No Woods, no Lowry – that’s the volatility of the Playoffs
August 20, 2019
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
New format for 2019 FedExCup Playoffs
ATLANTA – Tiger Woods and Shane Lowry did not qualify for this week’s TOUR Championship, the finale of the FedExCup Playoffs. That means two of the four major winners this season will not be competing for golf’s biggest prize.
That’s actually not a one-time (or in this case two-time) occurrence.
Since 2007 when the FedExCup was launched, a handful of major winners failed to advance to East Lake in the respective years of their major wins. One of those was Padraig Harrington, who won two majors in 2008 and started the FedExCup Playoffs ranked fourth in points. He missed the cut in the first two events and then finished T-55 in the third event, dropping him to 50th in points that season.
Afterwards, Harrington blamed only himself for failing to advance. “I think you need to have people missing out,” he explained. “I think that's what's missing at times. We need to have players get knocked out. That's what happens in a playoff.”
The points structure was changed prior to 2009, and since then a top-five spot entering the Playoffs has been a near-lock for the 30-man TOUR Championship field. That’s even more so now that the Playoffs have been reduced from four to three events. Of the top five in points entering this year’s Playoffs, none dropped below 11th going into this week.
Neither Woods (Masters) nor Lowry (The Open Championship) were close to the top five. The Irishman Lowry entered the Playoffs ranked 20th, having played 12 events as he balanced his PGA TOUR schedule with the European Tour. Woods ranked 28th, having played 10 events as he reduced his schedule from the previous season in order to better manage his health and fitness.
Both then dropped down the standings due to poor results in the first two Playoffs events. Woods withdrew from THE NORTHERN TRUST, then finished T-37 last week at the BMW Championship. Lowry was T-52 and T-48. Others who played better in the Playoffs were rewarded with higher points (quadrupled for Playoffs events), enough to push Woods and Lowry out of the top 30.
Meanwhile, the other big winners this season – Rory McIlroy (THE PLAYERS Championship), Brooks Koepka (PGA Championship) and Gary Woodland (U.S. Open), as well as the World Golf Championships winners (Xander Schauffele, Kevin Kisner, Dustin Johnson and Koepka) all played well enough to maintain a top 30 spot.
That’s the nature of any kind of Playoffs … in any sport.
“We are in the Playoffs, and Playoffs inherently bring forward a lot of volatility,” PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan said Tuesday when asked about the missing major winners. “So for the two players that aren't here, Tiger Woods and Shane Lowry, they were inside the top 30 when we started the FedExCup Playoffs. And certainly Rory, Brooks and Gary are here. And then you look at the World Golf Championship winners, you look at Xander, you look at Kevin, you look at Dustin and obviously Brooks again, they're here as well.
“I think what it says is that, one, it's really hard to get to Atlanta and the TOUR Championship. You've got to play exceedingly well over the course of an entire season, and with volatility, there's risk. And if you don't play well over the course of the season or you don't get off to the start that you envision at the start of the Playoffs, you take the risk that you're not going to be here.
“Obviously, for Tiger he had to withdraw from the first event, put himself in a position on Sunday to have a chance to be here, gave it a go. It didn't work out, and for Shane, obviously, won The Open Championship, was in position to be here, and like Tiger, it didn't happen for him over those two weeks.
“I think we're always going to have that, and whether or not that's the right thing, ultimately, if you're going to have Playoffs, you have to have volatility. And I think the interest of seeing all the players get themselves into position for this event, including getting inside the top 30 or not getting inside the top 30, is one of the intriguing storylines.
“But I want to emphasize the fact that what Tiger and Shane did this year, those are two of the greatest stories of the year. So would you want them here? 1,000%. But you look at every other sport and their playoff format, and … you'll have top teams that fall out early. You'll have some things that you may not have predicted, particularly at the moment when they won those two big events.”
Prior to this year, the last major winners not to play at East Lake came in 2016 when Europeans Danny Willett (did not play) and Henrik Stenson (36th) failed to advance. And in 2010 and 2011, six of the eight major winners were not in East Lake – although four were non-TOUR members at the time (Martin Kaymer, Louis Oosthuizen, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke) and one took up membership late (Graeme McDowell). Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters winner, finished 33rd in points.
As for THE PLAYERS Championship, just two since 2007 have not made it to the TOUR Championship – Si Woo Kim in 2017 (finished 54th in points that season) and Henrik Stenson in 2009 (non-member at the time).
Currently, THE PLAYERS champ and major winners receive 600 FedExCup points, with 550 points for World Golf Championships wins, 500 points for regular-season events, and 300 points for opposite-field events.
Asked if he thought the bigger tournaments should be weighted even heavier, the Commissioner said he did not feel the need to make any adjustments.
“If you were to increase the points for big events ‑‑ in this instance, I haven't run the numbers ‑‑ I'm not so sure you'd be in a different place because those points affect every player in those fields,” Monahan said. “But, again, I'll go back to at the beginning of the year, every player knows what the structure is for the FedExCup, and they organize their schedule and they organize themselves competitively to try and get here. …
“I think that the storylines that develop as you get to the back end of the year and into our Playoffs and the increased volatility that we're delivering is creating a compelling product for our fans, our core fans, and those that we're seeking to bring into our sport. …
“This is year 13, and we made some modification to our points. We obviously have given the major championships an elevated position with a 20% premium. And I think if you look back over time and the fields that we've had here in Atlanta and the winners we've had in the FedExCup is an extraordinary list of champions that have played extraordinarily well to win the FedExCup.”
A few other topics answered by Commissioner Monahan:
TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP’S NEW SCORING FORMAT: “We're not sitting here on Tuesday of the TOUR Championship saying everything's perfect, but we think this is the right format to transition into, right scoring format to transition to as you move out of the old one. I think it's been really exciting to see it unfold.”
PACE OF PLAY. “We're going to have a meeting with our Player Advisory Council in October, where we're going to be talking about what we think the solutions are. I'm excited about that. Our teams have been working very hard preparing for that.”
POTENTIAL PGA TOUR/LPGA TOUR EVENT: “It hasn't happened, candidly, as quickly as our organization and the LPGA would like for it to happen, but sometimes these things are tricky. I can't say everything I want to say other than we're close, and I'm confident it's going to happen.”
PGA TOUR CHANNEL: “Have our own network? I think that the challenge of that is that we're not a media company. So the answer to that is no.”