News & Opinion

PGA Tour season will end with an asterisk

Tiger Woods 2020 PGA Championship 1st round
If Tiger Woods fails to play well enough this week in the Northern Trust to advance in the FedEx Cup playoffs, don't expect to see him again until the U.S. Open in September.

Good intentions aside, FedEx Cup playoffs will crown a champion from a season that can't help but come up short of being legitimate

With each tipped-over domino, the numbers further ensure that 2020 will be the Year of the Asterisk.

Major League Baseball started in July with a 60-game schedule and has postponed games nearly every week of the truncated season because of positive COVID-19 tests among players and staff. Whoever wins the World Series will get the same trophy and the same rings, but the achievement is bound to ring hollow.

College football might crown a champion, but with two of the Power 5 conferences on the sidelines, doesn’t a playoff seem rather pointless? And if anyone tells you that he knows what’s about to happen with the NFL, don’t believe him, because no one knows.

We’re inclined to let the whole thing slide because of the pandemic, about which a surprising number of people are in denial, athletes included. We’re fortunate to have live sports in any form at all, given how dire the situation appeared to be in the spring.

So, it’s bad form to complain, which is not the case here. What’s of most concern is the integrity of the competition. That still has to count for something. This is not “Dancing with the Stars” or “Big Brother.” Yes, we crave entertainment, but we also want legitimate champions.

Which brings us to the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin this week at TPC Boston for the Northern Trust (tee times), the first of three tournaments that will crown a season champion Sept. 7. However, the season finale at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club that will feature the alleged top 30 players has the chance to look more like the RSM Classic than the Tour Championship.

How can you have meaningful playoffs and a deserving champion during a season in which so many significant tournaments have been postponed or outright canceled? No Players Championship. No Wells Fargo Championship. No British Open.

Playoffs, with only one major championship in the books? The U.S. Open and Masters in the 2021 season?

Reasonable people would maintain that the PGA Tour had little choice, given the cards it was dealt. However, doing the best you can is not always the best outcome. Sometimes, you have to take those cards, fold ’em and wait for the next deal.

This problem begins with Tiger Woods, who is playing the Northern Trust. His very presence at TPC Boston is a problem in the making. Woods is 49th on the points list, and he’s hoping for a big week to get him well into the top 30, assuring his spot in the Tour Championship.

But here’s where it can get messy. The U.S. Open is two weeks after the Tour Championship. If Woods gets in East Lake and plays the Open, that would be three events in a five-week span with a week off between each. Is that probable? Or even feasible?

What seems certain is that if Woods doesn’t get enough points this week, we won’t see him again until the Open at Winged Foot. So, the playoffs without Tiger Woods knocks a whole lot of shine off the FedEx Cup, much like the CFP without Alabama or the NFL playoffs without New England. A whole lot fewer people will care.

Besides, to make up for Woods’ potential absence, we’d need for the rest of the game’s stars to step up and actually play some good golf, which hasn’t happened all that often since the July restart.

Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson and Jon Rahm have won this summer. Collin Morikawa is a star in the making, and Bryson DeChambeau is still a hot topic. However, Rory McIlroy is having trouble getting himself motivated. Brooks Koepka seems to be having physical issues, not including his mouth, and is 97th on the points list.

Jason Day (45th), Tommy Fleetwood (89th), Jordan Spieth (100th) and Justin Rose (109th) are in danger of missing the Tour Championship. Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Charl Schwartzel didn’t even qualify for the playoffs.

Everyone in the game knows the reasons why the playoffs are going forward, and say what you will about money; there’s no argument. Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, owes it to FedEx because the express shipper is the Tour’s biggest sponsor, to the tune of $70 million. So, unless FedEx CEO Fred Smith were to say he’d like to do something else with the playoff money – such as donate it to coronavirus relief, for instance – the playoffs are untouchable.

As Woods would say, it is what it is. But it also is what it ain’t, which is the danger of a legitimate and satisfying outcome. It’s why they play the Tour schedule every season – all of it. Anything less is bound to be treated by history as coming up significantly short of the hole.

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