PGA Tour play-offs set to come of age
Since their inception in 2007 the PGA Tour play-offs have grown far stronger and more appealing.
When Tiger Woods became the inaugural FedEx Cup champion there was little drama. Woods ran away with the season ending Tour Championship and the $10m (£6.2m) bonus jackpot despite not even entering the first event in the play-off series.
A year later, Vijay Singh merely needed to remain upright at the closing tournament to take the abundant spoils.
Woods won again in 2009 thanks to a runner-up finish to Phil Mickelson in the grand finale and a year later a requisite par at the last was enough for to give Jim Furyk the biggest cheque in golf.
McIlroy and Woods could give PGA bosses a dream finale to their lucrative play-off series. Photo: Gerry
It was the dream scenario for PGA Tour bosses other than it didn't feature the "A-listers" they would have wished to contest their extravagant dash for dosh.
The less than box office Bill Haas (the eventual champion) and Hunter Mahan were handed an award winning script but Haas blew his lines by not knowing that he had actually won the $10m.
The scenario this week looks significantly more attractive because the game's two biggest names head the standings going into the final play-off event.
In theory any one of the 30 players who have made it to Atlanta can win the $10m but it's Rory McIlroy who leads the way from Tiger Woods in the points standings.
A shoot-out between the newly crowned PGA champion and world number one, against the former top dog who has won three times this season, would provide a blockbusting finale.
And it is attracting public attention in a crowded sporting marketplace, which is so important for the future of the professional game.
Prize money levels in America at this time of the year are mind blowing. The Tour Championship is the fourth consecutive $8m event. Then there's the $35m (£21.6m) FedEx Cup bonus pool.
The spoils are divided between an ever dwindling number of survivors from the whittling effect of the play-off process. Furthermore, those that make it to East Lake gain significant exemptions for majors for the following year.
So a compelling format has been generated to dominate the September schedule. It is little wonder so many players of every nationality gravitate Stateside as soon as they are able.
It makes life all the tougher for the European Tour. Last week the Andalucia Masters fell victim to the lack of public funds in Southern Spain.
The Valderrama-based tournament was due to start on 18 October and was cancelled at an embarrassingly late stage.
Tour bosses are performing admirably in more favourable markets, adding the BMW Masters in Shanghai and the Perth International to the October roster.
But these do nothing to boost the European scene.
For regular Tour players losing an event like the Andalucia Masters is a big blow. It is one less tournament to earn Euros to bolster positions in the Race to Dubai.
In such circumstances it's worth recalling the comments of David Lynn in the wake of his second place behind McIlroy at the PGA Championship in August.
Lynn is such a European Tour stalwart that his amazing week at Kiawah Island was his first experience of American golf. His sensationally high finish provided the Englishman with an opportunity to take up a US Tour card for next season.
He doesn't bubble with enthusiasm at the prospect and clearly wishes more of his contemporaries felt the same. "It's not good for the Tour if guys all keep playing in America all the time," Lynn said.
"If guys just have that attitude, like 'I've got the right to go and play over there, I'm going to play over there' it seriously doesn't do a lot of good for the European Tour in the future."
Lynn puts a high premium on the Tour's famed camaraderie and lifestyle but notes: "It is a vicious circle where America keeps getting stronger and Europe keeps getting weaker."
There is no Madrid Masters, as was originally scheduled for this week, which also tells the story of the impact of the Eurozone crisis on the golfing calendar.
Meanwhile, Europe's biggest stars - McIlroy, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose - are destined to become even richer in Atlanta over the coming days.
Westwood will join the other four in becoming a full-time US resident next year but more immediately this quintet will be on duty for Europe in the Ryder Cup at Medinah.
Of course they shouldn't be criticised for chasing dollars by the fistful, but given the current economic climate they should make sure their duty to Europe runs deeper than just the Ryder Cup.