Some big names missing, but still big money ahead at Tour Championship

MEDINAH, Ill. -- The field for the Tour Championship is set, and why it is even being called that remains a bit of a mystery. It's all about the FedEx Cup, the season-ending tournament on the PGA Tour schedule and the culmination of a three-tournament playoff series.

So, really, it's all about the money.

Sure, the winner in Atlanta will be credited with a tour victory even if he doesn't shoot the lowest 72-hole score, and he'll haul away a cool Cup, although it's unclear if it would be big enough to hold the $15 million.

When the PGA Tour unveiled its FedEx Cup format in 2007, much of the buzz was about the money. It was a surefire way to attract attention as well as the players, who drifted aimlessly following the PGA Championship as the golf season limped to a conclusion prior to the FedEx Cup format.

Back then, the bonus money to the winner was a whopping $10 million. This year, it is $15 million, with an overall pool of $60 million being divvied up.

Brooks Koepka all but said as much when he replied to a Twitter troll calling him out for not "trying hard'' and suggesting he stop playing and "go drive a truck.''

Koepka's reply:

"Brink's truck?''

Yep, that kind of sums it up this week in Atlanta, where even the last-place finish will earn $385,000.

Justin Thomas, who won for the 10th time on the PGA Tour with his victory Sunday at the BMW Championship, gets to sleep on a two-shot lead for the next several days before he even tees off at East Lake.

As part of the new format, there will be a staggered-strokes start as opposed to a FedEx Cup points reset, meaning that Thomas will start at 10 under par, with Patrick Cantlay two strokes back at 8 under, followed by Koepka at 7 under all the way down to the final qualifier, Jason Kokrak, at even par.

As crazy as it sounds, it will be far easier to follow than in years past, as it's now strokes on the scoreboard, with points eliminated. There is that pesky matter of no separate tournament champion being crowned, but the biggest potential issue was eliminated when Tiger Woods failed to qualify for the Tour Championship.

He won't be able to defend his title, but really, there is no title to defend. The one he captured last year -- his 80th PGA Tour title after five years without a victory -- is no longer at stake. Only the winner of the FedEx Cup gets a trophy. Had the same rules been in place a year ago, Woods would have not been celebrating anything.

"It's disappointing,'' Woods said. "I wish I could have [qualified]. Last year culminated in a pretty special moment for me and it would have been nice to go back there, but I'll be watching the guys on TV.''

Woods will not be alone in watching from afar. Some other big names also will sit out the Tour Championship.

Phil Mickelson, who won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, never posted another top-10 this season and had just one top-20. He ended up 48th in the points.

"I've had a rough four, five months,'' he said. "Probably the worst four, five months stretch of my career. I'm looking forward to having a couple of months off and kind of regrouping and come back fresh.''

Jason Day is also looking forward to a break. The Aussie has struggled for most of this year. Since tying for fifth at the Masters, he has posted just a single top-10 finish. He has dropped to 22nd in the world and came in at 54th in the FedEx standings.

"Below average,'' said Day, who didn't qualify for Atlanta for the first time since 2012. "Very disappointing. I didn't make the Tour Championship but it happens. Looking forward to some time off.''

So is Jordan Spieth, who for the second straight year didn't qualify for the season-ending event, this time by a mile. Spieth, who has dropped to 31st in the world, showed glimmers of progress this summer, but he still has not won on the PGA Tour in more than two years. He was 44th in the points.

"I've just gotten too inconsistent, too far off in the long game,'' Spieth said. "It went down to the short game, but tremendous improvement in my putting. I know exactly why I got off, what happened and how to get it back.''

And so while some high-profile names will be missing at East Lake, the likes of Thomas, Koepka, Patrick Reed, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Matt Kuchar, Gary Woodland, Tony Finau, Adam Scott, defending FedEx champ Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler will battle it out for the big money.

So will Sungjae Im, Kokrak and Abahram Ancer, all of whom qualified for their first Tour Championship and thus the Masters.

The money is nice, but getting that Masters invitation might actually be worth a lot more.