ATLANTA — Hey, Rory McIlroy, what do you think of this new-fangled format for the Tour Championship?
“It seems very different that you’re starting at a different position than the rest of the field,” he said Wednesday from East Lake.
In fact, McIlroy, shifting in his seat, staring downward and searching for the right words, used the word “different” six times in just one answer about the changes to the FedEx Cup finale, where he’ll start five strokes back of leader Justin Thomas before a shot is even struck.
McIlroy does so despite a season in which he won twice, including the Players Championship, and had 13 top-10 finishes in 18 starts. By comparison, Thomas had six top-10 finishes and one win, which came at last week’s BMW Championship. (Just win, baby! … in the playoffs, anyway.)
McIlroy, who is one of the most respected minds in the game, didn’t stop there.
“If the FedEx Cup really wants to have this legacy in the game, like some of these other championships do, is people starting the tournament on different numbers the best way to do it?” he said.
Not only is the format different this year but so is the money, with $15 million going to the winner, up from $10 million the first dozen years of the tour’s postseason.
It’s an incredible payday, but … well, let’s check in with Rory to see what he thinks.
“Who knows what the winner wins at the Masters?” he said. “I don’t know because that's not what it’s about.
“If, again, the FedEx Cup wants to create a legacy that lasts longer, it doesn't need to be about the money. It should be about the prestige of winning an event that you’ll be remembered for.”
Not that McIlroy is complaining about the money. He won the Tour Championship and, consequently, the FedEx Cup in 2016, taking home the $10 million year-end prize.
That year, he finished at 12 under and beat Ryan Moore in a sudden-death playoff. This year, he could shoot the lowest score over four days and not win the FedEx Cup, something that didn’t seem to connect with McIlroy.
What’s the right answer in McIlroy’s mind? He’s not sure, other than increasing the value of winning a major from 600 points to 1,000—double the amount for a regular-season PGA Tour win—because of the majors significance within the game.
But there is one thing McIlroy is sure of when it comes to the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
“One of the things that I’ve talked about over the past couple of years is I don’t think the money needs to be front and center, because I don’t think that's what the fans care about,” he said. “Players might care about it, and we want to be rewarded and paid for what we do. But at the same time, competitively, it’s not about that. It’s about trying to win golf tournaments.”