Using a couple of familiar names as an example, here is why golf's FedEx Cup playoffs are nothing like any playoffs you've ever seen: Keegan Bradley missed the cut at The Barclays this week, but is still in the thick of the FedEx picture. Arjun Atwal played well, appearing on the leader board Friday and shooting 67 Saturday, but he is out.
This actually does make sense, even though it is different from the normal playoff routine that says if you succeed, you move on; and if you fail, you're done. And making sense means making progress.
When the PGA Tour began the FedEx Cup four years ago, the system was wacky and labyrinthine. First of all, 144 golfers were invited. Considering that there are only 125 fully exempt tour members, it was like allowing the entire NHL into the Stanley Cup playoffs, and bringing up some teams from the minors, too.
The rules were so complicated that no one could follow them, including the players. That defeated the concept of playoffs, which involves musical-chairs simplicity. You know, there are fewer contestants each time the music stops.
These days, it is easier to understand and follow: 125 golfers the first week, then 100, then 70 and finally 30 at the Tour Championship. There is even a weekly "bubble," a term other sports use to describe anyone who might or might not make it. Golfers were trying like heck in the regular-season finale last week to sneak into that top 125.
Better players have better odds of staying in. Bradley, the former St. John's star and Wheatley Hills member, survived his bad Barclays because he had won two tournaments, including the PGA Championship. So he will play in the second leg, the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston, this week. Atwal, the former Clarke High and Nassau Community College standout, is out because he didn't gain enough points all year.
Makes sense. Give credit to the PGA Tour for tweaking the system. Give more credit to tour officials for handling The Barclays so well. On the fringe of Hurricane Irene, they used just the right blend of urgency and common sense. They made sure the field played enough holes, 54, to make the tournament legitimate.
It was easy to feel for people involved with The Barclays, which had a tantalizingly calm, sunny sold-out session Friday. "You can see what this week could have been," tournament director Peter Mele said.
Their only whiff was on the tickets for the canceled Sunday round. Evidently not wanting to refund what figured to be more than $1 million, they said people can use those tickets for any day at the 2012 Barclays at Bethpage. How many people in central New Jersey will make that trip? It was reminiscent of the no-refund gaffe the U.S. Golf Association made in the rain-abbreviated first round of the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage.
This observer would give the playoffs a B-minus so far, which is pretty good considering that only the majors really deserve an A. The FedEx Cup playoffs aren't majors and never will be. They're not the NBA playoffs or the NCAA basketball tournament, either.
But they are interesting, competitive and getting better. B-minus sure beats "Incomplete."