Relax, It’s (just) FedEx

19/09/2012 § Leave a comment

The final leg of the PGA Tour Playoffs wraps up this coming weekend at East Lake, and statisticians, including yours truly, are having a field day in anticipation of the possible scenarios that may play out.

As has been voiced in prior posts, the FedEx Cup Playoffs scoring scheme has been a work in progress over its first five campaigns.  Even though most golf fans still can’t wrap their heads around the system, or prefer to be spoon fed the scenarios, or simply wait for it all to unfold, most would agree that the PGA Tour has got to have it right now, finally.  How else could such perfect drama have been manufactured on last year’s final stage that saw Bill Haas splash his way from 25th in the standings to the top?!

I’m writing tonight in part to explain that what happened last year was both anomalous and unfair.  For Haas to win it all required the perfect storm; he needed to win the event of course, and hats off to him for doing so, but he also needed a ton to go wrong for the gentlemen who entered the week at the top.  That happened.  Webb Simpson (entering the week in 1st) finished in 22nd, Dustin Johnson (2nd) finished 23rd, while Justin Rose (3rd) and Matt Kuchar (5th) finished tied for 20th in the 30-man field.

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BMW = Big Moving Week?

07/09/2012 § Leave a comment

Golf fans are familiar with the term “moving day”, used to refer to the third of four rounds in a given tournament. As the FedEx Cup Playoffs entered their third of four legs yesterday, I started to closely examine the standings to see how much room there really is for upward movement.

With a particularly keen eye on Canadians Graham DeLaet and David Hearn, it seemed near impossible for them to make it into the TOUR Championship at East Lake in two weeks. Maybe that’s fair, given that they both started these playoffs outside the top 100. Still, I began to question just how much volatility there actually is come the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and what kind of chance guys who « Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday at The Barclays

27/08/2012 § Leave a comment

The first leg of the FedEx Cup entered its final 9 holes at Beth Page Black with several emerging storylines. There was the battle at the top for the $1.44 million winner’s cheque, the jockeying for position to get into next week’s Deutsche Bank, and of course the race for the overall FedEx Cup.

ReSergence of Garcia

Mr. Garcia refuses to go away, even in spite of himself.  After the seemingly countless collapses at majors, the implicative remarks after the 2007 British Open that he was the only man in the field who was also playing against God, and the foreclosed concession after this years Masters that he is “not good enough to win a major”, Sergio finds himself relevant again.  He won convincingly last week at the Wyndham, his first win on TOUR since 2008, and vied for back-to-back victories as he entered his the back nine on Sunday at Beth Page just one shot behind Nick Watney.  A 3-over 38 coming in was not how Sergio had hoped to close the tournament, but a T3 this week was good enough to crack the top 10 in the overall standings.

What now, Watney?

Things were setting up to be a two-horse race between Watney and Garcia, but Nick was just too steady coming down the stretch.  His three shot victory was his first of 2012, and all of a sudden he finds himself atop the FedEx Cup standings after the first leg.  One wonders whether a playoff push by Watney will grab the attention of Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III enough to merit a captain’s selection for the competition next month.  Love will make his announcement next Tuesday following the Deutsche Bank, so Watney better take his momentum into next week if he hopes to emerge out of the several other formidable names ahead of him on Davis’ list.

Snedeker Sneeking into the Picture

With his unkempt matted birds nest, usually hidden under the Bridgestone visor, Brandt’s popping jab of a putting stroke seems to jump into the radar ever now and then.  He won in a playoff early in the year at the Farmers Insurance, went into hibernation for a few months and then suddenly held the 36-hole lead across the pond at the Open Championship before fading on the weekend.  Sneds lurked 2 back of the lead entering his final 9 holes on Sunday, but left a few birdie putts hanging on lips and had to settle for second place.

DeLaet-ful Finish

It was a great weekend for Canadians in New York.  Graham DeLaet and David Hearn each sat on the bubble at 106th and 108th respectively, and both needed to make a big move to get into the top 100 and advance to the next leg of the FedEx Cup at the Deutsche Bank next week.  They did that and then some.  Hearn’s 67 on Saturday put him in a final round pairing with Tiger, where despite having to watch the worst round on the golf course today—Mr. Woods tossed up a 76—he finished T10 at -3, and more importantly moved into 67th in the FedEx Cup standings.

DeLaet outdid his compatriot.  Graham fired a scintillating 65 today, good for second lowest of the week, and vaulted into T5 for the tournament and 44th in the FedEx Cup standings.  I can’t recall a leaderboard featuring two Canadians in the top 10 since the glory days of the mid 2000s with Mike Weir and Stephen Ames. Both Hearn and DeLaet will play next week, and hopefully beyond.

Other big movers include Bob Estes, Tom Gainey, Jason Day and Jonas Blixt who each have snuck into the Deutsche Bank.  Some moves more modest that others, Blixt hardly blitzed his way in with a 67-73-73-73, but was good enough to move from 101st to 97th in the overall standings.

The Race

I don’t know why they call it a race.  Perhaps it’s because it’s loosely modeled on the Nascar points system.  But golf is more like a turtle and a hare playing chess.  And the early maneuvering has given intrigue to this month long FedEx Cup battle.

Tiger continued to look out of sorts on the weekend.  Needing to post a low number, he offset three birdies with three bogeys on the front before going 5-over on a 5-hole stretch on the back.  The feel with the flatstick and inability to adjust to changing greenspeeds continues to plague Tiger.  To compound things, nothing looked comfortable for him over the weekend.  Pull hooks followed by block fades followed by chunked chips made for an awful lot of pouts and yet more questions about the direction of his game.  Nevertheless, Tiger will still be in 3rd going into the Deutsche Bank.

With the volatility that the revamped FedEx Cup scoring system has encouraged, Watney jumped from 49th to 1st with his victory, while Sneds went from 19th to 2nd. Rory McIlroy yoyo-ed around even par all weekend and sits 4th overall.

Others lurking include both Johnsons, Dustin and Zach, Bubba, Carl Peterson, and Jason Dufner, who took the 2007 Tiger approach and sat this one out.  I’ll be in touch again this week to set up the Deutsche Bank and make some bold predictions for the rest of the “race”.

-Wittman

Special Delivery: The FedEx Cup Explained

24/08/2012 § 1 Comment

Five summers ago, I was wrapping up some research with a professor at UBC looking at shot-making on the PGA Tour and which stats are the best indicators of success.  In order to carry out our study, we were in touch with the people behind the scenes of ShotLink data, and during one conversation were made privy to the revamping of the scoring system for the season ending playoff series, The FedEx Cup.

I remember having my suspicions.

The problem was what occurred the previous year in the inaugural PGA playoffs.  Tiger Woods sat atop the standings heading into the four-tournament series and actually opted to sit out the first event, The Barclays.  The points system for the playoffs allowed for little volatility, and in the end the final standings very closely reflected the regular season standings.

In other words, the LA Kings had no chance of winning the Stanley Cup, perhaps in part because their opponents in the first round decided to take the series off (interpret as you wish).

So, the think-tank at the Tour made the aforementioned alterations heading into 2008, allowing for players to rocket up the standings with a strong showing in the playoffs.  Unfortunately, things played out about as badly as anyone could have imagined.  Vijay Singh won the first two playoff events, The Barclays and the Deutche Bank, and in doing so amassed such a lead over second place that all he had to do was show up the next week at the BMW to lock up the FedEx title; he did so by shooting 76-75-75-73 and finishing 67th of 70 players.  That was all before the final event, the Tour Championship at East Lake, where there was in fact nothing to play for.

For you hockey fans: seriously, nothing to play for

It was as if the Phoenix Coyotes, with wins in their first two series, had locked up the Stanley Cup even after being bounced in 5 games by the Kings.  LA and New Jersey were playing for fun in the finals, before Shane Doan came out to accept the cup.  It was an anticlimax worse than every blackout drunk one-night stand of mine in undergrad.

Subsequent emails I sent to the head of statistics at the Tour were met with auto-replies that he had left on stress leave.  No surprise, really.  The FedEx Cup Playoffs was in trouble and needed some serious reworking.

What was achieved in advance of the 2009 season was a system that sought to balance season-long consistency with playoff performance, but which also assured some drama at the Tour Championship at East Lake.  The scoring system devised then has survived the past three years with relative success.  But a problem still exists.  Fans have no clue what’s going on, and each year, a breakdown of scenarios needs to be provided heading into the final event, and further into the final day.

This year

Seriously, a handbook?!

There’s nothing new this year.  Come a month from now, something akin to the link above will be concocted heading into the Tour Championship.  Such is endemic to any system that wishes to perform the balancing act it seeks.  What follows are the essentials you need to know as a casual golf fan.

1. Players compete in tournaments from the Hyundai Championship beginning in the first week of January to the Wyndham Championship last week for FedEx Cup points.

2. The top 125 players in the FedEx Cup standings over the period above advance to the playoffs.

3. Points are “reset” or better put “recalibrated” according to the standings heading into a four-tournament playoff consisting of the Barclays, Deutsche Bank, BMW, and Tour Championship.

4. The top 100 players advance to the Deutsche Bank, 70 to the BMW, and 30 to the Tour Championship

5. Points are again recalibrated before the Tour Championship.

6. Each player in the top 5 of the standings going into the Tour Championship has controls his own destiny.  A win at East Lake wins the FedEx Cup.

7. Every player advancing to the Tour Championship has at least some faint chance of winning the FedEx Cup.

Tournament

Players

Cut

The Barclays

125

Top 70 and ties

The Deutsche Bank

100

The BMW Championship

70

No Cut

The TOUR Championship

30

And so it begins.  I can only hope that this year provides the splash of drama that Bill Haas gave us last year.

-Wittman

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