It was quite the scene.
But a few minutes before that chaotic scene at No. 18, Justin Rose tapped in for a birdie that elicited a much milder celebration yet still was one of the biggest putts of his career, as it cemented his win in the 2018 FedEx Cup playoffs.
Woods took home one trophy, for winning the Tour Championship itself. Rose took home another, plus the $10 million prize that came with winning the tour’s season-long points race even though he finished the tournament in a tie for fourth, five strokes behind Woods. It was all somewhat confusing.
“Yeah, it was awkward out there, really, today,” Rose said. “It was a situation that I’d never really been in before.”
This situation, with someone winning the season-ending Tour Championship but someone else winning the season-long FedEx Cup playoff race, has happened four times since the playoff’s inception in 2007, including the last two years (Justin Thomas finished second at the 2017 Tour Championship but still won the FedEx Cup). To rectify that — to make sure the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup winners are the same person — the PGA Tour instituted a new system for this year’s event, which like before is the culmination of a multiple-tournament playoff race (this year it’s three events instead of four, as in the past).
Starting this year, the FedEx Cup points leader entering the 30-player Tour Championship will start with at least a two-stroke lead on everyone else. The golfer who is second in points will start two behind the leader, third place will be three shots back and all the way down to the golfers ranked 26th through 30th, who will have to erase a 10-stroke deficit over four days if they want to win the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.
The PGA Tour is calling this adjusted scoring system “Starting Strokes,” and this is what the leader board will look like Thursday when the golfers tee off at East Lake:
1. Justin Thomas: 10 under par
2. Patrick Cantlay: 8 under par
3. Brooks Koepka: 7 under par
4. Patrick Reed: 6 under par
5. Rory McIlroy: 5 under par
T-6. Jon Rahm, Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Abraham Ancer: 4 under par
T-11. Gary Woodland, Tony Finau, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama: 3 under par
T-16. Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Rickie Fowler, Kevin Kisner: 2 under par
T-21. Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood, Corey Conners, Sungjae Im, Chez Reavie: 1 under par
T-26. Bryson DeChambeau, Louis Oosthuizen, Charles Howell III, Lucas Glover, Jason Kokrak: even par
Whoever finishes the tournament with the lowest score after the Starting Strokes are applied wins both the event and the FedEx Cup, plus the now-$15 million in prize money and five-year PGA Tour exemption that come with them. The runner-up gets $5 million and the prize money descends from there, with the 30th-place finisher taking home $395,000.
“Compared to the current system, the beauty here is in the simplicity,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said last year when the new format was announced. “Fans are very familiar with golf leader boards in relation to par, so they will have a clear understanding of the impact every shot makes during the final run for the FedExCup — ultimately leading to a singular champion without conflicting story lines.”
The changes were announced days before last year’s Tour Championship but not instituted until this year. Had this system been in place last year, Rose would have won both the tournament and the FedEx Cup: He entered the event ranked second in FedEx Cup points, so he would have begun the tournament at 8 under and would have ended it at 14 under. Woods entered last year’s Tour Championship 20th in points and thus would have started at 2 under. The 11 under he shot would have put him at 13 under for the tournament had this year’s system been used, one shot behind Rose (he would have tied Dustin Johnson for second place in the final FedEx Cup standings).
The new format would have changed the FedEx Cup winner only twice out of the previous 12 years. In 2008, Camilo Villegas and not Vijay Singh would have won the title. In 2011, Luke Donald would have hoisted the trophy instead of Bill Haas.
As for this year’s tournament, the format has created a somewhat peculiar situation in the gambling and daily fantasy markets. Given his baked-in two-stroke lead, Thomas has been installed as a 9/4 favorite by Jeff Sherman, vice president of risk management and golf oddsmaker for SuperBook USA, with Cantlay right behind him at 9/2. For comparison’s sake, Rory McIlroy was a pretournament 8/1 favorite to win the British Open, which featured a much larger field and, of course, no strokes given at the start of play.
Should you want to roster Thomas for your daily fantasy lineup, it will cost you a whopping $15,500 at DraftKings and $14,200 at FanDuel. Cantlay, meanwhile, has a $12,400/$12,300 price tag.
The preset leaders obviously have a huge edge here, but here a few other golfers who possibly could erase their deficits this weekend.
Brooks Koepka (4/1): If Koepka treats this tournament like he treats grand slams, look out. As DraftKings’ Geoff Ulrich points out, eight of the past nine Tour Championship winners have ranked 15th or better in par-4 scoring in the year of their victory. Guess who is tied for the PGA Tour lead in par-4 scoring?
Tony Finau (40/1): Finau finished T-15 and T-7 in his last two stops at East Lake, so there’s a level of comfort with the course, and he hasn’t finished worse than 30th in his last five full-field tournaments, including a fourth place last week at the BMW.
Justin Rose (40/1): Rose was in fine form entering last weekend’s BMW Championship — his worst finish in his previous five tournaments was a tie for 20th — but two tee shots into the water on the same hole Friday seemed to knock him for a loop and he finished tied for 52nd. If there’s a course for this particular horse, it’s East Lake for Rose: Over his past six appearances there, he’s finished outside the top six just once, and that was a tie for 10th in 2017. Plus, Rose has twice erased eight-shot deficits — the hole he’s facing here — to win a tournament in his career.
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