FedEx playoffs resemble business as usual on tour
Vijay Singh had just completed his first competitive round of 2007, a 4-under 69 at Kapalua's windswept Plantation Course, site of the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship and, by association, home to the first event in the newly founded FedEx Cup series. He ambled into the media center, took a seat at the front of the interview room and was promptly asked about the PGA Tour's self-titled "new era in golf.""There's so much going on about FedEx Cup, I'm tired of listening to it, you know?" Singh said in his usual matter-of-fact manner. "It's nothing else but the FedEx Cup. Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. [But] there's still tournaments out there that we have to focus on and not focus on the FedEx Cup itself. I'm going to focus on trying to win this golf tournament this week. It's eight months away. When it arrives near there, then I'm going to pay more attention to it." That's been a familiar refrain for many players this year, as the tour membership has collectively taken a wait-and-see approach to the inaugural PGA Tour playoff format.
On Thursday, the waiting game officially ended as the opening round of The Barclays -- the first of four postseason tournaments -- commenced. Finally. Call it a new beginning to a new era or the same ol', same ol', but the product looked amazingly similar to so many other upper-tier events. Contrary to popular belief, the apocalypse did not descend upon the golf world. Barrels filled with cash were not driven to players on the course in FedEx trucks. No one proclaimed the Masters to be an outdated tournament of a bygone era.Wouldn't you know, it was just business as usual at a PGA Tour event. Sort of. Asked whether The Barclays had a different feel to it, Ernie Els responded, "Yes and no. I mean, there's been so much talk about it, so you can't but know that something different is going on. I'm a foreigner. I don't know anything about your playoff system in sport yet. We play World Cup rugby or World Cup cricket. That's the playoffs I know about. So to bring that into golf is kind of weird. So I'm just taking it as I come." "It feels different," said Brian Gay, who fired an opening-round 6-under 65. "I'm not sure how. That's what I keep saying, I keep seeing the 'PLAYOFFS' sign, so I know I'm in the playoffs." Other than the signage and an abundance of references to a points list that debuted this year, The Barclays' opening round was very much like that of most other high-level tournaments on the tour schedule. Did it have the feel of a major championship? Nope, but that was never the point anyway. Did it produce more buzz than such late-season events as last year's Texas Open and 84 Lumber Classic? Absolutely -- and therein lies the objective beneath the concept.
Though Tiger Woods failed to show, 73 of the world's top 100 players are in attendance at Westchester Country Club this week, where, ironically enough, notable Woods instigator Rory Sabbatini -- he has called the top-ranked player "beatable" on multiple occasions this year -- climbed atop the leaderboard following a bogey-free 8-under 63. Joining him amongst the top 15 were fellow world-class players K.J. Choi, Els and Phil Mickelson, giving the tour exactly what it was seeking when the FedEx Cup idea was conceived."It brings more attention to the PGA Tour and that's what they are looking to do," said Briny Baird, who shot 66 on Thursday. "They are trying to get not necessarily a fifth major, but something else that's big and get people interested in the game of golf. Everything usually gets mocked when it's brand-new. [College football's] BCS was an absolute joke when it first came out. What we have going on right now, I'm not relating that to a joke by any means, but this system, I would almost guarantee would get tweaked in some way like the BCS has been until it gets right." Such tweaking may take place in future years and may come in the form of a points revision or a decrease in the number of players reaching the playoffs. But make no mistake; the FedEx Cup, in some way, shape or form, will be a mainstay to the back end of the schedule for years to come. As well it should. Contrarians are quick to note that the playoffs are a made-for-TV money grab that has been touted as the greatest thing in golf since titanium. But Thursday's opening round was proof that these events will be golf as we've come to know it, with more popular names and familiar faces than we're used to seeing in the mix at this time of year. "You can see some of the banners up and you know what it is," Baird said. "We did get to [the] 13th green, and not eerie, but it was a little strange, you look back at the tee and right below the tee box there's a huge pane that says 'PLAYOFFS' and it's misty out and it's cold and right away I'm like, 'Football.' Hopefully, that wears off and it's more PGA Tour when you start thinking playoffs." Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com