The last six winners of the Tour Championship have also won the FedEx Cup and $10million bonus which means all 30 golfers playing in the season finale this week are still in the running for the post-season title and a big wad of cash. The host course at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta looks a good fit for Jason Day’s game so the world number one can end the season over 11 million dollars richer by winning both titles.
Brooks Koepka is the only rookie of the eleven players already announced to represent the United States in the Ryder Cup. Captain Davis Love can make one more pick at the end of the Tour Championship and a good week for Justin Thomas could see him get the call though Bubba Watson would be a certainty if he won this week but his game is not ideally suited to this week’s course.
The FedEx Cup is a four event post-season series that is designed to have a knockout feel. Over the four weeks field sizes are reduced until only 30 players are eligible for the last event. The nature of the FedEx Cup point’s allocation for each play-off event means that the Tour Championship is almost a Cup Final or Superbowl. Rory McIlroy has never won the FedEx Cup and he is not one of five players who are in control of their own destiny, knowing that if they win this week they win the FedEx Cup.
The official PGA Tour website has a feature which explains how each of the 30 players competing at East Lake this week can win the FedEx Cup. If Day, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Adam Scott or Paul Casey win the Tour Championship they also win the FedEx Cup. McIlroy can finish second and still the money if other outcomes go his way. Charl Schwartzel is 30th in the standings and can still win the lot but he needs a bizarre combination of outcomes to prevail.
Day can finish as low as tied third and can still win the FedEx Cup and will be close even if he is the runner-up. Winning the Tour Championship settles all the arguments and this week the best player in the world could confirm that status. Watson is another player who requires an unlikely set of circumstances to win both trophies but Thomas can still win the lot if the current number one finishes tied sixth or worse. All these permutations are irrelevant if one of the big five win the Tour Championship.
East Lake Golf Club first staged in the Tour Championship in 1998 and became the regular host in 2004. At 7,385 yards the course is above average in length for a par 70 track. There is a premium on accuracy over distance and strokes gained putting and total driving are key skills. The average winning score over the last 12 years is 11 under but that figure is distorted by Tiger Woods winning score of 23 under in 2007 when he won the tournament by eight shots.
Woods is a two times winner and the only multiple champion playing this week is Phil Mickelson who won the Tour Championship in 2000 and 2009. Jordan Spieth was the champion last season, clinching the FedEx Cup with a 72-hole score of nine under par which equated to a win by four shots. In 2011 Bill Haas beat Hunter Mahan in a play-off that was worth the best part of 12 million bucks. When Brandt Snedeker hit the jackpot four years ago he questioned the need for a new car when he had a perfectly adequate vehicle at home in the garage.
For most players at this level money is not a problem but a bonus of 10 million dollars concentrates the mind. Day looks a leading contender this week but is an injury doubt after withdrawing from the final round of the BMW Championship with a back problem. The Aussie is the sick note of professional golf a la Darren Anderton but he has played through tournaments with a sore back and still won. He scores well for finding the greens in the correct number of shots and strokes gained putting.
Russell Knox was overlooked by Darren Clarke for a wildcard pick for the Ryder Cup and is highly motivated to prove that was the wrong call but looks too far off the pace to win the FedEx Cup. Thomas has a more realistic chance and at the prices on offer is the each-way alternative to Day at one quarter the odds, the first four which are good place terms in a limited field of 30 players but Day is the main pick.