Maginnes On Tap: Cup might be tougher than major
Monday, September 26, 2011
Pressure is an odd thing.
One of its definitions is: a constraining or compelling force or influence. For the FedEx Cup, that constraining and compelling force is $10 million.
2011 TOUR Championship (Rd. 4)
Check out photos from the final round of the 2011 TOUR Championship
You and I would probably look at $10 million as a life-changing reason to tell our bosses to shove it and move to an island. Unfortunately, my lottery numbers didn't come in this week.
For the PGA Tour players who seemed destined to win it, that $10 million has become an immovable force.
And that has opened the door the last two years to quite a show in Atlanta.
At the beginning of the week, it seemed like Bill Haas' chances of winning the $10 million at East Lake were about as good as my chances of winning Power Ball.
He came into the week No. 25 in the FedEx Cup rankings, needing a landslide of things to happen for him to win the Cup. They all did, which begs the question ... Why? How is it possible that Webb Simpson would finish outside the top 19 in a tournament on a golf course that seemed tailored to his particular style of play?
Don't let the pundits convince you that Bill Haas winning on Sunday and taking down the whole enchilada with a side of Coke Cola is a bad thing. The Tour Championship would have been the most exciting non-major of the year without the $10 million. It might have trumped a major or two with the $10 million (at least if Haas had known that he won it.) There should be no tweaking. Leave it alone. If we ever get back to the place where we have a dominate player who wins three playoff events and doesn't win the Cup, then let's talk. That scenario seems like those lottery odds again.
The thing that makes the playoffs so compelling is that it puts every player in a situation for which he is totally unprepared. The old PGA Tour truism, "just play well and everything will work out," isn't necessarily true in the playoffs.
No one played better than Luke Donald over the four weeks. If the playoffs were a cumulative four-week event, Donald would have won going away. But Donald lost the FedEx Cup by a single shot for the second year in a row. The thing is it is not just about the one shot in the playoffs, it is about the one shot at the right time - the $10 million shot.
Last year, Matt Kuchar led the way heading to Atlanta and beat five people. This year, it was Simpson who led the way and he beat eight people. They finished 25th and 22nd respectively in the 30-man field and they were the favorites. Here is the problem, Simpson and Kuchar are great players, they are going to win lots of golf tournaments and may even have Hall-of-Fame careers. But they are not used to being the favorites.
The issue is that when you spend a month having people talk to you about the fact that you have the opportunity to win $10 million, it seeps into your conscience. There is no way to ignore that.
Moreover, there is no way to prepare for it. I am not ready to say that winning the Fed Ex Cup is harder than winning a major. The final round pressure of a major championship is unlike any other pressure in the game. The examples of great players who have succumbed is the stuff of legend.
But winning the FedEx Cup from the front of the standings may just be tougher than winning a major. The leader in FedEx Cup points going into the playoffs the last two years haven't even come close. Last year it was Ernie Els. This year it was Nick Watney. Neither man made even a ripple at East Lake. When someone wins the FedEx Cup in its latest incarnation - from the top five entering the playoffs - we will ask him which pressure is greater. Until then no one knows.
Players will get better at handling this unique type of pressure because they will eventually get used to it. Webb Simpson and his generation didn't play the Tour in the pre-FedEx Cup era. This is all part of the learning curve for them. Veteran players are just hoping to be in the right place at the right time, like Jim Furyk was a year ago.
One suggestion I heard this week was that there would be a lot more pressure on the players if they knew all of the scenarios. When Haas finished in regulation on Sunday he congratulated Donald, and told him that he hoped that the birdie on 18 was enough for Donald to win the Fed Ex Cup. It wasn't, of course.
There will be criticism of the system saying that the outcome might have been different if Haas had known that if he won the Tour Championship he would win the Fed Ex Cup. But there is a southern metaphor that might be applicable here.
"If you are being chased by a small bear you run as fast as you can. If you are being chased by two bears you can't run any faster."
Haas outran them all and didn't look behind him to see how many were chasing him. Most importantly, Haas didn't know that he was being chased by any bears until Sunday at East Lake. Other guys had been running through the forest for a month.
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