Play-offs pale in shadow of Ryder Cup
For the money then the glory - the tale of two weeks in professional golf.
Jim Furyk's win in the PGA Tour's Tour Championship on Sunday earned him more than £7m. If the American was to repeat his feat of two years ago and close out victory for his country in this week's Ryder Cup, it would be a much bigger deal.
There were a few sore heads among American golf fans come the climax of the FedEx Cup play-off series in Atlanta - and they had nothing to do with excessive consumption of alcohol to celebrate Furyk's lucrative triumph.
Instead, it was the headache that accompanies excessive use of the brain in trying to keep up with the higher mathematics required to work out who was winning in the Tour's big-money play-off system.
OK, I exaggerate, we're talking advanced arithmetic rather than pure maths. But even Furyk wasn't sure he'd landed the jackpot as he closed out his rain-sodden victory.
There were plenty of contributing factors that had to fall into place beyond winning the final tournament of the play-off series for Furyk to secure golf's most lucrative cheque.
Matt Kuchar had earlier failed to match the champion in getting up and down from the greenside bunker at the last. This dropped shot - and the fact that Steve Stricker parred the last two holes to tie Kuchar in 25th place in the season ending Tour Championship - opened the door for Furyk to cash in.
Furyk celebrates his big-money win in Atlanta. Photo: Getty Images
Those scenarios - and the fact that Paul Casey didn't finish in second place on his own - enabled the American veteran to claim the massive bonus on offer for winning the play-offs - a series that had ironically begun with the disqualification of Furyk for missing his pro-am tee-time.
At least this week we only have to count up to 14 and a half. The team that reaches that magic figure wins the Ryder Cup but not a penny or a cent in prize money.
Therein lies the beauty of the biennial transatlantic dust-up. The fact that it is all about the match and not the money is at the very heart of why we find it such an attractive sporting concept.
By engaging the sporting public like no other golf event, it ironically becomes a huge cash cow for the organising bodies, the European Tour and PGA of America. They can sell it at a hefty price to the TV companies, corporates and the the 45,000 fans a day who will pack Celtic Manor all week.
That said, this year it has been a struggle to shift all the corporate packages. These are tough economic times, as Europe's captain Colin Montgomerie repeatedly tells us as he tries to justify why it is so important for his team to win.
A European victory might help the Tour shore up a few deals but salving the effects of the credit crunch is not the role of Captain Monty and his team. They are in Wales to win - and so is Captain Pavin (and Mrs Pavin) and his/her American side.
We have a contest where there is no need for 7m reasons to win. One gold trophy is all that is required - and that currently rests in American hands. From a European perspective, this merely ups the ante.
Give me the Ryder Cup over the FedEx anytime but it should also be acknowledged that the play-offs provided an engaging month of Stateside golf even if the final day resulted in a severe case of brainache.
The biggest mistake is to think of it as a reflection of the year on the PGA Tour. The temptation is to make the winner of the play-offs the Player of the Year, when in fact success in the series is more a qualification for a Player of the Month award.
May has the Players' Championship, June the US Open, July the Open, while the US PGA highlights August and September now belongs to the play-offs.
They have tweaked and tweaked and the Tour are getting there with the format, though they came perilously close to having a player in Casey running off with the booty after failing to win a tournament all year long.
This would have happened had the Englishman finished second on his own at East Lake. That runners-up position went to compatriot Luke Donald, with Casey ending up in a share of fourth place.
And now, as we head to the first days of October, it is clear that Donald and, of course, Furyk are in fine fettle as the focus switches to Celtic Manor. Zach Johnson (9th) was the only other Ryder Cup man to finish in the top 10 in Atlanta.
World number two Phil Mickelson continues to look anemic, weighed down by the unfulfilled quest to overhaul Tiger Woods at the top of the world rankings. Kuchar ran out of steam in Atlanta, Stricker was all over the place and Jeff Overton finished in next to last place.
They have three practice days in Wales to rediscover form before the Ryder Cup begins.
Donald and Padraig Harrington were the only Europeans in action in the week leading up to the Celtic Manor clash. Harrington will be buoyed by the Friday birdies that helped him make the cut at the Vivendi Cup as well as the closing 64 that gave him a top-10 finish.
Monty will have been delighted with the Irishman's performance and, although he will never say it, will also be relieved that Casey could not force the win in Atlanta that would have heaped more pressure on Europe's captain after the Englishman's controversial omission from the Ryder Cup.
Casey will be hurting this week - this match is one not to be missed.