The changes to the Tour Championship are ... 'weird'

How the FedEx Cup is determined will be entirely different next year. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

ATLANTA -- He had just won $10 million, but Justin Thomas looked like a guy who set the bag of cash down somewhere and couldn't locate it. Having captured golf's ultimate prize, he was annoyed because he didn't secure the smaller one that was also at stake that day.

Even today, Thomas laments finishing second at last year's Tour Championship to Xander Schauffele, having missed an 18th-hole birdie opportunity that would have forced a playoff.

"It still bothers me,'' he said, even though Thomas still walked away from East Lake with the $10 million bonus that goes to the winner of the yearlong points competition on the PGA Tour, part of a player-of-the-year season.

And that is something that won't happen in the future.

After years of conjecture and debate, and with dozens upon dozens of ideas put forth, the PGA Tour unveiled a new plan to begin next year. It essentially wipes out the Tour Championship as we know it and turns into it into -- using golf terminology -- a flighted event in which players will be given a stroke advantage based on their place in the FedEx Cup standings.

Gone will be the inane points permutations -- a good thing -- but in its place is a 72-hole tournament in which the player with the lowest score might not be the winner.


Think of giving your buddy 1 stroke a side over the course of a four-day tournament, or the equivalent of 8 shots. If it were this year, that is essentially what No. 1 Bryson DeChambeau would be getting from Tiger Woods, who is ranked 20th in the standings and would begin the Tour Championship 8 strokes back of the leader.

DeChambeau would have a 1-stroke lead over No. 2 Justin Rose, a 2-shot advantage over No. 3 Tony Finau, 3 shots over No. 4 Dustin Johnson and 4 shots over No. 5 Thomas. The stroke differences then increase in groups of five down to the 26th through 30th players, who would begin the Tour Championship 10 strokes back.

"It's something that is very, very weird and going to be hard to get used to,'' Thomas said. "We talked about it, and it's ... never going to be perfect.''

Thomas, the reigning FedEx Cup champ, is part of the tour's players advisory committee. It means he has a voice in how business is conducted. And yet he doesn't seem sold.

The FedEx Cup is in its 12th year. What it has provided in excellent fields with a season-ending champion, it has not always produced in clear-cut drama. That has often been due to the clumsy nature of all the points permutations, and the fact that what is unfolding on the leaderboard doesn't clearly show what happens in the overall FedEx competition.

By eliminating the computer and having just a single winner -- albeit one with a staggered start -- the tour hopes to alleviate those issues.

"Once play begins, we now have a single leaderboard,'' PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said. "Every viewer, every spectator and every player on the golf course will know precisely where they stand at any given moment in the competition as it relates to winning the FedEx Cup.''

Here's the problem: you know that there will be instances where the FedEx Cup champion does not shoot the lowest score that week, which goes counter to every other stroke-play tournament in every other week of the season.

It would have happened last year with Thomas, who shot one more than Schauffele. It would have happened in 2009, when Tiger Woods was 3 strokes worse than Phil Mickelson but won the FedEx Cup. And it would have happened in 2008, when Vijay Singh was 16 shots behind Camilo Villegas but won the FedEx Cup in a format that was later revamped. (Singh had clinched the FedEx Cup before ever getting to Atlanta.)

The difference? Schauffele, Mickelson and Villegas at least claimed the Tour Championship title and a winning prize in excess of $1 million.

Starting next year, that person with the lowest score will take his place wherever it falls in the strokes-adjusted tournament.

Is that bad? Well, at the very least it will take some getting used to, especially the idea that the winner will be credited with a tour title and some to-be-determined world ranking points that still needs to be determined by the Official World Golf Ranking.

In the tour's defense, it wanted to do away with the mind-numbing computer projections that changed on every shot through the course of a Tour Championship. For a player competing in the tournament, it could be very difficult to discern where he stood in the FedEx Cup picture.

Monahan said the process took three years and that every idea conceivable was put forward and considered.

Among the many broached over the years was the simple concept of having the playoff events proceed as they have, then crowning a winner at the Tour Championship. From there, take the top four, six, eight -- whatever number -- and let them play the next day for the bonus money, which will now be $15 million to the winner and $5 million to second place and subsequent payouts from there.

That clearly would produce some of the drama the tour says it is after, not only with the Tour Championship itself but among those players fighting for those top spots to get a shot at the bonus money, and then the actual competition itself among a small group of players for a big prize. Monahan said the players, for the most part, were opposed.

"We had a lot of discussion about a format like that,'' Monahan said. "Coming down to 18 holes or coming down to 36 holes, whether you were four or six players, and we brought that forward.''

But players couldn't get past the idea that "I'm battling from the Safeway Open (in October) to the Wyndham Championship (in August) and it's going to come down to an 18-hole shootout.''

And yet, isn't that what playoffs in other sports are typically about?

Part of the new plan involves a $10 million bonus pool for the top 10 finishers in the regular season, with $2 million going to the top player down to $500,000 for 10th.

Given the current points set up, those players are all but guaranteed of getting to the Tour Championship -- after two more $9 million purse events -- where they would then be in position to compete for the big prize. While $15 million goes to the winner and $5-million to second place, 10th place is still pays more $1 million.

Sure, the guy who has the best season is not always going to come out on top. Monahan, who is from New England, ought to know all about that. Think 2007 New England Patriots.

Or think this year's Boston Red Sox, who to this point have won 12 more games than any other team in baseball but are only assured of an extra game at home in each playoff series.

That is the nature of players. You work hard all season, but then you still have to produce in the postseason. When presented with that type of scenario, Thomas could only shrug.

"I really don't know what to say,'' he said. "I agree with you, I'll just say that.''