Few FedEx changes means another year of disappointment

11/13/2007 - Golf

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Paul Azinger should be happy. Same for the dozen players who make it onto his U.S. Ryder Cup team. And maybe a few from Europe who are members of the PGA Tour.

The Tour Championship is moving to the week following the Ryder Cup in 2008, giving that select group of players some much-needed breathing room and saving the tour the embarrassment of having a bunch of its members skip some of the high-profile, big-money playoff events.

That's the good news.

The bad news? Almost everything else about the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup schedule and ensuing Fall Series will remain the same in 2008.

"We haven't really made any changes other than move a tournament," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said on Tuesday at tour headquarters, where the policy board met a day earlier to consider and ratify changes.

Apparently, the discussion didn't last too long, at least as it pertained to the FedEx Cup. Other than the Tour Championship move -- a no-brainer, considering all the talk this year about the heavy late-season schedule that would have asked the top players to compete for five straight weeks in 2008 -- and a change in how the bonus money will be paid, we are left with the same points-earning system and qualification for the playoffs that was largely met with indifference this year.

And that is disappointing, given the healthy amount of opinions offered by players, fans and media that the system could use some tweaking.

"The biggest complaint we heard was that the system was too complex," Finchem said. "And we just didn't share that view."

It's not that the system was complex -- players are awarded points based on their finish in a tournament, with everyone who makes the cut getting something in a similar proportion to how prize money is paid at each event -- it's the fact that the compilation of points didn't create the kind of drama tour officials envisioned throughout the year. Despite incessant hype, few paid attention to the FedEx Cup standings until after the British Open, when the playoffs drew near. And with 144 making the playoffs and only a dozen or so players truly capable of winning the whole thing, the regular season remained more about the major championships and the individual tournaments, not something greater.

Finchem did leave open the possibility of change to the playoff events, but it won't be decided until the tour's policy board meets again in February. That smacks of changing the rules in the middle of the game, but with so many players qualifying for the playoffs, changing how they operate will hardly have any effect so early in the year.

"We'd like to create some more volatility [in the playoff events]," Finchem said. "We'd like to see a guy who gets hot have a chance to move up more. And we want to see what can be done about the number of players in the Tour Championship with a reasonable chance to win."

This year, only five players went to East Lake in Atlanta with a shot at the $10 million bonus -- which will now be paid mostly in cash. As it turned out, Tiger Woods could have won the FedEx Cup even if he had skipped the Tour Championship.

For now, the playoff event fields will not change: 144 at the Barclays, 120 at the Deutsche Bank, 70 at the BMW and 30 at the Tour Championship.

The biggest change will be a week off -- for everyone -- and a push back of the seven Fall Series events. In mid-September, following the BMW in St. Louis, there will be a "dark week," with no PGA Tour event of any kind. It's the first time there will be a break in the schedule since 1989.

And Finchem sees that as a good thing for the Ryder Cup and the Tour Championship.

"It will allow there to be more focus on those two events during the course of that week," he said. "I think it's a very good compromise for all parties involved."

No question, it was a smart move, on a few levels. Skipping one of the playoff events -- as Woods, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els each did -- will be harder to justify, given the forced week off.

From the tour's perspective, having the Ryder Cup -- one of the most-watched golf events around -- precede the Tour Championship will provide an excellent promotional opportunity leading into the FedEx Cup finale.

And maybe the extra week will give the tour more time to come up with something better for 2009.

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.