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Explainer: All you need to know about the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,

The PGA Tour's much-vaunted FedEx Cup is as confusing to pro golfers as it is to golf fans. Luckily, our man is on the scene at the Westchester Country Club for The Barclays, the playoffs' first leg, and has your FedEx Cup primer.

RYE, N.Y. - Imagine Peyton Manning confessing that football's playoffs are just too confusing a setup for him to wrap his mind around on the eve of the NFL's postseason.

It's unthinkable, of course. But that's just what is happening at Westchester Country Club with the first leg of the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup, The Barclays, set to begin Thursday. The PGA Tour's best golfers are admitting near complete ignorance at exactly how commissioner Tim Finchem's personally trumpeted inaugural golf postseason system works.

"Math has never been my strong point," Boo Weekley, the 17th seed in the 144-golfer playoffs, said, shrugging. "I don't know what the hell is going on."

Remember this is one of the guys playing for a $10 million prize (or at least a $10 million retirement fund - more on this later). How's the average golf fan supposed to follow along?

With that in mind, WorldGolf.com is breaking down the FedEx Cup (technically the PGA Tour is calling it one bulky word, the FedExCup) and all its intricacies. Or at least most of its intricacies.

Pay attention and you just may know more than the pros actually swinging clubs in cold, rainy New York.

"It's a little too confusing for me," said rookie Brandt Snedeker, who vaulted all the way to ninth in the Cup standings with his win at last week's Wyndham while all the top players rested. "I'm not that smart. I know if I play well this week, then good things happen."

Regular season point totals important - kind of

Tiger Woods played well in almost every week he played this season. Woods racked up 30,574 FedEx Cup points in only 13 tournaments (five wins and nine top 10s), giving him a commanding 11,445 point-lead over No. 2 Vijay Singh and a near 14,000-point advantage over No. 3 Jim Furyk.

Only that's all but gone now. Once the first leg of the Cup arrives, the points are reset, with No. 1 at 100,000 points, No. 2 at 99,000 points, No. 4 at 98,500 points, all the way down to No. 144 at 84,700 points.

Regular season FedEx Cup points
Finish Tour events Major championships World Golf championships
1 4500 4950 4725
2 2700 2970 2970
3 1700 1870 1785
4 1200 1320 1260
5 1000 1100 1050
10 675 743 709
30 170 187 179
70 50 55 53
Source: Golf.com

That commanding lead Woods held over Vijay? Not so much anymore.

There will be 50,000 points available in each of the four FedEx Cup playoff tournaments over the next four weeks. In the first three tournaments, including the Barclays, the winner gets 9,000 points, second place 5,400 points, third place 3,400 points, down to 100 points for 70th place.

This is why a player like British Open champion Padraig Harrington, who goes into the Barclays in 21st place with 94,600 points, can realistically talk about winning it all.

"If I win two of these next four tournaments, I can be considered the Player of the Year or whatever people want to call this champion," Harrington said. "Where if it was a regular year and Tiger had this season, he'd probably have Player of the Year already wrapped up."

The PGA Tour might have relentlessly promoted the FedEx Cup's regular season points race, but they mostly only mean something to a 36-year-old journeyman like Jeff Gove, who made the 144-golfer cut by a scant 23 points over Eric Axley.

FedEx's shrinking Cup field

As the FedEx Cup goes on, more and more golfers will be sent home. The first cut from this week's Barclays to next week's Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston isn't severe. The 144 is trimmed to 120. Yes, just 24 golfers don't get guaranteed at least two weeks.

But only the top 70 in FedEx Cup points moves on from Boston to Chicago for the BMW Championship, and then only the top 30 after the third week advance to The Tour Championship in Atlanta.

Tiger Woods' absence no point crusher

A lot of the talk in Westchester has been about Tiger deciding to treat The Barclays like his personal bye week. What most people don't realize is that Woods could skip the first three tournaments in the four-week FedEx Cup playoffs and still make the 30-man field for the Tour Championship with his 100,000 reset points.

He couldn't win the Cup under that scenario, but he can still do it without any Barclays points. Woods will probably give up his first-place standing by sitting out this week (if someone else in the top 60 wins, Tiger losses the top spot, and Vijay can finish as low as 13th and take over No. 1).

Money at the end of a long rainbow

Ask the players what most bothers them about the FedEx Cup setup and the majority will tell you it's the confusing $10 million prize for the overall winner of the four-tournament playoffs (each tournament has its own $7 million purse like usual, and the first two have two-day cuts too).

When it comes to the big $10 million, though, no one is being shown the money. At least not for a long time.

FedEx Cup playoff points
Finish First three events Tour championship
1 9000 10300
2 5400 6200
3 3400 3900
4 2400 2800
5 2000 2300
10 13505 1550
30 340 395
Source: Golf.com

The $10 million goes into a retirement fund the winner has the option to invest, but cannot access until he is between 45 and 60 (depending on how many tournaments they play in these years).

This has already led to some notable faux pas. Korean player K.J. Choi, who only started to learn English after he came over to America in his 30s, promised that he would donate the entire $10 million to charity if he won the top prize. Then, the 37-year-old Choi realized he wouldn't be able to give away that money for at least a decade.

By the time he arrived in New York, Choi had a backup plan.

"I still feel if I'm able to win the $10 million, I will contribute in some way I can to children's charities here in the U.S. and Korea."

Not that many of Choi's peers could call him on the first blunder.

"As far as I know I've been talking English my whole life," Weekley said. "And I can't figure any of this FedEx Cup stuff out. How about, you tell me if I win it?"

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Fed Ex Cup[

    Marshall Stewart wrote on: Sep 1, 2008

    The FedEx Cup is unnecessary; the "scoring" confusing and boring; and Tim Finchem should pay more attention to the game and less to making billionaires out of millionaires.


      • RE: Fed Ex Cup[

        henry ingram wrote on: Sep 8, 2009

        i have read every thing i can find to try and understand this complicated confusing format of golfing and still dont understand whats going on this has to be the dumbest idea that has ever ben thought of even worse than most of the ideas that come out of our politions simple minds in washington


  • Fedex cup

    Hawke wrote on: Sep 5, 2007

    When the play-off starts, all players should start at 0 points, to eleminate players from taking off. It also gives each player the same chance to win.
    The first round should be worth 10 points per position.
    The second round worth 20 points per position, and so on until the final round, to give everyone an equal chance to win if they can play better those weeks.


      • RE: Fedex cup

        Joe Sima wrote on: Aug 27, 2009


  • FedExCup

    Sloshy La Rue wrote on: Sep 3, 2007

    The FedExCup Bonus Pool Money should be paid out in CASH at the end of the fourth playoff tournament. Why make the players wait ten years or more to get money they have earned?


      • RE: FedExCup

        Peter Ambler wrote on: Sep 17, 2007

        The pay-out system is well thought out. The retirement bracket is great in providing future funds to the players. Keep it as it is.


          • RE: RE: FedExCup

            Bob wrote on: Sep 4, 2010

            The Fed-ex Cup needs to be dramtically simplified IMHO.
            Only the Top 100 PGA Tour players over the current season prior to the event should be allowed to qualify to take part.
            It should be contested over 4 play-off tournaments with the top 75 & ties in points qualifying for the 2nd tournament, Top 50 & ties qualifying for the 3rd Tournament & Top 25 & ties qualifying for the Final play-off Tournament with double points on offer in the 4th & Final event. There should be no re-setting of points during the entire 4 Tournament play-off series.


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