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The FedEx Cup Playoffs are off to a blistering start with Will Zalatoris capturing the St. Jude Championship and Patrick Cantlay defending his BMW Championship crown. As fast as it began, the postseason will come to a screeching conclusion at the Tour Championship this week as the 30 best players from the PGA Tour battle for the season-long crown.
As he did for most of the regular season, Scottie Scheffler will lead the pack into Atlanta. Bouncing back from his missed cut in the first playoff event, the world No. 1 played himself into contention in Delaware and reclaimed the top spot in the FedEx Cup thanks to a top-five finish at the BMW Championship.
Due to the staggered start of the Tour Championship — more on that in a moment — Scheffler will begin with a two-stroke lead over Cantlay and a three-stroke edge over Zalatoris, who withdrew from the BMW due to injury. Despite this advantage, there are still premier players right in the thick of it thanks to their strong regular seasons. Those include multiple-time winners Cameron Smith, Rory McIlroy and Max Homa all of whom will be within arm’s reach at the onset of play at East Lake Golf Club.
With all of that in mind, let’s break down the FedEx Cup Playoffs format, what we’ve already seen, what to expect at the Tour Championship and which players to expect to make one final push at the finale for the $18 million first prize.
FedEx St. Jude Championship
East Lake GC
It was a dramatic ending at the top of the leaderboard at the BMW Championship and equally as intriguing for those names who battled their way inside the top 30 cutoff point for the Tour Championship. Players such as rookie Sahith Theegala, Aaron Wise and Adam Scott all displayed guts and gumption down the stretch to secure their place at East Lake. Scott became the only player to successfully play his way inside the qualifying number in each of the first two playoff events as he entered the St. Jude Championship outside the top 70 and the BMW Championship outside the top 30.
These players will be granted a minimum payday of $500,000 for their efforts as well as exemptions into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open in 2023. While they are positioned well in the big events for next season, they will be starting behind the eight ball given the staggered start of the Tour Championship and the importance of playing well in the postseason specifically.
Players who have taken the most advantage of the first two playoff events include Sepp Straka and Scott Stallings, who will begin the Tour Championship ahead of the likes of Homa, Jordan Spieth and Joaquin Niemann thanks to their efforts over the last two weeks.
This emphasis on the postseason is especially true for someone like Zalatoris, who was awarded zero FedEx Cup points at the BMW Championship due to his withdrawal yet still finds his name among the top three despite his early exit in Delaware thanks to his breakthrough victory at the St. Jude Championship.
Zalatoris and Cantlay sit pretty at the Tour Championship as they begin right behind Scheffler. In the first year of this format, Patrick Reed won the first playoff event and started the Tour Championship in fourth. Justin Thomas won the second playoff event and started the Tour Championship in first. In the second year, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm won the first two events and started first and second at the Tour Championship. The same thing happened in 2021 with Finau and Cantlay. There was a lot of movement to be had — especially for the winners of the first two events — but ultimately the right man begins the grand finale in the lead.
Heading into the Tour Championship inside the top five or top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings is important because of how scoring is dispersed. As he was at the end of the regular season, Scheffler is first in the standings after the BMW Championship and will start the Tour Championship at 10 under with the event played under normal scoring conditions from there. Cantlay will start at 8 under and so on. With so much money at stake, those margins become more meaningful than even a normal week. The eventual winners of the last three FedEx Cups have started first, fifth and first at the Tour Championship.
The numbers are startling. The winner of the Tour Championship gets $18 million. If you make it to the Tour Championship, you’re guaranteed $500,000. Everyone who advanced to the BMW Championship is guaranteed at least $175,000. Heck, everyone who finished in the top 125 is guaranteed at least $120,000. All of this is on top of what the first two tournaments themselves pay out. Add it all up, and FedEx is giving out $75 million in bonus funds to the best players in the world.
The top 10 going into the Tour Championship is fascinating. Cantlay looks to be a man on a mission after he endured a regular season that saw him unable to capture a solo victory. Scheffler has been the best player in the world since the spring, and if his putter comes alive, it will be difficult to upend given his two-stroke edge. Zalatoris is the ultimate wildcard as his status is unknown and this will be his first trip to East Lake as he did not participate in the FedEx Cup Playoffs a year ago.
Cantlay was in pole position a year ago and should have a good understanding of what is going through Scheffler’s head with a two-stroke lead. However, Xander Schauffele is the guy who I believe will raise the FedEx Cup trophy. He broke through at East Lake for his first career victory back in 2017 and has since fallen in love with the place. He has finished no worse than T7 in Atlanta and is trending in a very nice direction after a T3 finish at the BMW Championship.
Scheffler and Cantlay’s FedEx Cup chances will come down to their putters while Zalatoris’ will come down to his driver. Much is made of his putting stroke, but his inaccuracy off the tee combined with his questionable health status makes me believe Schauffele will be able to surpass him with ease over the course of four days and ultimately get the better of Scheffler and Cantlay as well.
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