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$10 Million for Second Place

by Dear Jon
September 29, 2009

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In the final tournament for the FedEx Cup, Phil Mickelson finally made good on a year of being a sentimental favorite, to pull ahead of Tiger Woods and win the tournament. He collected a million dollars for winning the tournament, and three million dollars for finishing second in the FedEx Cup standings. Tiger Woods, meanwhile, finished second in the tournament, and got a check for ten million dollars as the top finisher in the FedEx standings.

Ten million dollars? Not bad for going a whole season without winning a major.

I don't know what I think about the FedEx Cup. I know that I don't know how it works. I also know that it gives a super champion like Tiger Woods an important consolation prize for a major-less season, six tour wins and a lot of second-place finishes. I can understand that a person who is so consistently near the top in almost every golf tournament he plays should walk away with a big prize.

Another part of me has a curiously empty feeling. Part of me wanted Tiger Woods to win the FedEx Cup in style, with a first-place finish in that final tournament against the top-ranked golfers in the world. At least this way Mickelson had his moment too, for his wife and his mother. But if Mickelson could have his moment, why couldn't Mickelson have the ten million dollars?

This is one of the big reasons why I don't watch NASCAR. I don't get the scoring system that can turn the final races of the season into an anti-climax, with the coronation of the season's winner already set in stone. The other reason I don't is that the sport features cars travelling in circles. The most interesting moments in NASCAR occur when catastrophe strikes. I don't like to be lulled into the mindset that has me wishing for a big car accident.

I think that the empty feeling I have at the end of this golf season, is similar to the feeling that fans of NCAA 1-A football have after the first week in January. Season champions are coronated by formulas and fiat, and not because one team went out and defeated another team. There is a lot to be said for elimination round winner-take-all play-offs. In some championship games the issue might be decided before half-time; the World Series, NBA and Stanley Cup finals can turn into sweeps and have a few times. But at least the teams had to show up to play each other to settle the issue.

Tennis does not have anything like this FedEx Cup, does it? Just stick to the Grand Slams as the measure of greatness, right?

How sweet would it have been for Mickelson, after a disappointing season of distractions and distress, to come in and knock off golf's top-ranked player for the ten million dollar pot? That would have been the ultimate vindication for this season's favorite underdog.

Two seasons ago in the NFL the New England Patriots rolled to an undefeated season. No one gave them a trophy and millions of dollars. They still had to prove that they were champions.

The New York Giants came to the Super Bowl after a rocky 10-6 season that had the quarterback under fire from former players, and rumors of the coach losing his job. Qualifying as a wild-card, the Giants pulled out a string of incomprehensible upsets through the play-offs (I say this as a Packers fan. Brett Favre's last throw as a Packer landed in the arms of a New York Giant. They drove off the turn-over to win the NFC championship in overtime. At Lambeau Field. I still cry myself to sleep sometimes.) Anyway, by the Super Bowl the Giants had nothing left to prove. The quarterback and the coach were thoroughly vindicated.

Many teams have reached the Super Bowl in such a manner and have come to the game emotionally drained. We have seen games like that, between teams that are hungry to win it all versus teams that are happy just to get to show up. But after 56 minutes of the Super Bowl, the Patriots held a slender lead against the scrappy Giants. And the Giants kept playing, drove the field and scored. They held out against a couple of desperate throws with time running out, and the Giants won the Super Bowl.

They did not win the Super Bowl only to be awarded second place, with the NFL "Season Championship Trophy" and three times the pay-out being given to the Patriots. The Giants were the champions, and the way they had to win it, and against whom, makes that story even sweeter. Even for a Packers fan.

I am not writing this to tweak the noses of Patriots fans. Please, no hate-mail, unless it concerns Super Bowl 31--than you can flame me all you want. I am writing this to make a point, which is, that Tiger Woods is really glad the PGA doesn't play NFL rules, and maybe Phil Mickelson is wishing it did.

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