Commentary

Fortunate playoffs finish for PGA Tour

Updated: September 25, 2011, 11:53 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- So after all that, he didn't even know. Through all the permutations, probabilities and palpitations Sunday at East Lake Golf Club, Bill Haas was clueless when it came time to play for $10 million.

Perhaps that was a good thing for Haas.

But it's not a very good thing for the FedEx Cup.

Make no mistake, the finale of the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Tour Championship turned into riveting stuff when Haas and Hunter Mahan emerged tied for the Tour Championship title, which meant a sudden-death playoff that went three extra holes.

In a dream scenario for the PGA Tour, it turned out that the winner of the playoff would not only claim the $1.44 million first prize, but also the $10 million bonus. And to make matters even more gut-churning, the "loser'' would fall several pegs down the FedEx Cup pecking order, meaning a much smaller bonus.

And the champion was oblivious.

It wasn't until Haas greeted PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem afterward that he began to get the idea.

"We went up to do some TV interviews in the grandstands there on 18 and both trophies are there and there was no other player,'' Haas said. "So I kind of assumed.''

So, yes, Haas got to accept both trophies, just as Jim Furyk did a year ago, making a nice tidy affair of the awards ceremony and making everybody feel good about the FedEx Cup champion coming up clutch to win the tournament -- the only way in which he could capture the overall title.

And yet, had scenarios played out a bit differently, it very easily could have been Webb Simpson holding the FedEx Cup trophy -- even though he shot a final-round 73 and finished 22nd in a 30-player field.

Simpson came into the tournament No. 1 in FedEx Cup points, so he had given himself that advantage. But let's be honest, it would have been awkward to have Simpson banking $10 million on Sunday when he finished 10 strokes back of the winner.

[+] EnlargeBill Haas
Chris Condon/Getty ImagesBill Haas ran into some trouble late in his round, but still managed to capture both the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup titles on Sunday at East Lake Golf Club.

Luke Donald also had a chance to win the Cup without winning the tournament. He ended up fourth in the final standings and needed one more birdie and he would have rendered the playoff meaningless in terms of the FedEx Cup.

At different points during the final round, Haas, Mahan, Baddeley, K.J. Choi and Simpson were all projected to be No. 1 in the FedEx Cup. The various possibilities were flashed on the television broadcast, and those with access to a PGA Tour computer on site could see up-to-the-minute changes.

"I guess this is what the FedEx Cup is all about,'' said Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, who went to No. 1 on the PGA Tour money list and is also No. 1 in Europe. "It's meant to be exciting, and there's a lot of different scenarios, and I think that's why these early predictions … there's not too much point in that.''

And yet, how is a fan supposed to follow all of that?

If Haas didn't know he was playing for an extra $10 million, how would the folks following outside the ropes have any idea?

And therein lies one of the biggest flaws with the FedEx Cup.

Say what you want about the year-long points race or the various playoff events and the volatility or lack thereof. The tournaments themselves at this time of year are a huge hit for golf, which otherwise completely drops off the map. The fields are strong, the competition is excellent, and certainly the pressure of competing for such a huge prize is compelling.

But having to sit by a computer to figure out who might win and listening to the various scenarios is mind-numbing. Wouldn't it be better to simply have the winner of the tournament win the FedEx Cup?

That happened, but under some extremely fortunate circumstances. And the system is set up in such a way that is far from a guarantee. Two years ago, Tiger Woods won the FedEx Cup when Phil Mickelson won the Tour Championship. In 2008, Vijay Singh barely needed to limp through the Tour Championship to claim the FedEx prize because he had won two playoff events, although the rules have since been changed to keep that from happening.

A zillion scenarios for change have been put forth, and perhaps the easiest one would be to reward half the bonus money to those who qualify for the Tour Championship in the order in which they did so -- making the first three playoff events that much more meaningful. And then put the rest up for grabs at the Tour Championship, the winner getting the Tour Championship title and the FedEx title.

That takes away all the guessing, and everybody knows what is on the line. You win the tournament, you win the FedEx Cup. You finish second, you are second in the FedEx Cup. Clean, easy.

Of course, no solution would have everyone on board.

"I don't think you can wipe all the points away from the first three events and start from scratch here,'' said Simpson, who receives a $3 million bonus for finishing second in the FedEx Cup. "I just don't think that would accurately show who the best player in the playoffs is.''

And yet, that is how it works in any other sports' playoffs. Ask the 2007 New England Patriots. They won 18 games but it came down to one game for the Super Bowl and they lost to the New York Giants. In a FedEx Cup analogy, had the Patriots kept the game close, they would still be Super Bowl champs.

Haas, 29, to his credit, talked about his good fortune. He acknowledged that he hit some poor shots in the playoff, that he was saved by a couple of miraculous up and downs, including from a water hazard on the second playoff hole.

"If Webb plays a little better, or all these things had to happen for me to win [the FedEx Cup],'' said Haas, who had lost two tournaments this year in a playoffs. "I was just trying to win that golf tournament.''

That was the first step toward winning the FedEx Cup. Then Haas, who entered the Tour Championship 25th in points, needed the following to happen: Simpson had to finish 19th or worse (he was 22nd); Dustin Johnson had to finish sixth or worse (he tied for 23rd); Justin Rose and Luke Donald had to finish tied for third or worse (Rose was tied for 20th, Donald tied for third); and Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker had to finish third or worse (Snedeker tied for 16th and Kuchar tied for 20th).

Good luck keeping track of all of that.

When regulation was completed, none of it mattered. As it turned out, Haas and Mahan would be playing off, with the $10 million at stake. (Mahan would end up seventh in the FedEx Cup standings and received a payout that was $9.876 million less than if he had won.)

Watching from a skybox above the 18th green, Finchem sported a grin so wide, you'd think they were giving him the bonus money. This is exactly the type of scenario they get giddy about at tour headquarters.

"It's the most exciting FedEx Cup finish we've had,'' Fincehm said, beaming.

And also a lucky one.

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

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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