That's the essence of the FedExCup Playoffs in a single word, but it stands for more than one thing.
Qualifying means fully exempt status for the 2018-19 season, the guarantee for finishing inside the top 125 of the FedExCup standings entering the four-event series. It's the definitive in advance of the opportunity presented during the Playoffs itself.
While an individual sport challenges the definition of the PGA TOUR's Playoffs, what's not different about this system is that anything can happen. My annual Power Rankings takes into account the usual variables that project success and inject trends that have emerged during the Playoffs. Scroll beneath the 30 golfers ranked for more insight and intel.
POWER RANKINGS: FEDEXCUP PLAYOFFS
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 30 Chesson Hadley 29 Austin Cook 28 Rafa Cabrera Bello 27 Kevin Na 26 Bubba Watson 25 Bryson DeChambeau 24 Phil Mickelson 23 Beau Hossler 22 Marc Leishman 21 Kevin Kisner 20 Kyle Stanley 19 Gary Woodland 18 Rory McIlroy 17 Xander Schauffele 16 Francesco Molinari 15 Patrick Cantlay 14 Brooks Koepka 13 Tony Finau 12 Paul Casey 11 Brandt Snedeker 10 Webb Simpson 9 Patrick Reed 8 Tommy Fleetwood 7 Jordan Spieth 6 Dustin Johnson 5 Jon Rahm 4 Tiger Woods 3 Jason Day 2 Justin Rose 1 Justin Thomas
Championships in professional sports require a blend of success both during the regular season and in the postseason. This is no different on the PGA TOUR, but there's many routes to the same destination.
All three iterations of the Playoffs points system (2007-2008; 2009-2014; 2015-present) yielded FedExCup champions who opened the Playoffs as the No. 1 seed. Tiger Woods opened at the top en route to both of his FedExCup titles (2007, 2009). Jordan Spieth joined him in 2015.
Dustin Johnson begins the 12th edition at No. 1, but the door is open for all comers.
In the most impressive display of fulfilling promise, Billy Horschel opened 69th in 2014 and missed the cut in the first event to fall to 82nd. He then went T2-Win-Win to take the FedExCup. Two years later, Rory McIlroy won two Playoffs events, including the TOUR Championship in a playoff, to prevail after opening as the 36-seed and slipping two spots with a T31 to start the series.
THE NORTHERN TRUST at Ridgewood Country Club is reserved for all 125 Playoffs qualifiers. The course in Paramus, New Jersey, hosted the opener in 2008, 2010 and 2014. Full-season points are carried into the tournament. FedExCup points earned in the Playoffs are quadrupled, thus making possible the surprises often experienced in any playoffs.
After the conclusion of THE NORTHERN TRUST, the top 100 in the updated FedExCup standings will advance to the Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston in Norton, Massachusetts, the only site the tournament has ever known. Only the first two events in the Playoffs will include 36-hole cuts, but if more than 78 golfers survive either cut, there will not be a secondary cut of low 70 and ties.
At the Playoffs midpoint, the top 70 will qualify for the BMW Championship, this year contested at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. It underwent full-scale modifications since it last hosted the Quicken Loans National in 2011.
The top 30 in FedExCup points at the conclusion of the BMW Championship will comprise the field for the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. It's hosted every edition of the event since 2004 and thrice prior. (Just as Monday's Power Rankings for THE NORTHERN TRUST focused on only that tournament and Ridgewood as host, each of the tournaments will receive individualized Power Rankings.)
No matter the scoring system, all of the top-13 seeds entering the Playoffs have always advanced to the TOUR Championship. Since 2015, 17 golfers who started the Playoffs outside the top 30 worked their way into the season finale. The worst opening seeds in each edition to turn the trick were Daniel Berger (46th in 2015), Sean O'Hair (108th in 2016) and Patrick Cantlay (78th in 2017).
Also since 2015, a top-33 finish in THE NORTHERN TRUST has been enough to survive and advance to the Dell Technologies Championship. From there, all top 20s at TPC Boston spawned berths into the BMW. In each of the last three Playoffs, exactly four golfers who started the BMW outside the top 30 in points qualified for the exclusive field at East Lake. All but three of the 12 recorded a top-10 finish in the BMW: Harris English (32-seed in 2015; T19 at BMW), Xander Schauffele (32-seed in 2017; T20 at BMW) and Sergio Garcia (34-seed in 2017; T12 at BMW).
Once in the TOUR Championship, if any of the top-five seeds wins the tournament, he will win the FedExCup, a five-year TOUR exemption and a spot in the Sentry Tournament of Champions (if not already eligible). In addition to that chance for all 30 in the field, carte-blanche scheduling for 2018-19 is already guaranteed. Exemptions into the first three majors, the WGC-HSBC Champions and the WGC-Mexico Championship will be extended.
For those finishing inside the top 60 in points, spots in the CIMB Classic and THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES this fall are made available. The top 70 will receive coveted tee times for the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance, both of which reward their champions three-year TOUR exemptions.
The top 80 in the final FedExCup standings will be exempt into the Charles Schwab Challenge (at Colonial Country Club), while all 125 can book trips to the CareerBuilder Challenge, THE PLAYERS Championship and the RBC Heritage. All of the tournaments cited here are invitationals. So, for first-time Playoffs qualifiers in particular, they represent the next level of regular competition on the circuit.
TOUR status and schedule guarantees aside, there's also the not-so-small matter of the FedExCup bonus money up for grabs. The FedExCup champ will pocket $10 million of the $35-million prize fund. That trickles all the way down past the Playoffs participants. Even the top 25 who didn't qualify (those ranking 126-150 in the overall standings) receive $32,000 apiece.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton reviews and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
MONDAY: Rookie Ranking, Reshuffle, Medical Extensions, Power Rankings (THE NORTHERN TRUST)
TUESDAY*: Power Rankings (FedExCup Playoffs), Sleepers, Facebook Live, Fantasy Insider
WEDNESDAY: One & Done
THURSDAY: Champions One & Done
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf presented by SERVPRO, which also publishes on Tuesdays.