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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Which Is the Tougher Tournament?

With Hurricane Irene shortening The Barclays to 54 holes, I found myself pondering which is tougher -- a 54-hole tournament or a 72-hole tournament?

As we all know, 54-hole tournaments are the norm for regular play on both the LPGA and Champions Tours, with majors being 72 holes. (And on most of the other women's and seniors' tours around the world.) Likewise, all tournaments are 72 holes in length for the PGA, Nationwide, and European Tours. (And most of the other men's tours as well.) But are there other differences besides just length?

I've heard players on the Champions Tour say that their events are more like sprints while the PGA Tour events are more like marathons. And I have noticed that second-day scores at a Champions Tour event are frequently lower than the second-day scores of a PGA Tour event. I've always assumed that had more to do with course setup than something intrinsically different between 54- and 72-hole events.

But then Irene shortened The Barclays and players had enough notice for it to effect their second- and third-day play. Did it make a difference? Apparently.

I didn't hear many of the players talk about it, but I thought comments from Vijay Singh and Matt Kuchar were interesting. Vijay was specifically asked if having the event shortened affected how he played and he said it did. He said that he had a good idea before he started play Friday that the event would probably be shortened. Meanwhile Kuch said that he felt longer events favored him... and the longer they were, the better he liked them.

The Barclays is probably not the best tournament to look at if we want a comparison. After all, the course had been inundated with nearly a foot of rain in the week or so before Irene made her presence felt. Take soggy fairways that made any shot the equivalent of throwing darts, add LCP (lift, clean, and place for those of you who are unfamiliar with the abbreviation) to guarantee that players always had clean balls and good lies, and throw in the added ingredient of the FedExCup playoffs eliminating 25 players... this was anything but a normal tournament.

Still, I find myself wondering which is harder to play.

In a 72-hole tournament, players spend two rounds jockeying for position to make the cut, knowing that they'll have two more rounds to play against the "cream" of the field. The third round is traditionally called "Moving Day," and scoring is almost always lower in that round than the final round.

But in a 54-hole tournament, there are only 3 rounds. Which one is "Moving Day"? Do you take risks on the second day in order to position yourself for the final round, knowing that a misstep may mean you don't make the final round at all? Do you focus on just making the cut, knowing you could be so far behind the last day that you don't have a realistic chance to win?

Doesn't the strategy change make the 54-holer harder than the 72-holer? After all, the 72-hole tournament favors the player who plods along and makes no mistakes, slowly gaining momentum over 4 days. And anybody can recover from a single bad round. Throw players into a 54-hole event and everybody struggles -- plodders get pushed out of their comfort zones while gamblers risk losing it all before they even reach the final round.

I don't have any answers to this question; if any of you do, I'd be interested to hear them. But it has caused me to consider something...

There's been a lot of debate about how the Tour could make the FedExCup playoffs more exciting. The points system is supposed to be NASCAR-like, but some think the points system should be simplified. Other suggestions include cutting the number of players and changing the Tour Championship to match play.

But what if they changed all the playoff events to 54-hole events? Then it would really be a race to the finish... and probably with a large number of wrecks as well.

It's just a thought.

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