Commish: Volatility, risk add to FedEx Cup finale

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ATLANTA — PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is touting the simplicity of the new format that will decide the FedEx Cup champion, even if it goes outside the conventional playing of a golf tournament.

And he’s not making any apologies for major championship winners Tiger Woods and Shane Lowry not being at East Lake Golf Club, where the season-ending Tour Championship begins Thursday.

“I think that fans know this is a season-long competition; it’s not a tournament,” Monahan said Tuesday. “The FedEx Cup is not a tournament. The Tour Championship is now for the FedEx Cup. So when you make that transition, you have to recognize that there are 45 weeks and 45 tournaments that precede it. As we make this transition, I think you have to take a longer perspective on it.”

Now in its 13th year, the FedEx Cup has undergone numerous tweaks, but the biggest was announced nearly a year ago. Gone is the points reset that used to occur after the BMW Championship, along with the guessing game that ensues with the various possibilities throughout the rounds.

Starting this year, the 30 players in the Tour Championship field — led by Justin Thomas — have been given a staggered strokes-based bonus that ranges from 10 under par down to even.

So instead of starting Thursday’s first round with all players at even par, Thomas will tee off at 10 under, with No. 2 Patrick Cantlay at 8 under and subsequent decreases down to players 26 through 30 beginning at even par.

The idea takes some getting used to, but Monahan reminded everyone that the PGA Tour ran numerous simulations to best approximate the points reset of past years. Whoever finishes with the lowest total, including the staggered strokes bonus, will be the tournament winner as well as the FedEx Cup champion.

For the player who wins the FedEx Cup, he will get credit for an official PGA Tour victory — even if he did not shoot the lowest score over 72 holes. (The Official World Golf Ranking, however, will determine ranking points based on the scores over 72 holes, not the strokes-based formula.)

If the same format had been in place at last year’s Tour Championship, Woods would not have been credited with a victory; there is no separate tournament title this year as there has been in the past. Under this new format, Woods’ efforts would have been good enough to secure second in the FedEx Cup standings behind Justin Rose, who didn’t win any of the playoff events.

This year’s tournament has 11 players who didn’t win this year. Patrick Reed and Thomas also jumped well up in the standings despite winning just once, and multiple winners Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy dropped behind because their play wasn’t as strong in the playoffs.

As for two major champions not making it to East Lake, that circumstance is rare. The last time it happened was when Masters champion Danny Willett failed to qualify in 2016.

Players get 500 points for winning a regular event, 550 for a World Golf Championship event and 500 for a major championship. Woods and Lowry were inside the top 30 in points when the FedEx Cup playoffs began.

“I think what it says is that it’s really hard to get to Atlanta and the Tour Championship,” Monahan said. “You’ve got to play exceedingly well over the course of an entire season. And with volatility, there’s risk. And if you don’t play well over the course of the season or you don’t get off to the start that you envision at the start of playoffs, you take the risk that you’re not going to be here.

“I think we’re always going to have that, and whether or not that’s the right thing, ultimately, if you’re going to have playoffs, you have to have volatility. And I think the interest of seeing all the players get themselves into position for this event, including getting inside the top 30 or not getting inside the top 30, is one of the intriguing story lines.

“But I want to emphasize the fact that what Tiger and Shane did this year, those are two of the greatest stories of the year. So would you want them here? One thousand percent. But you look at every other sport and their playoff format, and you’ll have top teams that fall out early. You’ll have some things that you may not have predicted, particularly at the moment when they won those two big events.”

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