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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Sunday Funday at the PGA

12/08/2012 § Leave a comment


via New York Daily News

In the words of the venerable Rob Thomas, it’s 3 am and I must be lonely.  Why else would I be awake, with little intention of falling asleep, blogging about sports?

Well, it’s quite simple.

For one, the final day of competition in London is well underway.  But of course more importantly, play resumes at Kiawah in a mere hour and a half as heavy rain and the threat of thunder and lightning suspended third round action in the PGA Championship.

A look ahead to the final day of action reveals some great story lines which I will briefly set up and give my unabashed predictions for.  First, however, I’ll hold myself accountable to my Wednesday evening pre-tournament predictions.

1. Keegan Bradley

I was pretty high on this kid coming into the tournament off a win last week and defending his title from last year.  Keegan got off to a fast start Thursday, getting it to -5 at one point and making me look like a genius early.  However, he didn’t handle the blustery conditions on Friday too well, and began to fade.  Despite righting the ship for the most part on his first 16 holes of round 3 (he will go back out early to complete his final two holes), Keegan sits at +1 for the tournament and probably too far back to realistically contend.  A top 10 is not out of the question, though.

2. Jim Furyk

Jim never really seemed to be in the mix this week, though a steady 3rd round 70 has set him up for a possible strong finish, especially since he can enjoy his morning while many others head out early to complete round 3).

3. Zach Johnson

Zach was hanging around quietly until 3 straight bogeys before the stoppage of play more or less derailed him.  Perhaps the stoppage was just what he needed in order to recompose and finish respectably.  And I do expect Zach to get it going again and get into the top 10 or 15 tomorrow, especially with the possibility of more rain and gusty winds, which he handled well on Friday relative to the rest of the field.

4. Justin Rose

It’s been a strange tournament for the young Englishman.  He dropped 5 birdies in each of his first and third rounds, but a 79 on Friday has taken him out of contention.  If he can experience some more streakiness that he has enjoyed at times this week, look for him to get it under par for the tournament.

5. Bo Van Pelt

Here’s someone to watch out for.  Bo sits on the 3rd round clubhouse lead, while the four players currently ahead of him on the leaderboard have their back nines still to complete.   The weather in the early morning could be determinative of Bo’s chances.  If the leaders and those others lurking around him fall back in the challenging winds, then he could find himself in the final group.  If not, he’s got to take it low in round 4 to have a chance.

6. Luke Donald

Luke continues to disappoint at the majors.  A double bogey in each of his rounds has highlighted his unsteady play.

7. Phil Mickelson

Lefty has surprised me.  After barely holding it together on Thursday, Phil carded the second lowest round (71) in the tough conditions in round 2.  Still, he sits at +1 and would be shocked if he’s a factor tomorrow.

Who else?

Oh yeah, Eldrick.

Well, as always fans and commentators alike were ready to crown him after Friday (even without the 36-hold lead!).  Tiger struggled with the flat stick, as I worried he might, early in round 3.  He goes out shortly to try to tidy up am 8-footer for par to avoid dropping to E for the tournament with 28 holes remaining.  Maybe the extra time that he’ll be able to play in his traditional Sunday red will be the antidote for Tiger and his majorless streak, now at over 4 years.  Your guess is as good as mine, but I would think he would need to get back at least 2 of the shots he dropped for a 73 at worst to conclude round 3.

To rule him out, however, is always a mistake.

It’s hard not to like Rory‘s chances going into the final day.  His attitude seems to be world class, particularly demonstrated when his tee shot on the 3rd hole on Saturday lodged itself in the branch of a tree.  With poise, Rory took an unplayable lie and the accompanying penalty stroke and promptly got up-and-down for his par.

A win for Rory tomorrow would reignite discussion around his anticipated dominance for the next decade, much like how Tiger took control of things in the 2000s.  Rory, 23, would be the youngest player since World War II to have won two major championships.

On the other end of the spectrum, Vijay Singh has seemingly come out of nowhere to challenge and become the oldest player to win a major, at 49.  Vijay was completely off my radar coming into this week, but sits in a tie atop the leaderboard on the strength of his 69 on Friday (compared to a PGA Championship field average high of 78) and trying to cap off a bogey free front nine in round 3, a round that he will complete with Tiger as surely have his competitive juices flowing.

Other notables include Adam Scott, who is trying to do what Rory did a year ago at the US Open in bouncing back immediately after giving away the previous major down the stretch.  Adam appears to have found his equanimity at Kiawah, and hopes to fully exorcise the demons from Royal Lytham.  I expect Adam to play his way into the final grouping for round 4.

Two others that have caught my attention going into the final day are Trevor Immelman and Ian Poulter.  Their international experience and proficiency on links courses have allowed them to stay in the hunt, shooting respective rounds of 72 and 71 on the tough Friday.  Trevor’s a past major winner (2008 Masters) while Poulter has often found himself in the mix on Sunday only to fail in finding the decisive gear.  I look to both to make a charge.

Wittman

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