We also made them deeper and more sculpted." The par-418th was stretched to 500 yards with bunkers on both sides of the fairway and agreen that's closer to the water's edge. "It's going to determine thechampion," says Jones. "You're not going to be home until you'rehome."
Take a digital tourof all 18 holes at Valhalla at GOLF.com.