The 2018-19 golf season is winding down, ending in a three-tournament playoff that will conclude with one golfer getting a metric truckload of money and a trophy suitable for serving soup to an entire wedding.
The FedEx Cup playoffs are back for a 13th season, this time with a peculiar new points/scoring system that ought to generate its fair share of controversy. (Controversy? In the golf world? Well, we never.) Regardless, it’ll bring 30 of the planet’s best golfers to East Lake in Atlanta for a season-ending showdown. Here’s how it will work.
What’s the format of the playoffs?
The FedEx Cup playoffs are the culmination of a season-long accumulation of points. Every tournament on the PGA Tour gets you points toward playoff qualification, which is why you saw a bunch of unfamiliar names atop the playoff standings back in October and November of last year. Most of the top pros take a brief holiday in the fall, allowing others to stack points early in less star-studded events.
Once the big dogs started playing, the points race shifted dramatically. So it’s no surprise that Brooks Koepka is out in front by a wide margin heading into the playoffs.
How are points determined?
Standard PGA Tour events give the winner 500 points, while WGC victories are worth 550 points, and the four majors plus the Players Championship are worth 600 points. Opposite-field events, where a tournament takes place the same week as a major, are worth 300 points to the winner. Everyone who makes the cut gets a smaller share.
Even though Koepka has a sizable 500-point lead with 2,887 points, that’ll vanish in a hurry once the events start. The winner of each of the first two tournaments gets 2,000 points, which means anybody in the top 37 could theoretically vault past Koepka this weekend.
What’s the playoff schedule?
Here’s the first significant change to the playoffs. The number of events has been trimmed from four to three, in part to help prevent players who were already qualified for later events from skipping earlier ones. Plus, the entire playoff has been hauled a month earlier as part of the Tour’s new don’t-compete-with-football schedule.
This weekend brings the Northern Trust Open at Liberty National, which will have a 36-hole cut. The top 70 after that will head to the BMW Championship at Medinah, which will have no cut. And the final 30 will battle it out for a $15 million check at East Lake. And there, things get weird.
What’s the format for the championship?
Unlike in past years, there will be no points reset at the start of the Tour Championship. This time around, players will get “FedEx Cup Starting Strokes”—i.e., they’ll start the tournament at a certain point below par based on their standings at the end of the BMW Championship. The top player will start the Tour Championship at -10, the second-place player at -8. The third-ranked player will be at -7, fourth at -6, and fifth at -5. Players ranked 6-10 will start at -4, 11-15 will be at -3, 16-20 at -2, 21-25 at -1, and 26-30 at even par.
If it hurts your head to try to figure all that out, just imagine that you’re tuning in a few minutes late and the leaderboard’s already sorted itself out.
The flaw with this, obviously, is that someone could shoot an astounding round or full tournament and still come away empty-handed. It’s a sharp departure from the standard format of golf, where a player can have the tournament of his life and gain immortality. Bottom line, though, it’s a reward for playing well both over the full season and over two playoff events. It’s up to you to decide whether this change is for better or worse.
Who are the players to watch?
Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Matt Kuchar lead the standings heading into the first week of the playoffs. Look out for Jordan Spieth, who’s stumbled hard in recent weeks and now sits at a not-very-nice 69th; he’ll have to play well just to make the second tournament. Bubba Watson is in 71st position and will need a good week at the Northern Trust to move on. Tiger Woods, last year’s Tour Championship winner, is in 28th position; he ought to be in good shape to make the second round, but will have to work to get back to East Lake.
Only nine players have made the playoffs in all 13 years of their existence: Charley Hoffman, Charles Howell III, Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Ryan Moore, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Brandt Snedeker, and Watson.
What’s the payoff?
The winner of the FedEx Cup will be the winner of the Tour Championship, and vice-versa; no more split titles. That winner will earn a fat $15 million and a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour. After that, the finishers will earn $5 million for second, $4 million for third, $3 million for fourth, and on down the line. So there’s a substantial incentive to play well even if you’re not going to win; a new Ferrari might be riding on that last putt. Not for you, of course.
The FedEx Cup playoffs begin Thursday and run through the next three weeks.
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