04 Sep 2020 | Professional golf |

A money grab in Atlanta

by Martin Blake

Marc Leishman Farmers image
Marc Leishman earned his way into Atlanta, but is the format right? Photo: Getty

Credit to the US PGA Tour in one sense.

They had the guts to change the system that lasted 13 years at the Tour Championship – where the tournament itself ran concurrently with the Fedex Cup season-long points race and its massive prize pool.

But they replaced it with something worse, it seems.

When the Tour Championship begins at East Lake in Atlanta tomorrow with the top 30 players across the 2019-20 season – including Australians Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith -- teeing it up, they will all have a theoretical chance of winning.

But as a handicap event the Tour Championship is compromised.

The tour keeps trying to squeeze two events into one and so far, they haven’t managed to nail it. A work in progress, we might say …

The history of former commissioner Tim Finchem’s brainchild is worth noting here. Finchem wanted a playoff series to mimic the team sports, and in some ways, it has worked since the playoffs were brought in back in 2007.

But the Fedex Cup and the Tour Championship used to be separate events held at the same time, and it was too confusing. Four times, the winners of the two concurrent events were different people. When Bill Haas made the up-and-down of the century from water in a playoff to win the Tour Championship in 2011, he didn’t even realise that he had also won the $US 10 million Fedex Cup bonus.

When it started, only the first handful of players on the points list had a chance of winning the big prize pool, which was changed. Then people complained it was too complicated, so they made it possible for everyone in the Tour Championship to win the Fedex Cup, too.

But this seemed unfair to the players at the top of the points list, so they seeded it. The top player (Dustin Johnson this year) starts at 10-under par and so on down the line.

They are trying to serve two purposes – to reward the best player across the year as well as the best player in a given week – and it’s difficult. As a handicap event, the Tour Championship is somewhat of a bad joke. Handicap golf is for club players, not the elite.

So each year now, the media is full of suggestions as to how to fix it. The brilliant American writer John Feinstein, for instance, offered up matchplay for the top 64 as a solution this week. But Feinstein acknowledged a problem with this: television executives don’t like matchplay because the best players often get knocked out early.

Ever since Finchem added the Fedex Cup to the Tour Championship he degraded the original tournament. With its insane prize pool – now $US15 million to the winner and $US395,000 for finishing last this week – it overshadows the Tour Championship.

And is it realistic to expect a player like Cameron Smith, who sneaked in at No. 26 in the points rankings, to give Dustin Johnson 10 shots head start this week and win? But that’s what’s going to happen. Smith begins Atlanta at even-par and Johnson is 10-under; Jon Rahm, who won last week in Chicago, is at eight-under.

Marc Leishman starts at one-under par and said this week he would need “a crazy week’’ to win, although it's worth noting that Rory McIlroy, last year's winner, came from fifth in the ranking.

Realistically, Leishman and Smith and most of the field are playing for the cash. But imagine, for instance, if Smith shoots the lights out at East Lake (which is par 70), cards 12-under and loses to Johnson at, say, 13-under…

It’s not a level playing field. It looks like a money grab rather than an elite sporting contest.

Good luck to the players, who've earned their way in.

But it’s not a great look for the game … especially in the times that we live in. HOW THEY WILL START IN ATLANTA

-10 Dustin Johnson -8 Jon Rahm -7 Justin Thomas -6 Webb Simpson -5 Collin Morikawa -4 Daniel Berger, Harris English, Bryson DeChambeau, Sungjae Im, Hideki Matsuyama -3 Brendon Todd, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed, Xander Schauffele, Sebastian Munoz -2 Lanto Griffin, Scottie Scheffler, Joaquin Niemann, Tyrrell Hatton, Tony Finau -1 Kevin Kisner, Abraham Ancer, Ryan Palmer, Kevin Na, Marc Leishman Even Cameron Smith, Viktor Hovland, Mackenzie Hughes, Cameron Champ, Billy Horschel

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