1. A lesson (hopefully) learned
The PGA Tour is in the midst of making changes to the FedEx Cup “playoffs,” and any alterations to the format can’t come soon enough — especially in light of what happened Sunday on the PGA Tour Champions.
It was there at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship where the nightmare scenario occurred — one that has always been possible in both playoff formats — as Kevin Sutherland was crowned season-long champion despite that tournament being his only victory of the year.
Bernhard Langer, who won seven times and had 16 top-10s in 22 starts this season, is unquestionably the PGA Tour Champions player of the year. But like on the PGA Tour, a player who enters the last event in the top 5 can win the overall title with a victory.
And that is exactly what Sutherland accomplished.
So Sutherland — who had not won on any tour since 2002 — captured the $1 million annuity because he had excellent timing, winning the season-ending tournament.
“We voted for that, and that’s what it is at the moment,” Langer said. “It was never meant to be fair. It was meant to be playoffs. Everybody in the field was given a chance to win. Is it fair? No, it’s not, but that’s how it is right now. We might revisit in the future.”
2. Having it both ways
Langer is right and wrong. A playoff system many times produces exactly what occurred on the PGA Tour Champions — the best player (or team) not winning the overall title. In American team sports, we see this all the time. If you want to crown the regular-season champion the overall champion, then don’t have playoffs!
Same in golf. It would be silly to have a system that only leads to the best player winning the overall title no matter what occurs in the playoffs. In 2008, Vijay Singh clinched the FedEx Cup title through two playoff events out of four. That would be similar the Dodgers having been assured the World Series title this year after knocking off the Cubs in the National League Championship Series.
So the system is fair because it is set up exactly for that possibility — as remote as it might be. Sutherland did nothing wrong, other than win a big tournament at the right time. On the PGA Tour, Justin Thomas this year won the FedEx Cup despite not winning the Tour Championship, a result that left him feeling a bit odd. Thomas wanted to win the tournament.
The truth is, the PGA Tour has been extremely fortunate. When Phil Mickelson won the Tour Championship in 2009, Tiger Woods was the FedEx champion. Starting in 2010 and through 2016, the winner of the Tour Championship also won the FedEx Cup. This year, nobody had an issue with Thomas being the FedEx champion when he was a five-time winner.
3. Going forward
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said at the Tour Championship that numerous ideas have been presented and clearly something is going to change. Will it be in time for 2018? That is possible, but the tour won’t want to get too far into the season before making a change to how it might end. A more likely scenario is for something to be in place for 2019.
An idea that has been kicked around a good bit is to have a top number of players following the Tour Championship advance to a one-day shootout for the FedEx Cup title. While there are numerous ways this could be done — and numerous other ideas that would avoid a situation that occurred at the Schwab Cup — it seems that almost anything would lead to a better, more exciting outcome.
Perhaps there is another idea for the PGA Tour to consider. Drop the word “playoffs,” which has never seemed a proper description for golf. Maybe FedEx Cup Series. Or FedEx Cup Finale.
4. South Africa’s major
For the first time in 18 months, Branden Grace — a frequent contender in majors over the past few years — won on a worldwide tour, capturing the Nedbank Challenge in his native South Africa. It was his eighth European Tour title and first win since capturing the RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour in 2016.
What an awesome week!Words cant describe how this win means to me,winning an event like #NGC2017 in 🇿🇦 is extra special!! Thanks to everyone
— Branden Grace (@BrandenGrace) November 12, 2017
5. The comparison game
Until he knocks off a few more victories, Rickie Fowler will have to live with this reality. He has four PGA Tour titles in his career after coming up short at the Mayakoba Classic in his first start of the 2017-18 season. Fowler also has three international victories.
But despite a longer career, Fowler, 28, can’t match the season that 24-year-old Justin Thomas just had. Thomas, who won the PGA Championship, had five victories this past season and has seven PGA Tour titles.
Fowler, however, can take this away from the tournament in Mexico: He surpassed $30 million in career PGA Tour earnings. And a second-place finish is a nice confidence boost with a full season looming.
6. A first for China
A medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, China’s Shanshan Feng brought further glory to her country by becoming its first player to ascend to No. 1 in the world. Feng, who has won the last two events on the LPGA Tour, looks to be a positive influence for a sport that has unlimited potential but roadblocks due a communist government. For now, Feng is enjoying the accomplishment.
— Shanshan Feng (@shanshanfengCHN) November 11, 2017
7. Remember me?
Si Woo Kim finished third at the Mayakoba Classic. It was his first top-10 finish in 15 worldwide starts since winning the Players Championship in May. The South Korean golfer, who is ranked 39th in the world, missed five cuts and also withdrew from a tournament during that stretch. His best finish prior to Sunday was a tie for 13th at the U.S. Open.
8. Last chance
While the PGA Tour plays its eighth event (in seven weeks) of the 2017-18 season at the RSM Classic, the European Tour and LPGA Tour are concluding their 2017 seasons.
The Race to Dubai concludes at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, where Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia are the only players with a chance at claiming the top prize from the 60-player field.
The LPGA concludes with the CME Group Tour Championship, where any of the top five players in the points standings — Lexi Thompson, Sung Hyun Park, Shanshan Feng, So Yeon Ryu and Brooke Henderson — can claim a $1 million bonus with a victory. The top 12 of the 81-player field all have a mathematical chance of capturing the bonus.
After this week, there is still plenty of golf to be played around the world.
The European Tour wastes no time in starting its 2018 season with next week’s Hong Kong Open. It is the first of four co-sanctioned events (in three weeks) to be played before the start of the new year.
A week later, Tiger Woods makes his return at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, where Dustin Johnson, Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and defending champion Hideki Matsuyama are also part of the 18-player field.
9. Bad coaching
The European Tour had some fun with unsuspecting fans last week at the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa.
We challenged four of the world’s best golfers to give prank lessons to unsuspecting fans. Here’s what happened… pic.twitter.com/F7VpSslM0r
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 10, 2017