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Absolutely positively confusing

Few players understand FedEx Cup, the PGA's new $63-million playoff series, but most seem willing to give it a shot.

August 14, 2007|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

TULSA, Okla. -- Boo Weekley doesn't know what it's all about, except that he can win $10 million if his chips fall the right way, not to mention his putts and his bunker shots. Tiger Woods says it's an experiment, and Phil Mickelson says he's no expert on the procedure, the protocol or the formula.

What they're all talking about is the fledgling FedEx Cup, a $63-million, four-tournament playoff series that's struggling to get some respect from the players, fans and media, despite a strong push by the PGA Tour to make it the kind of success it thinks it deserves to be.

Weekley said he doesn't think much about the new playoff.

"I don't know nothing about the FedEx Cup," he said. "I just know I'm playing golf and that's all that matters to me."

He did say that he would eventually figure it out.

"Maybe in a couple of years. . . . I was never good at math."

Signed through 2012, Federal Express is investing a reported $40 million in the playoff process, hoping that a NASCAR-like season-long points race and subsequent tournament playoff format will bring down a checkered flag and everybody will go home happy.

But there have been a few bumps in the road.

On Aug. 23, the first of four consecutive weeks of $7-million playoff tournaments, the Barclays at Westchester Country Club, begins in Rye, N.Y. It's the official FedEx kickoff, but even in the bright media spotlight of New York, there's a chill in the air.

Woods might not play. Mickelson might not, either.

Woods' victory in the PGA Championship on Sunday could be the worst news for the PGA Tour. He won the week before, at the Bridgestone, and is apparently considering skipping the Westchester kickoff event.

The remaining tournaments in the playoff are the Deutsche Bank Championship, the BMW Championship and then the Tour Championship on Sept. 13-16. Woods and Mickelson are expected to play in those three events.

When pressed about his plans, Woods would only say his "intention" is to play in all four. Mickelson used the same word when asked if he would play all four.

Here's how the FedEx playoff experiment works. Players have accumulated points according to their play in tournaments all season. This week's Wyndham Championship at Forest Oaks Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., is the last chance for players to accumulate FedEx Cup points. The top 144 in points are eligible to play at Westchester.

After Wyndham, the point totals are thrown out and players are given new totals based on what they've accumulated.

Woods currently leads the points race by a wide margin. He has 30,574, well ahead of second-place Vijay Singh at 19,129. Woods' lead is big enough that even if he does not play Wyndham, he will still be seeded No. 1 when the FedEx playoffs begin.

In the re-seeding, No. 1 gets 100,000 points, No. 2 gets 99,000, and so on, down to No. 144 with 84,700 points. The idea behind the re-seeding is to make sure no one clinches the FedEx Cup title before the Tour Championship.

A win in any of the first three playoff tournaments will be worth 9,000 points, second place 5,400 points, and so on. The winner of the Tour Championship will earn 10,300 points.

The playoff fields get smaller after Westchester. The field will be cut to 120 for the Deutsche Bank, to 70 for the BMW Championship and to 30 for the Tour Championship.

The player who is atop the points list after the Tour Championship gets a $10-million bonus. It's deferred compensation, put into the player's retirement plan and paid out at 45.

The whole FedEx Cup playoff chase is loaded with money -- $28 million in tournament prize money and $35 million in bonuses -- as well as network television exposure. Westchester is on CBS, and the final three playoff tournaments will be carried by NBC.

In the meantime, there are a few problems that have cropped up, such as how the players pay their caddies if the bonuses they're winning are deferred compensation.

Mickelson said he's studying the process.

"I don't understand how it all works," he said. "And certainly there are some things that can be done in the coming years to make it better. But it's the first year and you're never going to have it perfect the first year. It's kind of an evolutionary thing."

And kind of a revolutionary thing for the PGA Tour, which for a long time had been seeking an earlier end to the season, a natural conclusion, and wanted to create more interest in the culmination of the year -- and perhaps most important, get out of the way of ratings-sapping NFL and college football telecasts.

Mickelson may be right, that time will tell if the FedEx Cup is everybody's cup of tea. Significant changes in the way professional sports do business are not always embraced, at least initially; the PGA Tour uses the designated hitter and other sports' wild cards as examples.

So golf's first set of tournament playoffs is just around the corner and then we may find out who's playing, who's watching and who cares. Those are a lot of answers for four weeks.

thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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