New year, new format for the PGA Tour finale. Following his first win of the season at last week’s BMW Championship, Justin Thomas moved to the top of the rankings and will begin the Tour Championship on -10. The rest of the Top-5 are last week’s runner-up Patrick Cantlay (-8), World No. 1 Brooks Koepka (-7), Northern Trust Champion Patrick Reed (-6) & PLAYERS Champion Rory McIlroy (-5).
Jon Rahm, Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson & Abraham Ancer all sit on -4, whilst the likes of Dustin Johnson (-3), Justin Rose (-2) & Tommy Fleetwood (-1) also start in the red.
The new format has received mixed reactions from fans & players alike, with the main criticism being the amount of winless players qualifying for the 30-man field ahead of those with titles due to a somewhat skew-whiff points system. This sentiment has been echoed by Justin Thomas’ lone victory of an underwhelming season suddenly propelling him to the top of the FedEx Cup rankings. Second-placed Cantlay also has one victory to No. 3 Koepka’s three- including a Major & WGC- due in large part to a runner-up last week… But yeah, that makes total sense. This is in large part a result of far, far too much emphasis on the playoff events and not enough on the Majors.
Moan as we might (and we are mighty moaners!), the standings have actually shaped up pretty perfectly in terms of entertainment. We know McIlroy can burn through a five-stroke deficit in the blink of an eye, where if he’d been five strokes clear… Well, that’s a different story. He’s joined by fellow aggressive, electric golfers like Koepka (three back), Rahm, Schauffele & Simpson (all six back) with a chance to blow the tournament wide open before the weekend. There are a lot of golfers (the aforementioned DJ, Rose & Fleetwood topping the list) who will have to produce incredible weeks but are more than capable of doing so.
With all that said, nobody broke 65 last year. Tiger struck that number twice en route to his famous comeback, as did Rickie Fowler (starting the week on -2), whilst Patrick Cantlay (starting -8) & Hideki Matsuyama (starting -3) each did so once. The Par-70 East Lake is not a course that’s quite as up-for-grabs as many on the PGA Tour; making a large starting deficit all the more difficult.
Ultimately, though, this setup lends itself to exciting golf. The world’s best must be offensive in their pursuit of the most lucrative prize in golf; attacking the course and taking risks. My advice: Strip back all the surrounding factors and enjoy the world’s best playing for the highest stakes.
Justin Thomas won the 2017 FedEx Cup, finishing runner-up to Xander Schauffele at East Lake. The current leader has gone T6-2-T7 in three appearances here, but nothing short of the summit will do this week. Rory McIlroy won the tournament at the FedEx Cup in 2016, shooting 64 on Sunday to force a playoff which he won.
Written by Joe Carabini