PGA Tour Champions: Flawed Playoffs

Posted by: mike November 15th, 2017

By Jeff Shain

Golf Insiders contributor

 

Bernhard Langer can only blame himself.

One, for the opening 71 at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship that left him with some serious ground to make up the rest of the weekend. That almost goes without saying.

Two, for being part of the PGA Tour Champions policy board that approved the current playoff format.

“I was on the board, yeah,” Langer acknowledged Sunday after Kevin Sutherland swiped the Schwab Cup title that should have stayed in his possession. “We said we’re going to try this out and it’s like… I’m not sure if it’s perfect.”

No, it’s not. Bernhard Langer

What the playoff finale got was its worst-case scenario. The guy who spent 2017 winning once every three times he teed it up didn’t win the big prize. And someone who had *never* won since joining the Champions circuit – heck, since 2002 – finally saw all the pieces fall into place.

“For the most part it all worked out,” said Sutherland. “To be the Schwab Cup champion…”

Don’t blame Sutherland. Right guy, right time. Put him in the same category as the New York Giants against those 18-1 New England Patriots. Or N.C. State upending Phi Slama Jama. Or the 2001 New York Yankees after the Seattle Mariners tied baseball’s all-time record with 116 wins.

It’s the playoffs. You have to win when it counts. Otherwise you go back to the old money-list days, and the season finale becomes rather anticlimactic.

Had this been two years ago, Langer’s name could have been engraved on the Schwab Cup two weeks ago. Maybe sooner.

Even with four Schwab Cups already on his résumé, Langer’s seven victories were a career best. Nobody has won that many on the senior circuit since Bruce Fleisher in 1999. Nobody has won as many as six since 2000. Nobody else in 2017 had won more than four.

Langer’s $3.67 million in earnings broke his own Champions record by a cool half-million bucks. No doubt Langer should be the unanimous choice for Champions Player of the Year.

But that’s not the Schwab Cup system. And just like the FedExCup, its stewards need to decide what a year-end title is supposed to signify.

The FedExCup went through something similar in 2012. Rory McIlroy won four times that year, including a major (PGA Championship) and two of the first three playoff events. He built up a lead of 3,232 points over No.2 Tiger Woods. No.3 Nick Watney was almost 500 points farther back.

Then the reset happened. McIlroy finished 10th at East Lake, and Brandt Snedeker won – both the tournament and the big prize.

At least Snedeker had triumphed at Torrey Pines early in the season. And he had a pair of top-6 finishes in the playoffs, including runner-up at Bethpage Black.

Sutherland? The California native had a solid 2017, with 15 top-10 finishes in 23 starts this year. He was second on three occasions, third on two others. But zero wins.

Moreover, the other two playoff stops produced two of his three worst finishes of the year. Langer, by the way, won both of those.

But Sutherland’s body of work was enough to leave him fifth for the reset that takes place for the finale – good enough to steal the crown without any outside help.

By the way, a similar situation existed at East Lake this year when Paul Casey held the No.5 position even though his lone PGA Tour win came back in 2009. Casey had a chance to pull it off, too, when he took a two-shot lead into the final round.

“I’m not sure that’s ideal,” Langer said.

Volatility and suspense is one thing. But judging from social media reaction, the current system has a little too much for golf’s taste. When a player has a dominant season, it should be rewarded even if he stumbles a little near the finish.

At issue is the reset. No matter what bonuses are given for majors or playoff wins, the advantage is wiped away at the reset. A guy with nearly twice as many wins any anyone else gets no greater edge in the reset as someone who barely leads a logjam.

Create some bonuses in the reset. Four wins in a 26-event season means you’ve won 15 percent of the schedule; how about a reset bonus for every win above that? Or a bonus for multiple playoff wins?

These aren’t intended to be given every year, but rather to reward exceptional seasons. And if it eliminates Nos. 26-30 from any winning scenario, that’s not an awful thing. They still get a nice check at the weekend’s conclusion.

“We might need to have another look at it,” Langer said, “but that’s my personal opinion. Everybody else might love it and, if that’s the case, I’ll submit to the majority.”

Judging from the outcry, it seems the majority would rather see dominating seasons rewarded.

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Jeff Shain is a former Orlando Sentinel golf writer, part of nearly two decades covering the sport that includes other stops at The Miami Herald and The Island Packet in South Carolina. He's also a digital contributor to PGATour.com and Pro Golf Weekly, and co-hosts the Prime Sports Golf podcast at PrimeSportsNetwork.com.