• Out of Bounds

Rory shows FedEx format still not quite right

ESPN staff
September 19, 2012
Rory McIlroy has not been rewarded for his stellar play © Getty Images
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The Ryder Cup gets underway at Medinah Country Club on September 28. ESPN will have extensive coverage of the event - including interactive text commentary, reports and reaction - for all three days.

Whether he goes on to win the $10 million FedEx Cup play-offs or not, Rory McIlroy has already demonstrated that the system needs tweaking once again.

You can understand why the PGA Tour have messed with the format of the FedEx Cup play-offs to ensure the winner can only be finalised at The Tour Championship - four years ago, Vijay Singh's impressive run in the prior events ensured it was something of an anti-climax - but the system does not seem to be entirely fair in light of this year's events.

Rory McIlroy has won two of the four preceding FedEx Cup play-off events, compiling twice as many points as any other player (bar Tiger Woods) for the year ahead of this week's finale. If he remains on top of the points table come Sunday evening at East Lake, he will take the $10m bonus that is on offer.

Yet, due to rules designed to prevent any player from winning the FedEx race prior to the Tour Championship, If Woods, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson or Brandt Snedeker win this week, McIlroy will have no choice but to watch helplessly as the winner's cheque goes elsewhere.

Those other four players hold their destinies in their own hands, but all 30 players in the select field can, in theory, walk away with both the tournament trophy and the bonus pool. The aim is to ensure a dramatic finish (which, in fairness, it invariably does). But that comes at the expense of, well, fairness.

Does John Senden, for example, deserve to be in the running for the bumper pay day? Twenty-ninth on the current FedEx standings, the Australian has five top 10 finishes to his credit this year - but nothing any higher.

For Senden, shouldn't the satisfaction of winning the prestigious Tour Championship - if he manages it - not be reward enough?

Instead, we have an inflexible system that resets everyone's points - paying no shrift to the number they have acquired up to that point, simply the position they are in the standings when the Tour Championship rolls around.

As a result, McIlroy will start Thursday with 2,500 points - 500 ahead of Woods. That would be the case whether he had finished one point ahead of the 14-time major champion or, as he actually did, 3,132 ahead.

Surely the differences in points should be accounted for? The oddities continue elsewhere. Louis Oosthuizen, for example, finished just 70 points ahead of Dustin Johnson at the conclusion of the BMW Championship - but now goes into the Tour Championship with a 200-point lead over the big-hitting American.

Just five points separated Matt Kuchar, Luke Donald and Keegan Bradley at the conclusion of the BMW Championship - yet the latter will tee it up at East Lake on Thursday with a 40-point advantage over his future United States Ryder Cup team-mate despite having, essentially, an identical campaign to this point.

There must be a way to reflect the vast (or minimal) points differences between players heading into the Tour Championship - while giving a number of players the chance to win the $10m. If that rules out the Sendens and Scott Piercys of this world from that pot, then so be it. It would probably be a fairer reflection of seasons that have been great, but not as great as some.

Professional golf at the highest level is, in essence, a lottery. Any player can win on any given week, and invariably that is what happens. When the system is set so that anyone in the field at the Tour Championship can walk away with the $10m jackpot (ostensibly awarded for year-round excellence), you are effectively - both literally and figuratively - simply rewarding players for buying a lottery ticket.

About the only player (Tiger Woods might argue otherwise) to rise above the pot-luck nature of professional golf this year is McIlroy. The Northern Irishman should be rewarded for that, not penalised.

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