The PGA Tour decided to put another cup ahead of its own Tuesday, moving the FedEx Cup finale to the week after the Ryder Cup next year to allow Americans to be fresh as they try to end a decade of losing.
Without switching around the 2008 schedule, some players might have competed four consecutive weeks in the FedEx Cup, then headed straight to Valhalla Golf Club for the Ryder Cup, regarded as one of the most tiring and pressure-packed weeks in golf.
The changes means there will be a two-week break in the middle of the playoffs, between the BMW Championship in St. Louis and the Tour Championship in Atlanta. And it gives the PGA Tour its first week without golf during the season since 1989.
“If we went back two years and were doing the schedule and TV (negotiations) would we be in this position? No,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Tuesday afternoon. “We made a miscalculation in terms of the tie-in to the Ryder Cup. We should have been smarter. But I think it’s a very good compromise for all parties, and to protect what’s important here.”
The playoffs start Aug. 21 with The Barclays. After three straight tournaments, there be a week off on tour before the Ryder Cup is played Sept. 19-21. The FedEx Cup will conclude the following week with the Tour Championship.
“We are appreciative of the efforts of the PGA Tour, their TV partners and sponsors, to open up a week before the Ryder Cup,” PGA chief executive Joe Steranka said.
U.S. captain Paul Azinger figured the change would only help his Ryder Cup team, especially since more Americans than Europeans figure to be involved in the FedEx Cup and the race for a $10 million payoff.
“Their guys could be over at Valhalla for a week while our guys are grinding for a fifth week in a row,” Azinger said. “It could help. It’s not going to hurt us.”
The premise behind the four-week playoffs was to get the biggest stars competing four straight weeks concluding with the Tour Championship, where the winner of the points-based FedEx Cup received a $10 million bonus.
The plan didn’t entirely deliver this year, however, when Tiger Woods skipped the opening playoff event and still won the FedEx Cup by a big margin. Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington also missed one playoff event.
The bigger concern was the Ryder Cup because 2008 was the only year in the television contract that there was not a week off between the Tour Championship and either the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. The tour feared some players might skip playoff events, perhaps even in the Tour Championship, to keep fresh for the biennial match against Europe.
“You would see a majority take at least one week off – I guarantee it,” Jim Furyk said last month.
The solution was pushing the Tour Championship behind the Ryder Cup. That means a two-week break in the playoffs for those who don’t make the Ryder Cup teams, and chance for those who do make the team to be fresh.
“It’s a shame they didn’t think of this before,” Azinger said. “They wouldn’t have had to go through the headache of getting it right.”
Finchem said scheduling will not be a problem in 2009 when the Presidents Cup is held at San Francisco sometime in October, or in 2011 when the Presidents Cup is played much later in the year in Australia.
“The notion of playing the Tour Championship after a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup is a one-off. I don’t see us going down that path again,” he said. “We may have a break in the playoffs. We’ll see how this works.”
The rest of the FedEx Cup remains relatively unchanged for now.
The field size for the playoff events again will be 144 players at The Barclays, 120 players at the Deutsche Bank Championship, 70 players at the BMW Championship and 30 players qualifying for the Tour Championship.
Several players lobbied to make the playoffs more volatile, giving more players a chance at winning the $10 million prize. There was little movement at the top of the standings, and those toward the bottom had little chance to move up barring a victory.
But there was strong sentiment in Monday’s board meeting that for the first year of a revamped system, it worked well enough not to rush into massive changes. Finchem said the board would continue to look at ways to tweak the playoff points, although points for the regular season would not change.
One change was how to pay bonus money.
Finchem said the tour was concerned over recent legislation about deferred retirement plans, especially recent business stories speculating that Woods could have access to $1 billion in retirement money at age 45 if he were to win the FedEx Cup six more times.
Starting next year, the top 10 players in the FedEx Cup standings will get most of their money in cash, and a percentage deferred. The winner, for example, will get $9 million up front and $1 million placed into his retirement fund.
All the bonus money will be deferred for those finishing out of the top 10.