Remember who won the 2019 TOUR Championship? Of course you do. That’s because Rory McIlroy was the FedExCup champion. It’s the new norm of the FedExCup Playoffs. Whoever prevails in 72 holes at East Lake Golf Club will go into the annals as the 14th winner of the FedExCup.
The Starting Strokes scoring system returns this year. For a review of how the format debuted, what the field of 30 can anticipate inside the ropes when the tournament begins on Friday, Sept. 4, and more, continue reading beneath the ranking.
NOTE: This full-field Power Rankings includes starting score for every golfer in the field.
POWER RANKINGS: TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 30 Marc Leishman 29 Kevin Na 28 Cameron Champ 27 Cameron Smith 26 Lanto Griffin 25 Viktor Hovland 24 Abraham Ancer 23 Mackenzie Hughes 22 Patrick Reed 21 Sungjae Im 20 Tyrrell Hatton 19 Billy Horschel 18 Ryan Palmer 17 Sebastián Muñoz 16 Scottie Scheffler 15 Kevin Kisner 14 Rory McIlroy 13 Joaquin Niemann 12 Harris English 11 Tony Finau 10 Brendon Todd 9 Collin Morikawa 8 Xander Schauffele 7 Bryson DeChambeau 6 Hideki Matsuyama 5 Daniel Berger 4 Dustin Johnson 3 Webb Simpson 2 Justin Thomas 1 Jon Rahm
Opening score in relation to par for each of the 30 qualifiers for the TOUR Championship is a reflection of respective value entering the finale of the 2019-20 PGA TOUR season. For the uninitiated fan, the feeling is like starting a tournament with one round already complete.
Despite the advantage of a head start, there are still 72 holes to play to determine the result and there is no cut. And that’s not insignificant. Consider that in just the 13 tournaments since the season resumed in June, only four winners either led outright or co-led entering the final round.
No matter the iteration of the Playoffs format, when McIlroy prevailed here last year, he became the 10th consecutive FedExCup champion who didn’t begin the TOUR Championship as the top seed. It’s a stretch that included the first time he won the FedExCup in 2016. Tiger Woods (2007, 2009) is the only other multiple FedExCup champion, but he was the top seed in advance of both of his finales.
Last year, McIlroy seeded fifth and with an opening score of 5-under. Combined with his actual 72-hole total of 13-under 267, he finished with a score of 18-under, four lower than runner-up Xander Schauffele, who started at 4-under as the 8-seed.
Top seed Justin Thomas opened 10-under and finished T3 after completing 72 holes in just 3-under 277. Among other notables in the context of opening position, 2-seed Patrick Cantlay started at 8-under, shot 9-over 289 and finished T21 at 1-over. Paul Casey, who started 16th at 2-under, finished alone in fifth, while Dustin Johnson, who started 14th and one stroke lower, tied for last. The highest finish among the fivesome who started at even was Bryson DeChambeau. His aggregate of 4-under 276 was good for a T12.
The 2020 version of DeChambeau is the poster boy for how to tackle East Lake; that is, hit it long and find it, even in primary rough clipped at two-and-a-half inches.
Rees Jones’ redesign(s) of Donald Ross’ renovation of Tom Bendelow’s creation is a firm, fair par 70 that tips at 7,346 yards, and it’s been the only host of the Playoffs finale. Already for the fifth consecutive edition, the nines are reversed, so the old par-3 finisher is the ninth. No. 18 is a par-5 measuring 590 yards. The greens are a little larger than average and the par 5s annually rank among the easiest sets of all courses.
With seven birdies and a par on the sixth and 18th holes last year, McIlroy led the field in par-5 scoring at 4.13, but DJ ranked T5 at 4.38, so he didn’t compensate on the 16 holes that aren’t par 5s played four times each. That reinforces the premium of ball-striking around East Lake. En route to victory, McIlroy ranked T3 in fairways hit, T5 in greens in regulation and led the field in both Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green.
In a small field, it’s more about creating scoring opportunities (and limiting big numbers) than it is about going low, especially on a course that averaged 70.033 last year, closest to par of every course last season. As long as its managed in moderation, putting is secondary and likely won’t define the champion.
MiniVerde bermudagrass putting surfaces are on the slicker side at 13 feet on the Stimpmeter, and they’ll have a terrific chance of maintaining the speed, even in the predictably hot and humid conditions in store. After two days with highs in the lower 90s and only a chance of rain, a system will make its presence known by Sunday’s third round. Daytime highs will drop as much as 10 degrees through Labor Day. Wind might impact club selection for a short period of time with the cooling, but that’s barely worth the mention.
All earnings at the TOUR Championship are classified as unofficial bonus money, but the winner of the tournament will be credited with an official PGA TOUR victory. All qualifiers will be treated to carte-blanche scheduling throughout the 2020-21 season. Included in the perks for advancing to the finale are exemptions into the Masters, the U.S. Open, The Open Championship and the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship in 2021. Also, for this season only, each is exempt into the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
TUESDAY*: Fantasy Insider
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesday.