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Tour Confidential: How would you change the FedEx Cup format going forward?

August 26, 2019

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss Rory McIlroy’s win, the FedEx Cup playoff format, favorite moments from the season and more.

1. Rory McIlroy won the Tour Championship in dominant fashion Sunday, taking home the $15 million FedEx Cup prize and getting “revenge” on Brooks Koepka. There was some chatter after his Sunday showing that McIlroy could challenge Koepka for Player of the Year. Is that crazy talk, or does Rory he have a case?

Sean Zak, senior editor (@Sean_Zak): It’s the craziest of talk! Rory didn’t show up at the majors, and that’s what matters most. We all know this.

Luke Kerr-Dineen, instruction editor (@LukeKerrDineen): Of course he has a case! He won the Players and the FedEx Cup — two of the six majors! But in all seriousness, yes, Rory should be considered, but ultimately the thing that dogs his case is the same thing that always dogs Rory: he’s streaky. His game comes and it goes, as it did once again this season. He was great, then he went missing in the majors, then he was great again. That ebb and flow that he’s always had is why, despite the wins and the high points, it tends to leave a slightly underwhelming taste in your mouth.

Jessica Marksbury, senior editor (@Jess_Marksbury): Rory has had a super-impressive season, but as Luke noted, he IS streaky — and his weekend performances were a little shaky at some pretty inopportune times. Ultimately, I agree with Sean, and it’s the majors that matter most, unless you rack up at least five “lesser” wins.

Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@Dylan_Dethier): I don’t really agree with this “streaky” characterization. This was the most consistent season of McIlroy’s life — 14 top 10s in 19 starts. That’s wildly consistent, certainly far more consistent that Koepka. I think his best argument only comes from a statistical standpoint, because McIlroy led the Tour in scoring and strokes gained. But yeah, at the end of the day Koepka’s got the edge thanks to four top-4 major finishes. He’d already locked it up regardless of what happened this week.

Josh Sens, contributing writer (@JoshSens): Rory won some nice events, akin to picking up a few good delegates in the electoral college. But Brooks wins the real contest in a landslide. There is no serious case for anyone else this year.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Tiger’s the player of the year. He had the most impact. Koepka had the best record, Rory’s year was impressive, but as this bureau measures these things, Woods was the player of the year.

John Wood, caddie to Matt Kuchar (John_would): Rory has had a hell of a year. Players Champion, FedEx Cup Champion, a gazillion dollars earned. But if you got a few Guinness in him tonight, I dare say he’d trade all that for Tiger’s rather significant win in April. Right or wrong, greatness is measured by majors, and you can’t be a player of the year and not win at least one major.

Rory McIlroy took down the biggest prize in golf history.
Rory McIlroy took down the biggest prize in golf history.
Getty Images

2. This was the first year of the Tour Championship’s staggered-start scoring. Justin Thomas began the week at 10 under par, while McIlroy started at 5 under, five shots back. How did you think the playoff format worked out? Would you leave it as is for next year, or are there changes you would make?

Zak: Of course this new format looks nice because it pushed Thomas, Koepka and McIlroy into a heavyweight battle, but it still doesn’t suffice for me. We cannot hand out career victories for events where players are given such an advantage as Thomas was.

I would love for all three weeks of the playoffs be cumulative scoring. And if not that, at least let the first two events serve as play-in games for the final event. Also, make that final event at least 45 players deep. I’m barely intrigued by a field of 30.

Bamberger: Zaketh speaketh for me. Plus, a daily cut for the first 11 rounds.

Kerr-Dineen: I can never get into the FedEx Cup because it all just feels so contrived. This format was the epitome of that. Blow it up and start again. Time for a 125-person single-elimination knockout match play tournament (I’m only half joking).

Marksbury: The staggered-scoring format was nice in that the players stood where they stood on Sunday, but that’s about it. Yes, JT had a solid season, but to lead the FedEx Cup after one well-timed win seems hard to justify. I’d like to see something different. A larger final field would help, as Sean suggested. But I think the advantage gained from performances in the first two playoff events can be minimized as well.

Dethier: There has to be some sort of match-play element incorporated. I liked this year’s changes, but for this to really feel like a playoff, I want some guys going truly head-to-head. What if you took the top 8 players from the Tour Championship and had them play for those same prizes? Here’s how that would look:

1-seed McIlroy vs. 8 Reavie
2 Schauffele vs. 7 Finau
3 Koepka vs. 6 Scott
4 Thomas vs. 5 Casey

Are we not intrigued?!

Sens: I thought it was ridiculous but I’m not sure what the solution is. The problem, at heart, is you’re trying to create meaning and cachet out of whole cloth. Rather than go through all kinds of gymnastics to make this feel like a compelling playoff series, why not just be honest about it and market it as the extravagant cash-grab that it is? Brooks Koepka has already posed naked. So how about next year they build a campaign inspired by Indecent Proposal, with Brooks splayed out on a bed of cash…

Wood: I always liked the idea of two things going on at once. A FedEx Cup Championship on the line as well as a pretty significant PGA Tour win. I enjoyed the Tim Russert-style dry erase boards giving you all the “if this, then that, but if that, then this…” I thought it was fun and not nearly as hard to follow as it was made out to be.

I think a guy who is coming into the Tour Championship at number 30 realistically has no shot to win the FedEx Cup, but Thursday morning he still had a chance to win a golf tournament. That’s gone now. You do all realize that with this format, probably the most electrifying win of the year last year, Tiger right here at East Lake, doesn’t happen. My proposal: Four rounds starting Wednesday, and that shakes out to numbers 1-30 on the FedEx points list. Numbers 4-30 stay the same. Sunday morning, 2 and 3 face off in Match play for a chance to topple the No.1 points earner, who gets a bye to the championship.

What would you do to shake up the FedEx Cup format?
What would you do to shake up the FedEx Cup format?
Getty Images

3. What do you think of East Lake as a venue? Should the FedEx Cup finale rotate to different sites each year, the way the BMW and Northern Trust do? And if so, which other sites would you like to see play host?

Zak: East Lake is clearly difficult enough to test the best players in the world. So, keep it as one of the options and add Pinehurst, Chambers Bay and some other variety. Or, at least something that doesn’t look like Medinah for a second straight week.

Kerr-Dineen: Meh. It’s fine. I sort of feel like golf needs to host more of its biggest events in the southeast, so I like East Lake from that perspective, but I think there are better options. One that jumps to mind? Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. How awesome would that be?!

Marksbury: I have no problem with East Lake, and I like the idea of consistency.

Sens: East Lake is a good, stout venue, and if you’re trying to build a compelling brand, which the current playoff series lacks, you need a sense of continuity. Keep East Lake, and flesh out the other missing components from there.

Dethier: Some of the best non-majors (the Players, Memorial, Genesis/L.A. Open) are great because the venues are interesting and familiar, so I prefer that to constantly rotating courses. The more we see Augusta National, after all, the more we’re eager to return the next year. But I don’t think East Lake shows particularly well on TV, so I’m torn. Pinehurst looked awesome for the U.S. Am — maybe they should just have it there every year instead!

Bamberger: That’s a funny thing, Dylan, because I know East Lake almost entirely by walking it as a reporter or playing it as a lucky guest, and I think it’s superb in every way. For some reason, it doesn’t show its true colors on TV and I couldn’t tell you why.

Wood: It needs to move around, and not only between current playoff venues. Spyglass Hill and Sahalee come to mind immediately. West coast means no brutal humidity and heat, no thunderstorms, and primetime finishes on the East Coast, which all seem attractive to me. I think it would give the tournament more cachet and it would be looked at as something more than a money grab. It would feel more like a Super Bowl. Or, to make it really fun, let’s go with the old playground basketball rule, winner’s outs. You win the FedEx Cup in 2019, you get to pick where the FedEx finale goes in 2020. Intrigue.

4. Dustin Johnson finished in a tie for last at East Lake and didn’t post a result better than T20 since finishing runner-up at the PGA Championship in May. Several of the game’s other big names, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth included, didn’t qualify for East Lake. Who currently belongs in golf’s highest, most elite tier?

Zak: The best of the best right now are: Koepka, McIlroy, Johnson, Rose and Thomas. The literal top five in the world. After that, you’ve got people who might win but haven’t claimed majors. Until then, that’s the difference for me. Also, Tiger is too much of a wild card to place him on that level.

Bamberger: I would add Molinari to that list.

Kerr-Dineen: The top tier of golf is without any dominant figure, which makes it a constant game of musical chairs. Just look at Justin Thomas, whose only win this season came last week. I’m not fretting an odd patch of form here or there. For me, the elite tier stays the same: Rory, DJ, Brooks, Rose, JT.

Marksbury: Sean nailed it. As much as I’d like to see the Big Cat’s name in among those in the bright lights, we haven’t seen real consistency from him in months. I hope he can rest up and give us another run next year.

Sens: What Sean said, but with Koepka a slight cut above the rest. He’s as close as we’ve got to an intimidating figure in the post peak-Tiger age.

Dethier: At the risk of being prisoner of the moment, that top tier is just Rory and Koepka right now. Thomas might belong there if he continues to show good health and consistency. D.J. and Rose are on relatively poor form, for them, which means I can’t put them above the next group which includes Rahm, Cantlay, Schauffele and yes, Tiger.

Wood:  Koepka, McIlroy, Thomas.  For good or ill, they are the prototype modern elite player.  Bomb it, find it, and figure it out from there. You ain’t elite if you haven’t won a major. You can’t be. And for whatever reason, at the moment others like DJ and Spieth have dropped off. They’ll both be back and win more majors, but currently it’s those three for me.

5. Rory McIlroy’s final birdie putt marked the end of the 2018-2019 PGA Tour season. What was your favorite moment from this season?

Zak: My favorite moment was when I found this footage of people celebrating Tiger Woods’ Masters win in Nigeria:

Takeaway no. 1: There will never be another Tiger Woods.

No. 2: Tiger could do even more with his platform.

Kerr-Dineen: Probably all the Matt Kuchar caddie stuff, to be honest. What a hilarious mess that was. Oh, you meant on the course? Matt Wolff’s win — and the manner in which he did it — was absolutely epic. It’ll be a seminal moment we look back on for a career destined for the stars.

Marksbury: Hard to top the euphoria that was Tiger’s Masters win, but being in the grandstand on 18 at Portrush on Open Championship Sunday to watch Lowry soak it all in was a close second.
Bamberger: Woods coming off the 18th green at Augusta National — on Friday.

Sens: All great selections above. But I’ll go with the final of the Augusta National Women’s Am. Electrifying golf, at an event far too long in coming.

Dethier: Wandering the Augusta grounds in the immediate aftermath of Woods’ win was easily the most memorable moment of my golf year. On a more personal note, making my PGA Tour caddying debut at the Valspar was an absolute blast.

Wood: Tiger at Augusta. Not a close second for me. Watching him tap in and look ebullient instead of matter of fact or relieved was so refreshing. And then to watch him walk off the back of that green and embrace Sam and Charlie in the same exact spot he was embraced by his Father and Mother back in 1997. Somebody wrote a hell of a script for that one.

6. Any recommendations as to how Rory McIlroy should begin spending his $15 million prize?

Zak: Tip his caddie.

Kerr-Dineen: Buy pounds, they’re very cheap right now.

Marksbury: That’s really only a fun game when it’s for yourself! Hmmm. Rory is already breathing that rarefied air where $15 million doesn’t make much of a difference to him. So, something charitable!

Sens: Put it all on red.

Dethier: We really are in the rich-get-richer era of golf, eh? Back home in Florida, Rory should drop in on a local Minor League Golf Tour event, quietly add a cool million to the purse and watch what happens. Golf dot com can cover the event.

Bamberger: To begin? Taxman, caddie, locker room guys, agent/manager, swing coach, 401K.

Wood:  A caddie health insurance plan would be a hell of a way to get started spending that money. Remember, most of our injuries are those of the mental variety, much cheaper payouts than broken bones or alley fights.