New TOUR Championship format aims to provide excitement
August 07, 2019
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
New format for 2019 FedExCup Playoffs
JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The FedExCup will feel more attainable than it previously has to all 30 players in the TOUR Championship, according to most PGA TOUR players.
The FedExCup Playoffs have been reduced from four events to three, and the season finale will feature a staggered start dependent on your FedExCup ranking. Whichever player comes out on top at East Lake will claim the FedExCup and the $15 million bonus.
In the past, a points system determined the FedExCup, with those starting at the back of the pack not only needing to win at East Lake, but also have other players finish at the back end of the leaderboard. Now, the equation is simple for all – make up your deficit to those above you on the scoreboard.
The FedExCup leader heading to the TOUR Championship will start at 10-under, second place at 8-under, third 7-under, fourth 6-under and fifth at 5-under. Players ranked 6-10 will start at 4-under, 11-15 at 3-under, 16-20 at 2-under, 21-25 at 1-under and 26-30 at even par.
If you applied this new format to the last 10 years, only one FedExCup champion would have definitely changed, and another would have needed a playoff to come out on top, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s comparing apples to oranges. Now, the mindset is completely different. Some guys play better chasing. Some are great at protecting leads. Everything changes.
“I would feel better going in at a 10-shot deficit for four days than going in 30th place in the FedExCup the way it was before,” 2015 FedExCup champion Jordan Spieth said.
“I know that historically the percentage chances say it's the same, but I'm telling you, if you're playing East Lake a little bit conservative like you're holding the lead from day one… (it could get tough). I've got a feeling East Lake will be a bunched leaderboard this year.
“It's going to be pretty exciting at the end just because of the style of play that you go out with. It's going to be an unusual circumstance mentally, standing on the tee when you're three or four down. It's actually almost like a freedom feeling. And if you're holding a two-shot lead over four guys, it's like, don't make the mistake, just play to the center of the green. It will make for better finishes.”
This train of thought perhaps lends itself to the leader not having so much of an advantage at all. It is true he could double-bogey the first hole and already be tied, or behind, with 71 holes to play. If we applied the new rules to the past, half of the FedExCup champions would have found themselves behind after 18 holes in Atlanta.
Brooks Koepka leads the FedExCup heading into this week's THE NORTHERN TRUST. With his record as a front runner being pretty good of late, he would welcome a lead. Not to mention, in two of his three East Lake appearances, he ultimately finished more than 10 shots back of the winner. Perhaps this is a course he could use the help?
“It’s not on my mind, but it would be nice to have the stroke advantage. Like anything, you play good, good things are going to happen and you're going to give yourself a better chance going into Atlanta if I play well these next two events,” Koepka says.
“But even if you are a couple strokes back or whatever, you still need to go out there and play some good golf, it doesn't matter. Atlanta, you've got to hit the fairways if you want a chance. As long as I can keep striking the ball the way I am and feel confident over the putter, I should have a good chance there.”
Before you get to thinking the regular season points leaders are getting the short end of the stick, consider the other big change to the Playoffs - the drop to three events - and how that serves those players well. Now making a serious run for the title from far back in the standings is going to be very difficult. While 125 players start the Playoffs in Jersey City this week, only 70 will move on to the BMW Championship. If you are outside the top 70, you better be ready to go. Those at the very back end better set a target on the top 10 at Liberty National to have a chance.
Your reward for a great regular season (apart from the Wyndham Rewards bonus) is a guaranteed start in the TOUR Championship.
“By going to one less event and keeping the points the same, we are going to have less volatility in the Playoffs,” 2014 FedExCup champion Billy Horschel says.
“I’d say going forward, it is going to be really hard to win the FedExCup from outside the top 50 or 60. You will have to win one of the first two and have a good finish at the other.”
Horschel started his FedExCup run in 69th place. He knows some fans couldn’t believe Rory McIlroy, who finished the regular season by winning two majors and a World Golf Championship in as many starts, did not leverage it into a FedExCup win.
“Rory had an unbelievable year, was easily the best player in the game, and was top of the points going in the Playoffs, but then had to watch as I went on a nice little three week run to win. To me that’s what playoffs are about, that’s what makes any sport with playoffs special. If you just get to the playoffs you’ve got a chance,” Horschel says.
“It comes down to your definition. Do you reward the guy who has done well in the regular season or do you create opportunity for the Playoffs to be a more up for grabs scenario similar to other sports? The New York Giants went 9-7 and barely made the playoffs, but went on to win the Super Bowl. I like that.”
Another former FedExCup champion skews the other way.
“I like the idea of the three Playoff events. I think it rewards a guy for having a good season. It rewards a whole body of work,” 2010 champion Jim Furyk says.
“The guys I have always felt bad for is the guy who is number 23 in the FedExCup coming in and has played a great season who then has a solid playoffs but still falls out of the top 30. That’s significant because of entry into World Golf Championships and majors for the following year. It’s big reward. You could go into the playoffs and be 15th three weeks in a row and fall.
“The new system still gives a guy a chance to come out and finish really high this week and start a run, but at the same time rewarding those who earned it at the top. I like that every shot counts, but also that some count a little more than others by rewarding a good season.”
Like anything that is new, the proof will be in the pudding. It should be a great three weeks watching it play out.