Pro Golf's Inaugural Playoffs Under Way The first ever playoffs in professional golf are under way. There's a $10 million annuity for the winner of the FedEx Cup series, which has four tournaments. Most of golf's big names are there, but not the biggest name: Tiger Woods is sitting out.
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Pro Golf's Inaugural Playoffs Under Way

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Pro Golf's Inaugural Playoffs Under Way

Pro Golf's Inaugural Playoffs Under Way

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Not to be outdone by baseball, basketball, hockey, football or even Little League, professional golf has a brand new playoff. The FedEx Cup series has begun with the Barclays tournament at Westchester Country Club in New York. It's the first of four tournaments that will make up golf's inaugural post-season. There's a $10-million prize for the winner. And most of golf's big names are there, but not the biggest name. Tiger Woods is sitting it out.

And with us is Wall Street Journal sports reporter, Stefan Fatsis.

Hello, Stefan.

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Sports Reporter, Wall Street Journal): Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: How does this FedEx Cup series work?

Mr. FATSIS: Well, players were amassing points based on their finishes in tournaments all year long. The top 144 qualified for these playoffs, and I'm putting playoffs here in air quotes because it's really not like the other sports. Points were reset based on the standings over the course of the season. And then there's the first event, that's going on right now. Next week, 120 top players and points will be move on to another tournament, 70, the week after that, and then the final 30 in the tour championship in Atlanta. The overall points winner will get the $10-million annuity prize, not cash annuity.

SIEGEL: But as fans of professional golf know there's a structure. There are tournaments every week. They move from Florida to California. Then there are major tournaments, and then there are international competitions - Ryder Cup, President's Cup. Why this? Who needs this?

Mr. FATSIS: Well, golf kind of needs this. The PGA Tour is the players' organization. It runs most of these weekly tournaments, but it doesn't run the four majors - the U.S. Open, the Masters, the PGA and the British Open. Back in 1968, the players split away from the PGA of America, which is a member group of club professionals and run some championships. They wanted to control their financial destiny, that's the job of this organization. The FedEx Cup is designed to be another avenue for players to make more money toward the end of the golfing season.

SIEGEL: Yeah. The tour championship was supposed to be the culmination of the summer golfing season.

Mr. FATSIS: Right. And then the tournament was created 20 years ago for that purpose, but it's never been considered a big deal. It's held after the last of the four majors. Baseball's pennant races are heating up. The NFL season is getting underway. A way to get people to pay more attention to this particular event, the PGA Tour felt, was to make it the culmination of something. So you aggregate the results of all of these earlier tournaments and you create a playoff system for the very best players.

SIEGEL: But, I mean, golf people know better than anybody that people pay attention to golf when Tiger Woods plays, and they pay a lot less attention to golf when he doesn't play.

Mr. FATSIS: Right. The tour has just taken off since Tiger arrived a decade ago. Purses are up five times because of this exponential growth, because of the rights fees paid by TV networks. PGA Tour officials sat down a couple of years ago. They recognized that this growth curve is not likely to continue. They needed to create new sponsorship and TV sales opportunities. They want to get out of this system where a week to week, it depends on whether Tiger plays. And the hope is that, in the long run, this format will give fans an additional reason to watch, to see if their favorite non-Tiger golfer is in the hunt for this season-long prize.

SIEGEL: Well, there seemed to be a lot of issues, though, surrounding this inaugural tournament. Perhaps the biggest one is Tiger Woods, but that's not the only problem.

Mr. FATSIS: No. There've been complaints that this in contrived, it's superfluous, golf doesn't need this sort of chase, the system that NASCAR introduced, like, a few years ago to draw attention to the end of its season. The veteran pro Jeff Maggert said probably half the players out here couldn't care less about it and the other half are indifferent. There've been complaints about having to play four weeks in a row. There've been complaints about this 10 million being an annuity and not cash.

But Tiger is the bigger issue. It does undermine the credibility of this event to have the number one ranked player in the world bail out at pretty much the last minute. If you'll look at it from Tiger's perspective, though, he said, hey, I played a lot. I'm a new father. I need a week off. He looked at this system and realized that while it might be a little harder, I can still win the $10 million even if skip the first of the four weeks.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis of the Wall Street Journal talking with us about sports and the business of sports. Have a good weekend, Stefan.

Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

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