Confusion run amok with FedEx Cup

ATLANTA -- The FedEx Cup, despite its flaws, remains good for golf, good for the PGA Tour. That was the view when it began three years ago and remains as such through Sunday's raindrops at East Lake Golf Club.

It certainly didn't hurt that Jim Furyk prevailed, winning both the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, with the competition coming down to the very last putt.

And yet, you can't help but chide a system that has to be impossibly frustrating to understand for even the most devoted of dimple-following golf lovers.

The tournaments are great, filled with high-caliber fields at a time of year when the sports fan's attention is diverted elsewhere. Golf would have no chance in late September -- and still struggles -- without some sort of meaningful, star-filled tournaments.

But does it have to be so difficult to figure out who is going to win?

Things were so chaotic Sunday that Matt Kuchar, who was hopelessly out of the tournament, still had a chance to cash the $10 million first-prize check if some crazy scenarios unfolded.

Paul Casey could have walked away with $10 million without winning a tournament all year.

Nick Watney, who was 28th in the FedEx standings heading into the tournament, gave himself a very real chance to jump everyone for the big payout.

Furyk finally prevailed, getting up and down from a greenside bunker at the 18th hole to avoid a third straight bogey and hold off Luke Donald by a stroke.

If they had gone to a playoff and Donald had won, he'd have snagged the $10 million prize.

It was Furyk's third victory of the year and the 16th of his PGA Tour career -- and as he celebrated on the 18th green, Furyk had no idea he had also won the FedEx Cup.

When he asked his wife, Tabitha, she had no idea, either.

All of that is good stuff. And yet, as they all played, fighting it out for a huge payday, did anybody know? Shouldn't they?

"I think it's impossible to be aware of it," said Kuchar, who led the FedEx Cup standings heading into the Tour Championship but ended up second, earning a consolation bonus of $3 million. "Who really was aware of it? Maybe some kid in front of a computer. But certainly I was not."

There was poor Steve Sands of the Golf Channel, with easel and marker, trying to add up the numbers on the NBC broadcast all weekend, running through the various permutations. He did a fine job, but all the while somebody tuning in to watch golf is forced to decipher the numbers in order to figure out what the shots mean.

Each day, the copy machines were humming with printed out pages of info, 16 different scenarios in play for the top six players on the leaderboard Sunday and how they could capture the FedEx Cup.

It was an exercise in futility for those sitting in front of a computer, which meant those under an umbrella were still all wet.

And then there are the players themselves.

As Kuchar said, he doubted anyone could be aware of the various scenarios. Typically in sports, even golf, you know where you stand. Or have the ability to know.

But how could anyone follow this?

Donald ultimately cost himself a shot at victory when he made a double-bogey 7 on Saturday at the par-5 15th. He ended up one stroke back of Furyk and finished third in the FedEx Cup.

Casey tied for fourth with Nick Watney. For a time, second place looked very possible, which would have put the FedEx Cup under more scrutiny: Casey would've won it without capturing a tournament all year.

"I had no clue," Casey said of the scenarios unfolding. "Ignorance is bliss."

During a one-hour and 50-minute rain delay, Kuchar retreated to the clubhouse and did what many golf fans were likely doing.

"I watched football," he said. "I really had no idea. ... I was out there trying to hit good shots and really didn't give the FedEx Cup one ounce of thought today."

Perhaps that was a defense mechanism in play for a guy who was playing his seventh tournament in nine weeks on fumes. And for one who potentially saw a lot of money slip out of his grasp.

Furyk, for his part, knew he had to win the tournament; the FedEx Cup was not in play otherwise.

And shouldn't that be what such a huge prize is about?

For sure, there was plenty of drama, exactly the kind of scenarios the PGA Tour envisioned.

For the first time since the points program was put into place, it appeared that to win the FedEx Cup it would be necessary to win the Tour Championship.

That wasn't the case in 2007, when Tiger Woods waltzed to both titles. As it turned out, he did not need to win at East Lake to capture the $10 million prize -- but did anyway.

Two years ago, Vijay Singh needed to keep from fainting in order to claim the FedEx trophy. The competitors in the tournament had barely made the turn when Singh was finished and receiving accolades.

Last year, Phil Mickelson won the tournament, but finished second to Woods -- who finished second at the Tour Championship but won the FedEx Cup.

This time numerous scenarios existed. Furyk could win it all, as could Retief Goosen or Donald. But Watney needed help -- lots of it -- and was in position to see it all come true.

While discussing all the possibilities shows just how tense the final round was Sunday, it hardly suggests that this is a clean and simple process for fans and even players to follow.

The PGA Tour is caught in the difficult position of trying to reward season-long success while at the same time rewarding good play during the four-tournament playoff run.

It is clearer than ever that the PGA Tour needs to somehow differentiate between the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.

Here is a simple idea: split up the bonus money so that anyone who finishes in the top 30 gets to share in that prize fund in descending order. Then play the Tour Championship, 72 holes, with everyone fighting it out from scratch, winner taking the big bonus.

In the end, it was Furyk capturing both, making him the only player this year to win three times on the PGA Tour. That makes him a virtual lock for player of the year, and gives him some nice momentum heading into the Ryder Cup.

On the surface, it will appear to be a good ending for the FedEx Cup.

You've got a good winner, who came through in the clutch to win the Tour Championship -- his only hope of capturing the overall prize. Nothing wrong with that.

But if you followed Sunday's theatrics, and tried to figure it out, you know the tour is in need of the easel board.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.