The postseason problem

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Crusty observers would point to the man atop the list – Tiger Woods – and suggest it doesn’t matter who rounds out the remainder of the positions.

For the most part, they’d be right, too. Still, it’s a bit disconcerting to look at the calendar, see that it’s nearing PGA Tour playoff time, and catch a glimpse of a FedEx Cup standings that leaves you wondering. In other words, it’s playoff time; do you know where your star attractions are?

Only the top 125 will make it into the first playoff event, The Barclays, and Sergio Garcia is currently 121st, Stuart Appleby 139th, Padraig Harrington 142nd.

Only the top 100 will make it into the second playoff, the Deutsche Bank Championship, and Adam Scott sits 109th, Justin Rose 110th, Andres Romero 117th.

As for the top 70 (BMW Championship) and top 30 (Tour Championship), well, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Stephen Ames, Robert Allenby, Boo Weekley and K.J. Choi are all sitting somewhere between 60th and 93rd, so you’d guess if they’re going to get playoff fever, now’s the time, huh?

The thing is, you can almost hear former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora, can’t you?

“Playoffs? Don’t talk about . . . playoffs. You kidding me? Playoffs?”

No, we’re not kidding. It is almost postseason time, but it is also open to debate as to just what sort of motivation that provides players. Consider, for instance, the playoff push these marquee names have unleashed:

• Garcia has played in 11 PGA Tour tournaments this year, including just five of the past 13 weeks.

• Scott has played 14 times, but just three of the past nine.

• Els has 13 tournaments to his PGA Tour credit, but only four of the past 13.

That’s not exactly a sense of urgency resonating, is it? You almost get the feeling that if they’re involved in the playoffs, great. If not . . . well, surely they can find huge financial opportunities elsewhere in the world.

Imagine the Yankees or Mets telling Bud Selig they were taking off September, to heck with the playoffs. (Actually, the Mets do take off September, so that’s not a good example, but you get the point.) The Steelers, Patriots and Cowboys aren’t likely to phone in regrets for December games, not with what Bill Parcells lovingly refers to as “the tournament” on deck. The Red Wings tend to wake up and get interested as the postseason nears.

But golf is different, which has been the challenge of these playoff events since Day One. The pinnacle of any team sport is to win the championship, be it a World Series, Super Bowl or Stanley Cup. As for the PGA Tour, players have the luxury of four “league championships” every year – the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championships. After that, their motivating forces vary; some are enamored with the Players Championship, others the World Golf Championships, while Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial, Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill, Charlotte’s Quail Hollow, anything in Texas, or even the Milwaukee stop (hello there, Jerry Kelly) stir emotions, too.

What was a great selling point to the playoffs when they first came aboard was the bottom line: In late August and September, when many of the tournaments would be flat, the playoffs would bring world-class fields together. Maybe it wouldn’t be playoffs as we know them, but it would be great having big names teeing it up, right?

Well, right. Except this fascination with the “limited-field” concept has led officials to trim back the Barclays to 125 from 144, the Deutsche Bank from 120 to 100, while BMW stays at 70 and Tour Championship at 30. If that were supposed to inject playoff mentality into the drama, what it has seemingly done is ensure that a lot of crowd-pleasing names won’t be there. Granted, the Tour never could have imagined that so many great names would play like journeymen for months at a time, but any tournament director will tell you that having 144 players is more consumer-friendly when you’re dressing up a 200-acre stage and trying to bring in tens of thousands for day-long golf.

Of course, much of this could become academic over the next two weeks, because guess who’ll be playing back-to-back at the Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship? Garcia, Appleby, Harrington, Scott, Rose, Els, Singh, Allenby, Weekley, Choi – all of them in desperate need of production, all of them in golf’s version of a playoffs push.

“Playoffs? You kidding me?”

No, Mr. Mora. We’re not kidding you. On the PGA Tour, the push is on . . . at least until the Wyndham Championship a few weeks from now, that is. For the stars, rest supercedes playoff mania.

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