x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Points make massive prizes

New format for the FedEx Cup play-offs means leading golfers will compete for the biggest pay day in the sport .

New format for the FedEx Cup play-offs means leading golfers will compete for the biggest pay day in the sport The PGA Tour still has some work to do on the format for the play-offs for the FedEx Cup, and while they will never satisfy everyone, Heath Slocum is not complaining. Just a few days ago most golf followers would have been hard pressed to recall any outstanding facts about the 35-year-old American who had missed the cut 10 times in his 23 Tour outings this year and had not won an event since 2005.

After his latest failure at the Wyndham Championship a fortnight ago, Slocum endured two days of nail biting until the tournament finished to reveal that he had sneaked in to the play-offs as the 124th of 125 qualifiers. A dramatic victory in The Barclays tournament on Sunday saw him pocketing US$1.35 million (Dh4.95m), more than Stewart Cink earned when he won the British Open Championship at Turnberry in July.

Suddenly he lies third in the play-off standings behind only Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in the race for the FedEx Cup and the outright winner's prize of $10m that goes with it. In reality, he is less likely to win the golden egg than Woods is to miss another seven foot putt on the final green to force a tie as he did on Sunday. But considering the FedEx Cup runner-up gets $3m, third place is worth $2m, fourth place $1.5m, fifth $1m and even the 125th and last of the qualifiers snaps up $70,000, Slocum's mediocre year is not looking bad any more.

And good for him. Four solid rounds can make a season for any golfer without interfering with the normal process by which the biggest rewards go to the best and most consistent players. I just wonder whether, in their eagerness to prevent their end of season being overshadowed by the start of the National Football League programme, the PGA Tour has gone a step too far. Launched three years ago to keep golf in the spotlight at a time when the attention of the TV networks would focus on the NFL, the FedEx Cup was revamped for this year to ensure the winner of the $10m prize is decided at the Tour Championship, the last of the four play-off events.

Basically, players earn points from each event from January and August, with the number of points available depending on the quality of the field. The 125 who qualify for the play-offs are reduced to the top 100 after The Barclays and the leading 70 after the Deutsche Bank Championship starting tomorrow, with the top 30 after next week's BMW Championship going into the Tour Championship at the end of the month.

As an attention catcher the new end-of-season finale has certainly worked, although it has had its critics and the Tour has been forced into changes. In the first year Woods was so dominant that he could afford to miss the opening play-off event and still win, and would have won even had he also skipped the Tour Championship. Last year, Vijay Singh had such a big lead after victories in the first two play-off events that he had mathematically clinched the title before the Tour Championship and only needed to play out the four rounds to complete the formality.

In an effort to keep the excitement building towards the season's climax this year, the Tour opted to reset the points before the Tour Championship, with the leading player getting 2,500 points, the No 2 earning 2,250 points down to No 30 who receives 210 points. It means any of the 30 players will have a chance to win the richest prize in golf, worth more than the top prize at the Dubai World Championship which rounds off the European Tour's Race to Dubai in November.

The winner, like the golfer who tops the year-long money list, also gets a five-year Tour exemption, and while I am all for the underdog having his day, I am just a little uncomfortable with the possibility that the biggest rewards in the game could go to a player who may get hot for one month. Even taking into account the fact that his putting let him down at the US PGA Championship, Tiger's last green miss on Sunday was a surprise, and it may give his main rivals a boost.

I have felt for some time that the other top players believe Tiger has it in him to do what he needs to do to win, and they effectively think their way out of it when they go head to head with him. But his US PGA defeat, followed by Sunday's failure, show that he is human. No player has suffered more from Tiger's dominance of the game than Ernie Els, but the Big Easy is at last showing signs that he could be getting back towards his best.

Els has gradually been finding his form, thanks to a rediscovered, full flowing swing, after reverting to coach David Leadbetter just before the British Open Championship. He is now finishing the backswing without rushing his downswing and has started to look like the Els of old. This is exciting for golf because Els is up there with Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia as one of only a small clutch of players who can match Tiger for skill.

Like Mickelson and Garcia, Ernie has been having putting problems all year, although his stroke has started to look better recently. For some time he has had far too much shoulder movement. Now he has more freedom in his hands and his stroke is a lot more balanced. I fancy him to finish the season strongly, and whether you like the FedEx Cup format or not, it could produce some fireworks over the next month.

Former Tour player Philip Parkin is a TV golf commentator with the BBC and Golf Channel in the US. pparkin@thenational.ae