The field will be smaller than your typical men’s club Saturday morning tournament, but the richest prize of the year will be on the line when the final 30 qualifiers vie for the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup at East Lake in Atlanta starting Thursday.
In a limited field event like this, anyone can win. The top-5 all control their own destiny; win the tournament, win the 10th annual FedEx Cup.
Theoretically, any of the 30 finalists could capture the season-long points race and the $10 million prize that goes with it. For golfers ranked out of the top-10 though, it would require increasingly complex combinations of finishes by players ranked in front of them. No. 30 qualifier Charl Schwartzel not only will have to win the tournament, but No. 1 Dustin Johnson would have to finish in either a two-way tie for 29th or dead last at 30.
Dustin ranks 1st this season in…
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 12, 2016
The top-5 all control their own destiny; win the tournament, win the 10th annual FedEx Cup.
Obviously, Johnson is the favorite. He’s coming off a win in the BMW Championship, his third victory of the year including the US Open and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. He’s the likely PGA Tour Player of the Year, he’s almost a lock to lead the official money list, and he has a pretty good chance to win the FedEx Cup as long as he finishes in the top 5. (He still has a mathematical chance to win even if he finishes solo 29.)
DJ’s top competition comes from four others who’d earn the Tour title with a win at East Lake. Patrick Reed, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Paul Casey enter the season’s final PGA Tour event ranked second through fifth in the playoff standings.
Besides DJ, Scott and Casey come into the Tour Championship in the best form. Scott has top 4s in all three of this year’s playoff events, while Casey comes in off back-to-back second place finishes. Casey opens at No. 5 in the rankings; he started the playoffs ranked 68.
When you get out of the top-5, winning the tournament no longer automatically earns the magic $10 million. Even if No. 6 Rory McIlroy is successful over 72 holes at East Lake, he doesn’t capture the overall title if Dustin Johnson finishes alone in second place. (He does, however, pocket $1,530,000 for the victory.)
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Defending FedEx champion Jordan Spieth also has a legitimate shot and can make a little history besides. Spieth starts 7th in the standings and can join Tiger Woods as the only two-time FedEx Cup champion and be the first-ever repeat winner. With a victory at East Lake, Spieth tops the final points list, provided Johnson finishes in a three-way tie for second or worse and Reed can’t make a solo second place.
Other marquee players teeing it up at in Atlanta include PGA champion Jimmy Walker, ranked 10; Brandt Snedeker, 11; Phil Mickelson, 13; Matt Kucher, 16; Bubba Watson, 24; Jason Dufner, 27; and J.B. Holmes, 28. Many of those American stalwarts will be on the Ryder Cup team for Team USA come beginning of October.
Prominent players not in the field include Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, British Open winner Henrik Stenson, Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose, Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk, Graeme McDowell, and Masters champion Danny Willett.
Also absent, but still on the minds of golf fans around the world, is Woods who returns to tournament play next month after a lengthy medical rehab. Tiger was in the top-3 in the FedEx standings as recently as 2012 and 2013. The question is, will he be playing at East Lake next September?
As far as this year’s event, I like Dustin Johnson to win the FedEx Cup, but I don’t think he’ll win the tournament. Just like in most Saturday morning men’s club low-nets, with only 30 players, somebody unexpected usually wins.