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The PGA Needs To Tweak Its Playoff System

With a birdie on the 72nd hole of the Deutsche Bank Championship, Ernie Els was able to make plans for the FedEx Cup Playoffs' third round next week in Chicago.

Els posted a final-round 70 to tie for 16th, but, more importantly, moved to 68th in the playoff point standings. Only the top 70 advance the BMW Championship.

"I'm going to get on the airplane and have a couple of beers now, so I'll probably celebrate getting into the top 70," Els said.

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Another former U.S. Open champion, Geoff Ogilvy, also made birdie on the 72nd hole — to ease the pain of a 3-over 73 — to secure the 68th spot. But in terms of sheer dramatics, Chris Stroud provided the most by making eagle from 3 feet on the par-5 18th hole to capture the 70th spot.

"I knew I had to make birdie-birdie on 17 and 18," said Stroud, who has never advanced to the third round before. "I made par on 17, so I told [my caddie] from the tee, we've got to make three to get in. We hit a great drive. But we got up there and the pin was exactly where my ball ended up on the second round. I hit a great little hybrid in there in the second round. I told [my caddie], let's hit the same shot, and I hit the exact same shot, a little cut in there, fed off that hill, and obviously really close to going in."

The Deutsche Bank Championship's actual finish, a playoff between Webb Simpson and Chez Reavie, was compelling. Simpson, though, by virtue of a stellar regular season that was capped off by winning the Wyndham Championship a few weeks ago, already had his ticket punched for the season-ending Tour Championship. Monday's win made him No. 1 in points and fattened his pockets.

The stronger storyline was the players seeking to survive and advance.

Stroud did advance, but he trails Simpson by 3,923 points. What?

Therein lies one of the other flaws to the FedEx Cup Playoffs, it is still too complicated for fans to figure out if their favorite player has a mathematical shot.

In baseball, divisions and wild cards will be determined in the coming weeks by the slimmest of margins, quite possibly the outcome of the regular season's final game.

As fans, we grasp that, we can read the standings each day and do our own computations. It's like a summer storm, we see the clouds building and can see it coming. The anticipation builds.

But 3,923 points? What type of algorithm is necessary to process what Stroud must accomplish at next week's BMW Championship in order to qualify for the Tour Championship?

First, only the top 30 in points after the BMW Championship advance to the final round. So Stroud needs to climb 40 spots. Stroud trails 30th-place Kyle Stanley by 510 points. A fifth-place finish nets 550 points, so Stroud needs to place fifth — and pray for some help — or better.

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Essentially Stroud is a long shot.

We love long shots. But it would be more fun to pull for one if we knew the odds he had to overcome. And that's another reason why the PGA Tour needs to again tweak its trumped-up playoffs.

Nobody really understands how it works.

Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.

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