One cup is steal­ing the spot­light away from the other

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Doug Fer­gu­son AP Sports Colum­nist

Here’s one ar­gu­ment against the no­tion that money is ru­in­ing golf: The PGA Tour is play­ing for $69 mil­lion over the fi­nal month, and all any­one seems to care about is an ex­hi­bi­tion that doesn’t pay a dime.

Maybe it would be dif­fer­ent if the Amer­i­cans had won the Ry­der Cup more than twice over the last 20 years.

They have stopped at noth­ing this time in a des­per­ate bid to get it right, even though the out­come can eas­ily hinge on a 45-foot putt like the one Justin Leonard made in 1999 at Brook­line and Justin Rose made in

2012 at Me­d­i­nah.

All the while, an im­por­tant part of their season is be­ing over­shad­owed.

The FedEx Cup ends Sun­day at East Lake, where the win­ner gets a $10 mil­lion bonus. A to­tal of $35 mil­lion in bonus money is awarded — even the play­ers who didn’t qual­ify for the play­offs re­ceived $32,000 last year — after four tour­na­ments that each of­fer $8.5 mil­lion in prize money.

Let’s be clear: Four tour­na­ments that com­prise the FedEx Cup play­offs don’t com­pare to three days of the Ry­der Cup, and it’s not even close. Not in his­tory or pas­sion, not in ticket sales or tele­vi­sion rat­ings. No one this side of PGA Tour head­quar­ters will ar­gue that.

The Ry­der Cup might be sec­ond only to the Mas­ters in terms of pure the­ater in golf.

Still, the process of mak­ing the U.S. team is over the top. The Amer­i­cans have asked for four weeks to get 12 play­ers. Europe had its team in two days.

The Ry­der Cup has been as much a part of the con­ver­sa­tion as the FedEx Cup.

The Bar­clays was the fi­nal tour­na­ment to earn one of the eight au­to­matic spots on the U.S. team, and the story out of Beth­page Black was as much about Pa­trick Reed play­ing his way onto team as it was win­ning for the first time in nearly 20 months. The Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship might as well have been au­di­tions for Davis Love III be­fore he made three of his four cap­tain’s picks.

And be­fore get­ting to East Lake for the FedEx Cup fi­nale, Love in­vited po­ten­tial picks such as Bubba Wat­son, Daniel Berger and Justin Thomas to play prac­tice rounds with part of the U.S. team at Hazel­tine over the week­end and into Monday.

Thomas is No. 12 in the FedEx Cup, well in range of a prize that would pay more than his ca­reer earn­ings. Berger is No. 24 and has a longer road to the $10 mil­lion, though it’s worth not­ing Bill Haas won the FedEx Cup in 2011 from the No. 25 seed.

Wat­son, the No. 7 player in the world, al­ready is stung by not be­ing cho­sen thus far. He must feel like every shot will de­ter­mine whether he flies to Min­nesota on Sun­day night or has time to check on his new candy store in Pen­sacola, Florida.

Jordan Spi­eth doesn’t have this prob­lem. He eas­ily qual­i­fied for the team and is try­ing to be­come the first back-to-back win­ner of the FedEx Cup. He was at Hazel­tine on Monday play­ing with whom he de­scribed as the “three hope­fuls” — Wat­son, Berger and Thomas.

Spi­eth fig­ures his best chance to play well at Hazel­tine is to play well at East Lake. The matches don’t start un­til Fri­day, any­way.

“Now that I’m here,” he said Tues­day at East Lake, “I’m only think­ing about this.” And those three hope­fuls? “I think it’s chal­leng­ing. I think it’s tough,” he said.

Spi­eth and Thomas have been friends since they were 14. He said Thomas has told him he’s been so con­sumed with the Ry­der Cup that it has hurt his game. Thomas missed the cut at the TPC Bos­ton and tied for 32nd in a 69-man field at Crooked Stick.

“They all know that if they come in here and if they can some­how block that out and fo­cus on this tour­na­ment, it will help all of them,” Spi­eth said.

Tim Finchem, in his fi­nal year as the PGA Tour com­mis­sioner, man­aged to take it as a com­pli­ment that the PGA of Amer­ica was tak­ing so much at­ten­tion away from what tour mar­ket­ing of­fi­cials once de­scribed as their Su­per Bowl.

“The way the Ry­der Cup ap­proaches this has re­ally changed be­cause of the FedEx Cup,” he said Tues­day. “It says that play­ers are gear­ing their game to be at the top of their game dur­ing this pe­riod of time.”

Nine of the 30 play­ers at the Tour Championship are as­sured of be­ing in Hazel­tine next week.

Rus­sell Knox of Scot­land is part of the 21 who will not. He was left off the Euro­pean Tour team de­spite two PGA Tour vic­to­ries in the last year and a world rank­ing (No. 19) bet­ter than seven play­ers for Europe. Once he was over­looked as a pick, Knox has thought about only one cup.

“There’s four or five U.S. guys this week still hop­ing to play well to make the Ry­der Cup,” Knox said. “The po­si­tion I’m in, I’ll take the $10 mil­lion.”

MATT DUN­HAM — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Europe’s Ian Poul­ter will be at this fifth straight Ry­der Cup, this time as a vice cap­tain as he re­cov­ers from a foot in­jury.

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