ATLANTA — When Justin Thomas teed off in Thursday’s opening round of the Tour Championship and saw that he was already 10 under par and had a two-stroke lead on the leader board, there was no getting around the weirdness of it.
“It's just so odd looking over and seeing 10 under,” he said. “I would think everybody is going to play differently when they start the tournament with the lead versus everyone being tied.
“I thought it was going to be easy for me to just play a tournament. It wasn't. At least for me it wasn't.”
Know what is easy?
Figuring out where everyone stands in this final chase for the FedEx Cup after the first two rounds of this year’s final tournament. Whoever wins at East Lake wins the FedEx Cup and the $15 million that goes with it.
Know what wasn’t easy?
Players—along with fans, Golf Channel's Steve Sands and his whiteboard (RIP)—trying to figure out what someone has to do to win the FedEx Cup under the old format.
In previous years, there were numerous combinations of things that had to happen for any player not in the top five of the points standings that had to happen for said player to win.
“I wasn't a massive fan of not knowing before,” Paul Casey said. “Dealing with the pressure is part of competing in any sport at any level. For a guy not to know where he stands or to not know that he won a FedEx Cup and not face that pressure and deal with that pressure … that's why I'm glad we've got the system we've got.”
Contrived? Lordy. Confusing? Not so much anymore. Some might not like it, but there is at least clarity.
Through the first 36 holes at East Lake, Brooks Koepka leads by one over Thomas and Rory McIlroy, with Xander Schauffele another stroke back.
Take away the staggered start and the leader board would look like this: McIlroy, Casey and Schauffele tied for the lead, with each shooting 133 over the first two days. Koepka would be a stroke back and Thomas five back.
The latter is more logical—low score still wins in golf and this isn’t a club championship. But a funny thing seems to have happened to the revamped Tour Championship.
“It feels totally normal,” McIlroy said. “I think after the sort of start [Thursday] and sort of seeing where everyone ended up after Day 1, today felt just like the second round of a golf tournament.”
Just two days earlier, he referred to the new system as "different" six times in one answer alone. The rest of his answers questioned the validity of the entire thing.
Now? The tour couldn’t have fed players a better response. The golf has taken over, and the questions have subsided (for now, anyway).
Maybe Koepka had the best approach. After all, everything else he does seems to be working just fine for him.
“Everybody makes a big deal about it, but most of the time when we tee off on Thursday, we're already six, seven behind because the morning wave is done,” he said. “It's not a big deal. You just go out there and try to close that gap, and I've done a good job with that.”
So good that he’s in the lead, which is where it feels like he should be given that he’s the best player on the planet.