FedEx Cup delivers cash, not drama

Brian Murphy
Yahoo! Sports

Barkeep! Your finest Scotch, with one ice cube – and send the tab to Jim Furyk.

He can afford it, you know.

And ultimately, golf fans, that’s what we were left with, in the pouring rain at the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake, in front of literally dozens of gallery members, while the NFL dominated TV sets – a cash grab.

Jim Furyk won $10 million dollars! That’s $9 million more than Dr. Evil ever dreamed of! Stand and cheer!

It’s all a bit unseemly.

Stick with me on this one. This isn’t a knock on Furyk. Heck, Furyk has to be the most un-knockable guy in golf. He’s unassuming, he’s talented, he’s a fighter, and he teared up when Dan Hicks asked him about the people closest to him.

It is, however, a knock on the FedEx Cup.

Ultimately, the FedEx Cup left us mostly hollow, feeling sorry for Steve Sands and his grease board, and cheering not a great championship, but the knowledge that Furyk was about to become $11 million richer, when you include the $1 million-plus for the Tour Championship win.

Isn’t that what it was? At the Masters, we’re cheering the golf. We’re cheering the player who can best navigate 72 holes at Augusta National Golf Course. At the U.S. Open, we’re cheering our national champion, after we watch him play four

At the FedEx Cup, we’re frightened and confused. It’s not just a cash grab – it’s a baffling cash grab.

We had no clue. Even Johnny Miller said the tour should have brought a team from MIT in to explain the scoring. And Matt Kuchar, who logged 10 top-10s this year, including a win at the Barclays, told NBC after the round, about his awareness of winning the FedEx Cup: “How does anybody know?”

Let’s say Paul Casey finished in second place at East Lake, which was a very real possibility. Sands explained to us that Casey’s FedEx Cup points total from second place would be enough to assure him first place in the FedEx Cup – provided Furyk won the tournament. Sands also told us Casey would be $10 million richer, without posting a win on tour this year.

At which point we would … cheer? Get goose bumps? Always remember where you were when Paul Casey locked down 2nd at East Lake in 2010?

The event is getting some positive buzz from some corners, because Furyk won the event, and with the win, the $10 mil, making for what supporters call great drama.

But really, the drama was separate from the FedEx Cup. The drama – a one-shot win when Furyk made a great par save from a bunker on the 72nd hole – stemmed from the same place the drama stems every week: the game itself. The drama didn’t come because Tabitha Furyk can now buy her dream condo in the south of France, or because caddie Fluff Cowan can now buy more Grateful Dead bootlegs with his 10 percent share. Who cares? I mean, Tabitha seems like a sweetheart and all, but the last thing I care about is the Furyk family checking account balance.

I became a sports fan for the sports, not the cash.

Mind, there are some good things about the FedEx Cup.

• It guarantees great fields at a time of year that used to guarantee Junior Varsity Central.

• Its compact scheduling means we get four great fields in a 5-week span.

• It provides a closure to the season that did not previously exist.

In the end, the day might have been the ultimate indictment of the FedEx Cup, not its greatest day.

When it was invented, critics – like me – said the tour was trying to create something that didn’t need creating. Golf has its marquee signposts – in April, June, July and August – and we get jacked for all four major championships.

The tour wanted a piece of the action. So, they created the FedEx Cup, and when they knew it lacked heft, they decided to appeal to the players’ basest senses – love of money.

PLAYER: You know, I don’t really feel like playing in your new FedEx Cup, Mr. Finchem.

TOUR: You can win 10 million bucks.

PLAYER: What time do we tee off?

And before you call me a hypocrite, yes, I love money, too. And yes, I do things for money. I just don’t expect you to cheer me every time I deposit a check.

It would be nice to think the tour could come up with a season-long points system that doesn’t need to rely on a fat sack of cash – or AP calculus – to lend it prestige.

In the end, the most sadly coincidental fact is this: The $10 Million Cash Grab was held at East Lake, the home club of golf god Bobby Jones.

You know him – the greatest amateur player in the history of the game.

Scorecard of the week

67-65-70-70 – 8-under 272, Jim Furyk, winner, Tour Championship, East Lake, Atlanta.

And I say to all you Euros, with your lavender team colors: Take that!

(Wait. Team USA is wearing lavender this year? Scratch that.)

(Wait. Why is Team USA wearing lavender under any circumstances? What American wears lavender? Would Babe Ruth ever wear lavender? Bob Seger? The guy who invented In-N-Out double-doubles?)

I digress.

So, back to Furyk.

That up-and-down out of the bunker for the win on the 72nd hole got me all psyched for the Ryder Cup. (Where, hilariously, there is no prize money.)

That bunker shot – out of a lie so deep he could only see the lip – was the sort of Ryder Cup thing that leads to the trademark golf high-five, all awkward and arrhythmic. In fact, the horribly awkward caddie-player/player-player golf high five should be the silhouetted logo for all future Ryder Cup shirts. Paul Azinger holed out of a bunker on the 18th at the Belfry in ’02 to halve a match with Niclas Fasth, and his celebration with his caddie was so herky-jerky, it almost looked like a tribal rain dance.

The PGA Tour: These Guys Are Good (But Not Soulful.)

Still, Furyk’s clutch bunker work reminded us of his best qualities: tenacity, concentration, relentlessness. Stuff like that gives me thought that Team USA has a better chance than the punters give them at Celtic Manor. While home course is a huge advantage, and probably ultimately why Europe will win, count on Furyk to scrap for a couple of points for Old Glory in Wales.

And Team Europe’s golden generation – Colin Montgomerie, Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington – has lost three members for the 2010 Cup. Only Westwood and Harrington remain from those Euro juggernauts of 02-04-06, and who’s to say how the new faces will handle the pressure?

At any rate, Furyk’s scorecard is hailed this week because of its consistency – the same quality that should probably land him Player of the Year honors.

Three wins and the FedEx Cup trumps any other card out there. Phil Mickelson hasn’t been seen since Augusta National. Tiger Woods? Next question. Steve Stricker shot to No. 2 in the world, then was felled by injuries. Matt Kuchar is an intriguing candidate, but Furyk beats him in wins and FedEx Cups. Dustin Johnson is a personal favorite, but Players of the Year probably shouldn’t shoot 82 in the final group at a U.S. Open, or ground clubs in bunkers on the 72nd hole of majors with a 1-shot lead.

Furyk should win it, and he’s a symbol of what the golf landscape looks like without Tiger’s dominance. Until Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson smooth out the rough edges, the race without Tiger will go to the guy who rarely changes expression, who can walk through airports unscathed, and who – despite his good-guy persona – doesn’t move the needle. That’s golf without superstars, friends.

Broadcast moment of the week

“… Charlie Hoffman needs to finish third by himself to add 1,000 points, to get to 3,000, which would overtake Jim Furyk’s total by 20 points, if Furyk were to win … but if Paul Casey finishes solo second and Furyk wins, add Casey’s 1500 points to his current total of 1600 for a total of 3100, and that’s the magic number for Casey … if Jim Furyk wins … now, there are double scenarios for Charley Hoffman … “

– NBC’s Steve Sands, trying to explain the FedEx Cup points race, on a grease board, with a Magic Marker.

God rest the soul of the late, great Tim Russert, whom NBC was evoking with the grease board.

And bless Steve Sands, one of the best golf broadcasters in the business, who drew a rough assignment.

But if I can ask you all to turn your minds back to the movie “Animal House,” where John Belushi’s Bluto comes upon the guitar-strumming gent singing “I Gave My Love A Cherry” on the Delta Tau Chi stairs.

What Belushi did to that guitar?

That’s what I wanted to do to that grease board.

Mulligan of the week

Late Sunday night, the tweets came flowing in:

@zachjohnsonpga: “I have an unfortunate bit of news. I will not be able to tweet across the pond in Wales. Capt’s orders! Sorry. I appreciate the support!”

@rickiefowlerpga: “Guys, I’m sorry to inform you, but the news is true. We will not be allowed to tweet while we are in Wales. Cpt’s orders!!”

@bubbawatson: “This is the last tweet till I get back from Wales!! Cheer hard for the USA!!”

@stewartcink: “We’re finally off to Wales!! Won’t be tweeting until we get back. I guess I’ll have to pass the down time actually reading or something.”

And with that, Capt. Corey Pavin became Captain Bringdown.

I ask you: Would Rex (Let’s Go Eat a Bleeping Snack!) Ryan ban tweets from the Ryder Cup? Would the Mustache Gang Oakland Athletics of the early 1970s refrain from tweeting?

Come on, Cap’n Corey. Isn’t the right to tweet guaranteed in the Bill of Rights? Isn’t the Bill of Rights part of why we threw off the British yoke in the first place? Can’t you see the patriotic duty our guys have to express themselves freely?

Man. I’m going to miss Stewart Cink’s pithy observations, Bubba Watson’s offbeat takes, Zach Johnson’s Midwestern sensibility and Twitpics of Rickie Fowler’s Bieber-esque hair.

Let’s get Cap’n Corey to reconsider. Let’s … give that man a mulligan!

Where do we go from here?

To Wales and the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor we go, tweets or no tweets.

When Nick Faldo got Azinger’ed at Valhalla in 2008, his only retort, after the ass-kicking, was to say: “See you all in Wales in 2010 … bring your waterproofs!”

It seemed like a classically Faldo-ish thing to say, smarmy and full of buzzkill.

Guess what: He was right.

The Yahoo! Weather Center shows chilly temperatures and rain all through the 2010 Ryder Cup.

So … bring your waterproofs!

Should be a blast.