Even players who have won the FedEx Cup say the playoffs probably need some tweaking
Rory McIlroy reacts as he picks up the FedExCup trophy following his victory in the final round of the 2019 Tour Championship.
ATLANTA — It’s not quite there yet. That’s the consensus from the players at East Lake who are taking part in the fourth year of the Tour Championship’s staggered-start format.
In 2019, the PGA Tour introduced a handicapping system to structure the leaderboard for the 30 players who qualified for the FedEx Cup finale in Atlanta. To quickly remind you, the FedEx Cup leader, Scottie Scheffler, will start Thursday’s first round at 10 under par, with Patrick Cantlay, at eight under, and Xander Schauffele at six under. The scores then regress down to the final five in the standings, who start at even par.
The goal of the current version is to have one winner for both the Tour Championship and the season-long FedEx Cup. From that perspective, it’s a job well done. The broadcast is certainly easier for fans to follow.
But there are still flaws in the system. Just ask defending champion Cantlay. “I’m not a fan,” last week’s BMW winner said. “I think there’s got to be a better system.”
The most glaring issue is the fact three players have shot the lowest 72-hole score and not won the Tour Championship. In 2020, Xander Schauffele posted the lowest score (265) but Dustin Johnson won everything. Last year, Cantlay swept the tournament and FedEx Cup, but Jon Rahm and Kevin Na’s scores of 14-under 266 were the best of the week.
Then there’s the entertainment aspect. World No. 1 Scheffler running away with the title is not exactly box-office viewing. With a two-shot lead to start, there's the potential that could be the storyline come Sunday.
Even Rory McIlroy, who did shoot the lowest score at East Lake in 2019 to win his second FedEx Cup title, wonders if a more compelling product exists.
“It’s a simple format that fans and viewers can understand,” McIlroy said on Tuesday. “Is it the best? I’m sure there is probably something that might work better.”
Pressed for what that was, the four-time major winner suggested match play, and it’s hard to argue. Watching the last two golfers battling for the $18 million FedEx Cup winner’s prize would be must-watch television.
“I think that would be unbelievably exciting,” said McIlroy, who at seventh in the standings, will start at four under par.
U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick agreed with McIlroy, but went as far as suggesting match play for the entire FedEx Cup Playoffs. The Englishman thinks that would bring the PGA Tour in line with postseasons in America’s most popular pro leagues. “I did have a thought that, somehow, the playoffs could be match play, where it’s a bit more realistic to every other sport,” said Fitzpatrick, who will start seven shots behind Scheffler.
Adam Scott swings during the final round of the 2022 FedEx St. Jude Championship.
The staggered scoring method is the third iteration of the Tour Championship since the FedEx Cup began in 2007. At first, it was total FedEx Cup points that determined the winner. Then, it was tweaked so that if any player among the top five on the standings entering East Lake won the Tour Championship, he automatically claimed the FedEx Cup.
Adam Scott has seen every version. He is one of only two players to qualify for the playoffs in each of the FedEx Cup’s 16 seasons. The Australian, 29th in the standings, will start at even par in his ninth Tour Championship appearance. He will be joined by K.H. Lee, J.T. Poston, Sahith Theegala and Aaron Wise in starting 10 shots behind Scheffler, who has won four times on the PGA Tour this year, including the Masters.
“Nobody has [won from even par] and they haven’t even come close,” Scott said. “But I think it is doable. There’s nothing to lose, so for the first three days you have to be on attack mode.”
Asked if there was a better system, Scott was lost for words.
“I’ve given up caring to be honest,” Scott said with a laugh. “I just get here and play under whatever format.”
Race to the finish
A look at the scores that the 29 players in the Tour Championship will start with when the tournament begins on Thursday. (No. 3 Will Zalatoris, who withdrew on Tuesday due to injury, would have started at -7.)
- Scottie Scheffler -10
- Patrick Cantlay -8
- Xander Schauffele -6
- Sam Burns -5
- Cameron Smith -4
- Rory McIlroy -4
- TonyFinau -4
- Sepp Straka -4
- Sungjae Im -4
- Jon Rahm -3
- Scott Stallings -3
- Justin Thomas -3
- Cameron Young -3
- Matt Fitzpatrick -3
- Max Homa -2
- Hideki Matsuyama -2
- Jordan Spieth -2
- Joaquin Niemann -2
- Viktor Hovland -2
- Collin Morikawa -1
- Billy Horschel -1
- Tom Hoge -1
- Corey Conners -1
- Brian Harman -1
- K.H.Lee E
- J.T. Poston E
- Sahith Theegala E
- Adam Scott E
- Aaron Wise E