This season Brooks Koepka played 20 events. He won three and finished in the top ten on eight separate occasions. He won the PGA Championship, finished as runner up in the Masters and the US Open. The Open Championship was his worst major; he finished tied for fourth.
Justin Thomas played 19 events. He won once. Thomas did not finish in the top ten in a single major, was outside the top 30 at the Players Championship and skipped the PGA Championship due to injury.
Koepka ranks #1 on the 2019 PGA Tour money list. Thomas holds the eighth slot on the money list. Heading into the 2019 Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club, Justin Thomas currently holds a three-shot lead over Brooks Koepka. The tournament does not start until Thursday.
In an effort to build drama and make the scoreboard easier to read on Sunday afternoon, the PGA Tour complicated everything else related to the Tour Championship and the FedExCup.
First awarded in 2007, the FedExCup was designed to increase attention for PGA Tour golf after the majors ended each season. Players accumulated points throughout the year, then played in four “playoff” events culminating with the top 30 point winners playing in the Tour Championship. The winner of the FedExCup enjoys an extremely large payday; Justin Rose won $10 million in 2018.
Since its inception, two winners were crowned at the Tour Championship, the winner of the tournament and the winner of the FedExCup. The tournament winner was based on strokes taken over 4 days. The Cup Champion decided based points won over the season, with an emphasis on the four playoff events. In eight of the 12 times that the FedExCup has been awarded, the winner of the Tour Championship also was the FedExCup.
Disliking the “confusion” of following both a golf tournament and the winning of points to decide who wins the FedExCup, the PGA Tour brought changes format in 2019. In order to make it easy to see who is winning, the winner of the Tour Championship IS the winner of the FedExCup. 30 players tee off Thursday, August 22 hoping to claim first place and the staggering $15 million prize.
What about the Points?
Instead of having the year-long points leader becoming the FedExCup winner, the Tour Championship is now handicapped. Driving golf purists crazy, the player who has generated the most points is given 10 strokes BEFORE play begins.
That is right, Justin Thomas is already 10 strokes under par; the event hasn’t started yet. Naturally, his 10 strokes have a name, “FedExCup Starting Strokes”. There is a certain irony that this event is played at East Lake in Atlanta, the home of golf purist, the legendary Bobby Jones.
Koepka is in Third!
What isn’t Koepka the leader? Again, to drum up interest in post-major events, the PGA Tour greatly weighted points to winners of two playoff events. Seemingly a good guy, and obviously a great player, Thomas did not play nearly as well as Koepka this year, but he won the BMW Championship last weekend and collected 2000 FedEx Cup points. The BMW had a limited field of 70 players.
By contrast, Koepka won the PGA Championship, finished second at the US Open, T2 at The Masters, and T4 at the Open Championship. For these combined accomplishments, Koepka nabbed a combined 1295 points. Since Koepka ranks third in FedExCup points, he receives 7 starting strokes and begins the 2019 Tour Championship three shots BEHIND Thomas. Players ranked #26-30 do not receive any starter strokes. They enter the competition 10 shots off the lead.
TV or Sports, which comes first?
All major sports need to bend to the realities of TV and the bottom line. Sunday night baseball on ESPN, Thursday night NFL games, US Open tennis matches that end at 2 AM in New York, these are but a few examples. But, changing the scoring to give someone a lead before the start?
What’s next? The Dallas Cowboys start with a 10 point lead over the Falcons because they are more likely to draw viewers next week? Start the New York Yankees with a 4 game lead in the AL East?
That said, 30 of the world’s best golfers will tee it up Thursday at East Lake. While Bobby Jones may have refused golf prize money and remained an amateur, now the money is just too significant. Even at 10 shots back, players are eager to get in the competition for the $15 million first prize. For the player who finishes 30th of 30, there is still $395,000 in prize money. Of course, they accept the silliness of starter strokes and give it a go. Wouldn’t you?
2019 Tour Championship MAIN PHOTO