Sifting through FedEx Cup format debate

September, 25, 2009
09/25/09
10:16
AM ET
ATLANTA -- Tiger Woods is currently in first place. And he's also in first.

Padraig Harrington is in second place. And he's in second, too.

No, it's not just nice to write it twice; there's actually some meaning behind these words. This week's Tour Championship is, of course, a tournament within a tournament, as the playoff finale will also help to determine the FedEx Cup champion on Sunday evening.

Harig: Turn Tables On Tiger?

If Padraig Harrington wants to cash that $10 million check for winning the FedEx Cup, he's going to have to change his recent history of playing with Tiger Woods on Saturday at the Tour Championship. Bob Harig

The PGA Tour's points format has been criticized for its complexities and dismissed for its dilemmas. In short, after an entire season of accumulating points, players then earned them at a greater rate over the first three playoff rounds, only to be locked into seeds in a reset entering this week's festivities here at East Lake Golf Club.

It's hardly the simplest system nor is it most sensible. Players often shrug off knowledge of the format thusly: Just play golf and figure it all out later. In fact, Woods virtually echoed that sentiment earlier this week, contending, "You play well, you win it, and you take care of everything else."

He's right -- and that's exactly what is taking place so far. With rounds of 67-68, Woods leads the Tour Championship by a stroke at the midway point. As the No. 1 seed, that of course leaves him in the top spot of the projected rankings, too.

There are those who wish this final event was less a playoff culmination and more a shootout for the $10 million first-place prize. Well, currently it's serving both purposes, as Woods and Harrington -- who is tied for second on the leaderboard and solo second in the projected standings -- are 1-2 on both lists.

Such a result on Sunday would wipe any egg from the face of PGA Tour officials, all of whom would be confident in the knowledge that the eventual winner would have had to win the finale in order to clinch the Cup. Suffice it to say, the organization would collectively love to see the current leaderboard come to fruition, as it would, in many respects, prove the system a success.

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Then again, a slight flip-flop in their positions would create plenty of controversy.

If Harrington wins the tournament and Woods finishes solo second, Woods wins the FedEx Cup. If Harrington wins the tournament and Woods finishes in a tie for second, Harrington wins the FedEx Cup.

If it sounds mind-numbing to you, just think how the players feel.

"I'm in good position as regards [to] the tournament," Harrington said after a second-round 69. "Probably not the best position as regards [to] the FedEx Cup. It's a little bit out of my control."

It gets even weirder. Harrington could finish in second place and, if Tiger should fall to ninth or worse and a few other unlikely events take place, he could claim the entire deal without ever winning a tournament title this year.

That's not exactly the scenario the PGA Tour envisioned when it tweaked the points format for a third straight year.

No matter how the final leaderboard shakes out on Sunday, we'll be talking about how it affected the FedEx Cup standings. If it stays as is, though, expect the PGA Tour brass to be breathing a sigh of relief.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

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Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.
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