Should the PGA Tour FedEx Cup Playoffs really be that easy?

by | Aug 29, 2021 | PGA

OWINGS MILLS, Md. – In virtually every sport, players know as the playoffs begin that the intensity will increase. Defense is more common in football. Coaches treat fluctuations in their own team like a tragedy. In basketball you have to fight for every rebound. Post-season baseball at-bats often play out like a battle of wills.

Something different happens in professional golf.

The game seems to be getting easier.

Bogeys are becoming rare. Doubles are almost unknown. Players are not tested on whether they can make birdies, but how many they can do. And they better do a lot of it or they get dusted off by the leaders.

This week’s BMW Championship in Caves Valley, the second event in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, was the perfect example. In three rounds, the 70-man field made a total of 948 birdies and 20 eagles. The field is 527 under par, for an average of 69.4 points.

Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau, tied at the top with 21 Under, have a great chance of scoring the lowest number of points (relative to par) on the tour this year. Harris English shot 25 under at the Tournament of Champions in January (albeit on a par-73, five-par-5 course), and KH Lee shot 25 under at the TPC Craig Ranch on his way to winning the Byron Nelson in May. Only three players in Tour history have ever shot 30 under in a four-round tournament, but one of those times came during the 2020 FedEx Cup Playoffs when Dustin Johnson won the Northern Trust with 11 shots.

What is to be made of it? That depends on your perspective. The FedEx Cup isn’t a big one, and no fan would mistake it for it, despite the PGA Tour’s massive investment in marketing these playoffs. But shouldn’t the postseason have a little more teeth? When asked what he thinks of his 66 in the third round, Cantlay was pretty frank.

“It was another day on a soft, easy golf course,” he said.

The reality is that the PGA Tour and its sponsors may want to make the postseason look just like this. Because what tears the audience away from the first college football weekend: the best players in the world who put on birdies and eagles? Or the same players grinding for pars?

“I certainly think the FedEx Cup playoffs are different from the majors,” said Rory McIlroy, who is 17 years old and tied for fourth place. “The tour is a – this is going to sound a bit bad, but – I think it’s more of an entertainment product than the majors. The majors are structured a bit differently and it’s supposed to be the toughest test we’ve face all year. It’s a little different. “

There are many reasons why it is different, and some of them the PGA Tour could not control even if they wanted to. Temperatures in the northeast are scorching at this time of year, and wet days in this region are often followed by nightly thunderstorms. Trying to hold onto a course like Caves Valley – although strength is probably the only defense against pros – was an impossible task for the maintenance crew.

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“Look, it’s an area of ​​the country that gets hot and humid, and Bentgrass is not going to have the characteristics you want in a really challenging golf course,” said McIlroy. “I don’t really know where you could go at this time of year that this isn’t going to happen without it being on the west coast or the northwest or whatever.”

McIlroy and Cantlay were not alone in their openness. If the players know the ball won’t bounce very far once it lands, it doesn’t matter how long the course is. Everyone can and will go down.

“A guy like Bryson is hard to beat on a golf course like this because he’s soft. The closer you get up there, the better,” said Sam Burns, who at 17 is tied with McIlroy and Sergio Garcia.

“It’s fun when you play well,” said Garcia, who shot 67 in the third round. “It’s not my favorite sport. I like it when it’s a little more challenging and not just putting. Which of course does not misinterpret me, you still have to hit the blows. … [But] the course is pretty easy to play. “

In the America’s Caddy season finale, Michael Collins will prepare you for the final stop of the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the Tour Championship. Stream on ESPN + now

Jon Rahm was tied with a 64 on the first lap. That was followed by a 66 and a 68, and every day he lost ground, falling back to eighth place. Only four players in the 70-man field – Carlos Ortiz, Russell Henley, Max Homa and Collin Morikawa – are currently above average. Your combined score: 5 over.

“When it’s soft, you just have to have narrow fairways and high rough [to challenge tour players], ”Said Jordan Spieth, who is 5 under and tied in 49th place. “But the fairways are pretty wide here and the greens are pretty big. You really have to screw it up to do a bogey. … It’s hard to get completely out of your position unless you’re doing something really wrong. “

Hosting a PGA Tour event for the first time, Caves Valley is not a course with narrow fairways. In fact, it has some of the widest fairways of any course played outside of the Plantation Course in Kapalua. It also has three par-4s that are less than 400 yards. With modern technology this is the green light for many players.

“I think there are a lot of courses we play these days where a lot of fairways pinch at 300 and 310 [yards]”said McIlroy.” It doesn’t allow the long hitters to hit the driver a lot, last week was a pretty good example of that. Anytime you get a large golf course like this one that allows the big clubs to hit the driver that is usually a huge benefit. It’s just nice to take the driver in hand and have the feeling of letting him fly a little. “

That was not the case at the BMW Championship last year, where the tough conditions on the Olympia Fields delivered one of the toughest tests of the year. Only five players finished under par, and Rahm’s victory point (4 under) was actually closer to par than DeChambeau’s victory point at the US Open at Winged Foot. It is possible to do a rigorous test in the playoffs, but at least this year it won’t come until the top 30 come to East Lake in Atlanta for the Tour Championship next week.

“I like the tougher tests, but I don’t want a really tough test every week,” said McIlroy. “East Lake will be a good example – 12 wins. I think 12 under is a really good result for – 8 to 12 under par is a good result on most golf courses, but it also gets you some birdies and gives you chances. I think a balance has to be found. It depends on what we’re all trying to get out of the FedEx Cup playoffs. I think part of that is entertainment. It sure was entertaining this week. I don’t think it will be quite like this – next week it won’t be the birdie festival [in the Tour Championship] how it is this week. And I think that’s good, especially when it comes to the final and the top 30. I think the challenge is also an important part of it. “