The FedEx Cup used to be an extremely clunky playoff system that the media and fans treated with no reverance whatsoever. It didn't mean anything to win it other than the paycheck and the trophy. That's not how postseason sports are generally revered. It's not about the money - it's about the prestige, bragging rights and etching ones name into the archives as champion forever.
Winning the FedEx Cup isn't like adding a major championship win to a golfer's resume, but after 5 years of tweaks that have brought a competitive balance and excitement to each of the four tournaments, it's a playoff system that golfers are starting to take very seriously - and want their name attached to as its champion.
The PGA Tour was very smart in creating this playoff system, but not becoming beholden to the original format. Tiger Woods won the first tournament by 12,578 points. He amassed 123,033 and had 30,574 going into the first tournament. Somwhere along the way he earned another 92.459 points, won the BMW Championship and TOUR Championship, while most fans and media sat around wondering what the point of all this was. No one wants to keep track of over 90,000 points and how each was earned over a months time.
Vijay Singh followed Woods as champion, winning The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship in 2008. He edged Camilo Villegas by only 551 points. Problem is, he didn't even need to play in the TOUR Championship to win the Cup.
Woods returned as champion in 2009 with a reformatted system designed to make the TOUR Championship be the most important tournament of the series because it became virtually impossible to win the FedEx Cup after only three tournaments had been played. The number of points awarded was scaled back to a manageable amount, which if nothing else simply just made sense to do.
The FedEx Cup really started to heat up in 2010 when Jim Furyk went on a magnificent run and clinched the playoff win by winning the TOUR Championship. The 2011 playoffs were even better, with Bill Haas securing his victory due to a spectacular closing performance that gave him the narrowest margin of victory yet, a mere 15 points.
Which brings us to 2012. There has been a buzz around the playoffs this year that I haven't felt in the previous five years. Most of that centers around the newfound rivalry of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Cut throat, it is not, but that doesn't have to be the basis of a rivalry. Woods has been seen playing great golf when he's paired with McIlroy and that's great for the game. What's better is the dominance McIlroy has shown throughout the playoffs and he's doing it with a youthful charm and attacking mentality that endears him to the fans and media.
Like Woods and Singh before him, he's already won two tournaments: the Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship. Woods won the last two tournaments in 2007, Singh the first two and now McIlroy has already won the middle two which means if he does take home the title, the surest route to victory is winning half the tournaments - which is obviously much easier said than done.
It's no surprise that McIlroy has been so dominant this year, we've always expected it. It's just much more on our radar because he's played more on the PGA Tour in 2012 and declared that he wanted to win this playoff series last year.
It will be a longshot for any golfer to over take McIlroy to win the FedEx Cup, but here are the key players hoping to spoil his party:
Tiger Woods (-3,232) If he wins the TOUR Championship, he's the FedEx Cup champion. It's as simple as that. How epic would it be to have Woods and McIlroy battling down the stretch on the back 9 Sunday? Imagine the tension that will bring to the Ryder Cup. Imagine how much a win would vindicate Woods after he's struggled to find his form for so long and close out tournaments. Finally, imagine the TV ratings and instant classic status this scenario would create. Please?
Nick Watney (-3,713), Phil Mickelson (-3,879), Brandt Snedeker (-3,942)
If they win Sunday, they win it all. Each has a reasonable chance of winning if they don't win the tournament, but the margin for error in that case is very high.
Twenty five other golfers have a chance to win the FedEx Cup if they win the TOUR Championship and a million other things go their way including: Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood, Zach Johnson, Jason Dufner, and Bubba Watson. They are very long shots, but we have come to know that anything can happen through four rounds of golf. Anything.
It has been a long time since I've struggled this much to make picks, but that's what happens when the future of golf and one of the best of all time go head-to-head, 1 vs. 2, in a winner take all contest. My mind is telling me McIlroy is the pick, while my heart really wants to see Tiger win a nail-biter that we won't soon forget. Yet, it's not as easy as picking one or the other. There are very strong golfers behind the top two and all they've got to do is win. The more I think about these picks, the worst I normally do, so let's just get on with it, shall we?
1. Rory McIlroy
2. Tiger Woods
3. Jason Dufner
4. Dustin Johnson
5. Phil Mickelson
Am I using reverse pyschology to try and will Woods to a victory? Not exactly, because I would be perfectly content watching McIlroy win this thing as well. However, and I wrote about it earlier this week, if we can just get Woods and McIlroy battling again I would be more than satisfied. And if the PGA Tour really wants to put this playoff series over with fans who are on the fence about it, there could be no better way.