Scott McCarron has been in position for a $1 million payoff twice in his career under vastly different circumstances.
The first occasion was in 2002 in the final of the Match Play Championship at La Costa when he stood over an 8-foot putt to extend the 36-hole match against Kevin Sutherland and turned away in shock when it caught the left lip.
The other was Sunday, when he was in the clubhouse at Phoenix Country Club, feeling more stress than if he were playing. He thought the $1 million bonus for the Charles Schwab Cup was gone when Retief Goosen stood over a 4-foot birdie putt to win, only to miss. He was in shock when Jeff Maggert holed out from 123 yards for eagle to win the playoff and hand the season points race on the PGA Tour Champions to McCarron.
“One of the most incredible shots that has ever affected me that I didn’t hit,” McCarron said.
It was the second straight year that the great shots belonged to the last guy on the course while the big check belonged to the guy watching from the clubhouse. Vijay Singh’s victory in 2018 gave the Schwab Cup to Bernhard Langer.
This is what the PGA Tour was trying to avoid when it made a radical change to the FedEx Cup finale.
The tour didn’t want another scene like Justin Thomas trying to celebrate a $10 million bonus while stewing inside over finishing second in the 2017 Tour Championship to Xander Schauffele, or the awkward ceremony in 2009 when Tiger Woods became the first player to capture the FedEx Cup twice — after finishing second to Phil Mickelson at East Lake. “I’m sure I would probably be more happy tomorrow than I am right now,” Woods said.
So it switched to a format that gave a head start based on a player’s position in the standings — 10-under par for Thomas as the No. 1 seed, even par for the last five players in the 30-man field. That gave everyone a chance, with higher probabilities for the top players.
Two weeks ago in China, when Rory McIlroy was talking about trying to avoid slow starts, he was asked for an example. “I was five shots behind at the Tour Championship before it even started,” he said with a laugh.
It worked out well — this year. McIlroy won by four shots on the tournament leaderboard, which included how many under par he was at the start. He won the real tournament by three shots. There was no debate.
There will be at some point. It’s inevitable.
Next up is the LPGA Tour, which might be the most radical of all because it is the simplest to follow. Sixty players have qualified for the CME Group Tour Championship based on points earned all season. Once they get to Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida, whoever wins the tournament wins the Race to the CME Globe and the $1.5 million in official money, the richest payoff in the history of women’s golf.
The best player? That’s already been decided.
Jin Young Ko has won four times, more than anyone, and two of them were majors. She already has clinched LPGA player of the year, based on points. Ko has earned more than $2.7 million and leads the money list by $721,791 over Jeongeun Lee6.
Throw all of that out at the Tour Championship. It’s all or nothing, depending on who has the best four days. There is no advantage, no matter how slight, with points being reset or a manufactured score to par before the first shot is struck.
And because the money is official, anyone from the top 10 has a mathematical chance to win and capture the money title.
Consider the “LPGA Playoffs” in 2006, in which scores were wiped out and the field reduced after the second and third rounds, leaving eight players on Sunday to play 18 holes for $1 million. The winner was Julieta Granada. It remains her only LPGA victory.
Was it fair when Bill Haas won the FedEx Cup in 2011 as the No. 25 player in the field, one who had not won all year until that remarkable par save with his ball half-submerged in the water? Was it fair when Kevin Sutherland won his first PGA Tour Champions title in the final event in 2017 to capture the Schwab Cup over Langer, who had seven victories and three majors that year?
The three tours have three different formats for the postseason.
All have merit. All can be ridiculed as gimmicks.
But it’s worth remembering that postseason golf is not supposed to be fair.
It’s supposed to be entertaining.
Sutherland practically had to apologize for winning the Schwab Cup over Langer. He wasn’t the least bit bothered by all the outrage, instead summing it up beautifully.
“If I hadn’t won, no one would be talking about it.”