By Jay Betsill
In the past – well prior to 2007 when the PGA Tour first awarded the trophy with a system very similar to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup format – most sports fans simply tuned out pro golf after the PGA Championship (the season’s final major event). They began to focus on the Major League Baseball playoff stretch run and the beginning of the college and National Football League football seasons.
Other than the week of the Ryder Cup or President’s Cup team competitions that alternate years and the season-ending Tour Championship, most of the marquee names were absent from the fall events. The FedEx Cup not only made each week on Tour significantly more important, it all but guaranteed the game’s biggest attractions, including Tiger Woods, would be on hand for these big events strategically located in big markets.
In case you are not familiar with the FedEx Cup, here is a basic rundown of last year’s competition:
The FedEx Cup is a season-long competition in which players accumulate points to reach a four-tournament playoff that culminates in the Tour Championship. The FedEx Cup season (including the HP Byron Nelson Championship in Las Colinas and the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial in Fort Worth) begins in January and runs through mid-August. The players’ last chance to get in the mix this season came the week following the PGA Championship in the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C.
The playoffs then begin, with fields reset by points as the size of the fields dwindles after each of the first three tournaments. The final 30 players after the third playoff event qualify for the Tour Championship, with a $10 million prize going to the FedEx Cup winner.
The top 125 PGA Tour players in FedEx Cup points qualify for the first stage of the FedEx Cup playoffs, The Barclays Championship. Winners of FedEx Cup regular-season events receive 500 points, with players making the cut receiving points on a diminishing basis. Winners of the Masters, Players Championship, British Open and PGA Championship each receive 600 points; winners of the first three World Golf Championships events get 550 points apiece; and events played opposite World Golf Championships events or majors receive 250 points for first place.
Nick Watney won The Barclays in 2012, earning $1.44 million and 2,500 points. Last year’s tournament was played at the Black Course at Bethpage State Park while this year’s contest will take place at Liberty National in New Jersey City, N.J.
After The Barclays, points are updated, with only the top 100 players advancing to the second leg of the playoffs, the Deutsche Bank Championship played at the TPC Boston in Norton, Mass. Rory McIlroy won the 2012 Deutsche Bank, earning $1.44 million and 2,500 points.
Yet another points reset takes place after the Deutsche Bank event, with only the top 70 players in points advancing to the third leg of the playoffs, the BMW Championship, which is usually played at a course in the Midwest, this year at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill. McIlroy continued his hot streak and won the 2012 BMW Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., a victory worth $1.44 million and 2,500 points.
McIlroy was the No. 1 seed going into the FedEx Cup finale two weeks later at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, but any of the top five seeds could have won the Tour Championship and captured the FedEx Cup with its $10 million bonus. The other four seeds were Tiger Woods, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker.
The FedEx Cup annually culminates in the Tour Championship at East Lake. After the BMW Championship, the top 30 players in points advance to the Tour Championship. The Tour Championship winner in 2012 was Snedeker, who won a playoff and earned $1.44 million for the title. His Tour Championship victory also earned Snedeker enough points for the FedExCup title and the $10 million top prize. Of that amount, $9 million was in cash and $1 million in an annuity.
Adding to the importance of the FedEx Cup, beginning this year, FedEx Cup points will determine the 125 golfers who retain their PGA Tour playing privileges – known as “tour cards” – for the following season. Previously, this was determined by position on the tour’s money list at the end of the year.
Going into The Barclays, Tiger Woods had the top spot in the FedEx Cup standings, 766 points ahead of Matt Kuchar and 841 points ahead of defending FedEx Cup champion Snedeker. While he did win five events this season, including two World Golf Championship tournaments and The Players Championship – widely regarded as the best field in golf – Woods’ season is viewed by some as a disappointment due to his lack of success in the majors. In the six-year history of the PGA Tour playoffs, Woods is the only player to win twice. A third FedEx Cup title, while not getting him any closer to Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors, would cap off a great year by most any standards.