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Rich entertainment at the expense of maths sanity





Americans love playoffs, I get it. And there is no doubt that, with $10 million on the line, the finale at East Lake on Sunday was a thrilling one. But was I the only one who found the back and forth of points calculations a tad on the farcical side?

I consider myself vaguely competent when it comes to mathematics, but when the spectacle of the golf itself is eclipsed by algorithms that dictate the terms of who wins (even when they don't win), it does detract from the climax.

“I knew if I won, finished second, maybe tied second, I probably had a good chance depending on what Jordan did today, but I truly didn’t know,” noted multi-millionaire Justin Thomas afterwards. “It is weird just because I compared it earlier to Q school … you almost get out there not trying to win, you’re trying to finish a certain thing."

The irony to any criticisms of the FedEx Cup is that it unequivocally produced the fairest result in terms of the winner this year. In addition, there was plenty of excitement with the lead for the gold rush changing hands so late in the day. And some might also argue that breaking the monotonous cycle of the Tour Championship winner scooping the FedEx Cup bounty makes for a pleasant change.

For the stats lover, there was also a delightful moment which tempted poetic fate on the back nine. Brooks Koepka, an outsider for the title at East Lake, and a non-event in the FedEx Cup conversation, rolled in a putt at 13 to move up to sixth. Unremarkable in itself, except that it put Thomas and Jordan Spieth on the most unlikely of collision courses - a tie in the FedEx Cup points standings.

Then Kevin Kisner birdied the sixth hole, and suddenly Spieth was at the top of the statistical tree. Then, just under an hour later, Tony Finau birdied his final hole to propel Thomas into the box seat. Sensational stuff.

But, again, farcical too. Here was the ultimate prize in golf (in monetary terms) being handed around like a hot potato, based on events which had little or nothing to do with the actual protagonists themselves. And in among this hive of numeric activity, eventual winner of the tournament, Xander Schauffele, was a comparative afterthought. A pawn distracting from an almost-separate game of chess.

“Feels very weird,” Thomas later added. “At first, I'm sure people were kind of shocked at my reactions or my tone. Because of my competitive nature, I was upset. I felt like I had a great chance to win this tournament and I didn't. I wanted to win six times this year (which would have made him the first since Tiger Woods in 2009).

“It's odd getting something so tremendous – one of my best achievements in my career – without winning a golf tournament.”

And therein lies the crux of it all. Thomas wasn’t subdued per se. But, for an expressive character like him, it's hard to imagine a situation where he could look more underwhelmed after winning $10 million. What does that tell you?

I'm a firm believer that you shouldn't criticise something unless you can provide a viable alternative. And in this case, I can't. So perhaps best that I pipe down. But surely as an adoring golf fan, it is within reason to point out that there is room for improvement, and that the custodians of this particular showpiece need to give this greater thought? They have already, to some extent, with the prospect of separating the conclusions by virtue of the scheduling reshuffle in 2019. Let's see how that plays out.

In the meantime, golf stands in good stead. We have some extraordinary players at the top of the game pushing each other to new heights. Greater innovation is being shown at amateur level to keep the game relevant for many years to come. And, in terms of entertainment, we're just days away from one of the best of them all: The Presidents Cup.

A good time to sign off if ever there was one. Thank you to all those of you who have read this column for the last four-and-a-half years. It really has been a privilege.


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