Commentary

Keep it simple, stupid: Cup needs tweak

PGA Tour's confusing postseason lacks the drama of a true playoff

Updated: August 29, 2010, 2:22 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

PARAMUS, N.J. -- Tiger Woods raged into his first drive of the day, and never before has a golf crowd around a tee box recoiled and shrieked in horror faster and more decisively than this one did.

Not a single brainless "you da man" could be heard before the sure sound of "ohmigod" swept over the scene. Woods nearly let the fairway wood fly out of his hands on impact. His follow-through made Arnold Palmer's look Hoganesque, leaving the fans reacting the way 3-D moviegoers do when a large, ominous projectile comes hurtling their way out of the big screen.

Only this time, the small, ominous projectile was traveling in the opposite direction, snap-hooking over a fence, out of bounds, into a familiar-looking Ridgewood Country Club parking lot. The world's greatest golfer was hitting 3, and already I was worried he might have dented my car.

"End up probably costing me a chance to win the golf tournament," Woods would say of his 20-handicapper hack.

Tiger Woods
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesTiger Woods is nine shots behind leader Martin Laird after a third-round 72 at The Barclays.

So in the third round of The Barclays, Woods made his first triple-bogey on the opening hole of any round since the 2003 British Open. He shot 1-over 72 to land at 3 under, nine shots out of the lead and, more importantly, 19 perilous places inside the cut line to advance to the next playoff round.

The top 100 in the FedEx Cup standings reach the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston, the tournament partnering with Tiger's charitable foundation. If No. 81 Woods makes a few too many Barclays bogeys Sunday, he'll have plenty of time this week to act as a Deutsche greeter and host.

So yes, there will be a cheapened sense of drama tracking Tiger in his final round. If it would've been much better to watch Woods try to claim his first post-scandal victory, the somewhat remote possibility his Greek tragedy of a season will die a slow and bloody death in Jersey will have to do.

But let's face it: Win, lose or draw, this is no way to run a postseason tournament, with some silly points system your average sports fan doesn't have the time or energy to follow.

The PGA Tour needs to end this madness now, and make its playoffs look and feel like, you know, playoffs. Enough with the zillions of points awarded and deducted based on who knows what. Enough with a confusing re-set of those points kept in place here, another confusing re-set of those points bounced from the system there.

Take the top 125 players from the regular season to the New York metropolitan area, hand them all blank scorecards, and play a no-cut, four-round event eliminating the bottom 25 from the tournament, Tiger and Phil Mickelson included.

Do it all over again at the Deutsche next week, starting every scratch player from scratch and eliminating 30 to get down to 70 at the BMW Championship outside Chicago. Those 70 get a clean slate, the bottom 30 go home again, and the top 40 advance to Atlanta to play for a Tour Championship that automatically grants the winner the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus that goes with it.

The opponents of this simple if unforgiving format argue that a player who dominates the regular season would enter the postseason with no advantage over the bum who squeaked in at No. 125.

Last time I checked, the 1998 Yankees won 114 games and entered a best-of-five shootout with the 88-win Texas Rangers. Those Yanks had no discernible advantage over Texas entering that Division Series -- home field in baseball never matters half as much as pitching -- and survived nonetheless.

Some regular-season powerhouses are strong enough to endure, some are not. The 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks went 67-15 only to lose in the first round of the NBA playoffs to the 42-40 Golden State Warriors.

But that's the unfairness of life and the beauty of sports. When Rex Ryan leads the Jets to the Super Bowl -- Rex says "when" even as his team plays very much like an "if" -- he won't enter the game with a two-touchdown lead or deficit based on how the Jets played in the regular season and the playoffs.

Crazy things happen in sudden-death events, and sports fans can't get enough of the all-or-nothing angst. It's why the Super Bowl is forever among the most watched shows in television. It's why the NCAA tournament is an American phenomenon, the possibility that a little guy can knock off a big guy one night out of 100 -- the night they happen to meet up in March.

The PGA Tour created these playoffs to keep the casual golf fan interested after the PGA Championship, to keep that fan from abandoning the sport for the divisional and wild-card races in baseball and the start of the NFL season. That fan doesn't want to hear about Ernie Els' 1,846 points and Tiger's 431 points and the dozens of ways each can still win or lose the whole thing.

That fan doesn't want an explanation on how Mickelson can win the season-ending Tour Championship and end up standing next to the second-place finisher, Woods, who was holding a bigger trophy (the FedEx Cup) and banking a much bigger check.

That fan wants to keep it simple, stupid, even if it means Tiger can hook it into the parking lot off the first tee and eliminate himself in the first round, leaving tour and network and sponsorship executives ready to pass out.

"Hitting a ball like that," Woods said, "it can derail you and it didn't."

Tiger will probably advance to the second round -- probably. But if no official can explain to you in 10 seconds or less how Woods can be sitting 28th at Ridgewood while he's 81st in the FedEx Cup standings, then the tour needs a new postseason tournament.

Same as every other postseason tournament.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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