Playoffs Finally Delivering The Kind of Excitement Promised

Rory McIlroy, 2023 BMW Championship, Olympia Fields,(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy, 2023 BMW Championship, Olympia Fields,(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

At the outset, back in 2007, the FedEx Cup Playoffs were a little lackluster.

Tiger Woods won the FedEx Cup the first time in 2007 as expected. Vijay Singh won the next season before the BMW had finished being played. All he had to do was show up in Atlanta and play four rounds, no matter what the score, and he would win.

To say that wasn’t what the PGA Tour had in mind is a ginormous understatement.

But Tiger Woods won again, the third, next season, and the flaws in the system were forgotten temporarily.

Then we focused on the points that were impossible to calculate without an IBM mainframe, which used to be the gold standard for computing numerical things. Who knows what the standard is today. An app? A supercomputer? Something in-between?

Steve Sands of Golf Channel solved the point problem for all of us with an erasable whiteboard. Every 10 or 15 minutes, he’d be writing new numbers next to the names of top players whose positions shuffled up and down like they were human whack-a-moles.

Golfers would finish the Tour Championship without knowing whether they had won or lost because it wasn’t on score. It was the @$&*(#%(#*$&% points!

No matter what the Tour did, the Playoffs just did not seem like Playoffs.

Now the FedEx Cup Playoffs seem like they matter.

No more starting Playoffs with 125. Even though the top 125 are exempt for the next season, to be in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, to be the cream of the PGA Tour for any year, you have to finish top 70 in points. That’s a shock right there.

There’s no more coasting for half of the season, making cuts, and contending here and there.  You’ve actually got to perform at a really high level to get to that top 70 number. People who matter are being left out with that as the standard.

Like Justin Thomas. His season is O-V-E-R unless he’s picked for the Ryder Cup or decides to play in the fall events. With his victory at the PGA last year and his FedEx Cup points, he’s still exempt for 2024, but he missed this year’s Playoffs and the biggest money of the season. (Not that he needs it, but guys who have money want more money. It’s a rule.)

For the first time, I actually worried about how a guy would finish out the season. I watched to see where Thomas finished at the 3M and Wyndham. Whether Rickie Fowler would win the Rocket Mortgage. I wondered if Adam Scott would be able to pull himself up beyond that 70 number. It was a no-go for Thomas and Scott, but Fowler won.

I follow golf fairly seriously, I just haven’t paid that much attention to the Playoffs in recent years. I waited until they got to the top 30. But now, not only do the Playoffs matter, but the last tournaments of the year matter to those who are in the 50 to 70 spots. And there’s always somebody like a Justin Thomas, or an Adam Scott, or a Rickie Fowler, or a Jordan Spieth who is having an off year and needs some kind of outstanding performance to advance to the top 50 or top 30.

Top 50 is important now because that gets a guy into the “Significant,” i.e. Big Money, events for 2024.

And, finally, changing the scoring at the Tour Championship to better than par for the leader, a suggestion which was made repeatedly several years ago by Gary Van Sickle of Sports Illustrated, has changed that final event into something we can all understand. The FedEx Cup Playoffs have gone from Ho-Hum to WHOOO WHAAAA! Did you see that?

So as frenetic as this year has been, what with the LIV issues, the heat Rory McIlroy took, Tiger joining the PGA Tour Policy Board, the Tour and LIV agreeing to try to agree, finally we come to the end of the year and the Playoffs are exciting enough to make us mostly forget all the distractions and insults that happened.

Next. Scottie Scheffler talks Ryder Cup pressure. dark

The Playoffs are exciting enough that we actually want to watch them instead of talking about the stuff that’s outside the ropes.

This year, that is a real achievement.