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PGA Tour players aim toward Cup

With FedEx Cup, season is designed to come to a climax before football kicks into high gear.

January 11, 2007|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

This week, the PGA Tour finishes its two-week Aloha Swing and then begins the West Coast Swing, which is followed by the Florida Swing and tournaments beyond until mid-September, all part of the new FedEx Cup, followed by the Fall Series.

But what does it all mean, besides the roughly $267 million in prize money, of course?

It means that the PGA Tour has managed to find a way to brand months, the calendar and even seasons, leaving openings for such opportunities as the Fourth of July Fireworks Fling and the Autumn Nights of November.

It's a brave new world this year on the PGA Tour, changing its business model for the first time with its season-long FedEx Cup race worth $10 million to the winner. There's a 36-event regular season with players earning points along the way, then a four-tournament playoff ending in the Tour Championship.

Money has long defined success on the PGA Tour and it's still the measurement of how players retain their playing status from year to year -- staying in the top 125 on the money list. But now, FedEx Cup points are receiving the emphasis, something else to track, and this is a notion that the players may have to learn to embrace.

"We know how it works on paper, but we don't know how it's going to play out," U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy said.

The idea is to create a buildup of interest throughout the year, as NASCAR did with its Nextel Cup, finish it with a playoff and get out of the way before the NFL takes over and hogs all the television ratings.

So far, they are one tournament into the FedEx Cup and the leader is Vijay Singh. He won the Mercedes-Benz Championship last week at Kapalua and earned 4,500 points.

Neither Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson played last week, and they're sitting out this week's tournament at Honolulu, thus relegating the Aloha Swing to something less than star status and making PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem cringe a little.

"Having . . . less eyeballs because Tiger Woods is not at an event is not something that's a positive any week he doesn't play," Finchem said before Singh's victory Sunday. "But having said that, somebody's going to be leading the FedEx Cup tonight and it's not going to be one of those two guys," Woods or Mickelson.

They have time to catch up. Mickelson will start his year next week at the Bob Hope, the official beginning of the West Coast Swing, and he'll be joined by Woods a week later at the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines.

The NASCAR-like approach the PGA Tour is taking with its FedEx Cup won't work unless the star players take part, and Finchem surely sought and received assurances that they would do just that, even if their commitments to play are going to be heavily weighted toward the end. It's all part of the system.

The Wyndham Championship, the week after the PGA Championship in August, is the final regular-season event in the FedEx Cup race and then the points are re-set for the playoff. The top 144 players and ties are eligible for the playoffs. The player in first place in the points standings after the Wyndham receives 100,000 points, the second-place player gets 99,000 points and the points decrease so that the 144th-place player gets 84,700 in the re-set.

There are three more tournaments in the playoff, the field cut from 144 players to 120 to 70 -- all based on points -- and then the top 30 play in the Tour Championship, where the winner receives $10 million.

The first playoff tournament is the Barclays at Westchester, N.Y., then the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston, the BMW Championship outside Chicago and the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. The winners in the first three playoff tournaments earn 9,000 points and second place is worth 5,400 points. At the Tour Championship, the winner receives 10,300 points and the runner-up gets 6,200, setting up the possibility that the tournament winner may not actually be the FedEx Cup champion in the points race.

Sound simple? Maybe not.

"There's so much going on about the FedEx Cup, I'm tired of listening to it," Singh said at Kapalua. And he's the guy in the lead.

The Tour Championship has a new date, moved ahead about three weeks to Sept. 13-16, and it's also the end of a long road with a lot of tournaments along the way.

Beginning in early August with the Bridgestone, a World Golf Championship event, through the PGA Championship, the three FedEx Cup playoffs, the Tour Championship and then the Presidents Cup, the top players could wind up playing seven out of nine weeks.

"It's kind of getting squished," said Jim Furyk, who might wind up playing nine times in the 11 tournaments through the Presidents Cup.

It's a new game and it's wide open at that, according to Fred Couples.

"Right now, I figure if I'm 40th on the money list or 80th on the money list or 144th on the money list, I get to play in the first FedEx Cup," he said. "Whoop-di-doo."

thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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