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updated: 9/11/2013 6:33 PM

A timely primer on the FedExCup playoffs

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  • Sergio Garcia is one of 70 top players competing in the third round of the FedExCup playoffs at the BMW Championship in Lake Forest this week. The top 30 advance to the final tournament in Atlanta.

       Sergio Garcia is one of 70 top players competing in the third round of the FedExCup playoffs at the BMW Championship in Lake Forest this week. The top 30 advance to the final tournament in Atlanta.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

After several years of deliberation, the PGA Tour decided it needed a season-ending climax, something akin to the World Series, Super Bowl and Stanley Cup playoffs. That's why the FedEx Cup Playoffs made their debut in 2007.

No question golf needed something. The PGA Tour seasons before then died a slow death after the PGA Championship, last of the sport's four majors, was held in August.

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So along came a big-money fall series of tournaments that was something different. It wasn't perfect at first, and it isn't perfect now. In an ideal world the climax would come at the heart of the golf season -- and that isn't in the fall when pro and college football as well as hockey and basketball are starting and baseball is wrapping up. It's a crowded sports landscape now.

Initially the FedExCup point system needed tweaking. Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh were early winners, and both had piled up enough points before the last tournament to win the $10 million bonus. All they had to do was cruise through 72 holes in Atlanta to pick up the big check, spoiling the climax.

Well, the point system was altered and now the winner of the biggest money prize in golf will come in Atlanta, and probably from the top five players in the standings after the BMW Championship concludes Sunday at Conway Farms.

There's one problem still. The point distribution is complicated. I'm convinced that not all the players even understand it, much less the sport's fan base. (I'm not sure I have it down pat, but I'm trying). Even the current No. 1 in the standings, Sweden's Henrik Stenson, is in the same boat.

"I haven't spent much time looking at the points table," he admitted this week. But if Stenson keeps his place, he'll be richer by at least $11 million at the end of the playoffs.

Anyway, here's what you need to know as it pertains to this week's BMW Championship, the third of the four tournaments for the 70 players still alive in the points race.

Look on the BMW Championship as the third round of a traditional 72-hole tournament. It's what the golfers call "moving day." Play well at Conway Farms and you're in contention for the big prize in the final round -- in this case the final tournament of the series -- The Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta next week. That tournament offers the same prize money ($8 million) as the BMW Championship, but it'll have fewer players dividing it, and there's the added excitement of the presentation of the $10 million bonus when it's all over.

The BMW Championship is basically two competitions within one tournament. First, there's the battle for the 70 playing at Conway Farms to qualifying for the 30 spots at East Lake. Then there's the battle to get into the top five in the point standings. Do that and you control your destiny.

However, the point distribution formula is volatile, and any player in the top five going into the Atlanta stop will win the $10 million prize by winning the tournament there. The last three FedEx Cup winners (Jim Furyk, Bill Haas and Brandt Snedeker) got the big check after also winning The Tour Championship.

As for this week, any player in the top 19 in the current standings could climb to No. 1 by winning at Conway Farms. (An aside, Wheaton's Kevin Streelman is No. 16 now).

Stenson and Australian Adam Scott, winner of this year's first playoff event, are virtual locks to be in the top five at East Lake though mathematically both could fall out with poor showings this week. No player who has won one of the first three events in the series has ever been outside the top five heading into a Tour Championship.

Woods, still No. 2 in the standings despite finishing tied for 65th in the last tournament, can't afford a slip.

"Obviously after Chicago it's important that I'm in the top five -- hopefully first," he said.

Matt Kuchar and Canadian Graham DeLaet, the surprise of the playoffs so far, stand fourth and fifth in the standings and staying in the top five puts them in a precarious position in the BMW Championship.

At the other end of the standings, last man Ernie Els at No. 70 would likely need to finish no worse than seventh to advance to Atlanta. It won't be quite as hard for stars like Bubba Watson (40) and Rory McIlroy (41), but they'll need good showings this week to stay alive.

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