The FedEx Cup Playoffs get under way when the points go in the air this week at Liberty National Golf Course. But as you take in the Northern Trust -- the first of three season-ending events -- don’t spend time trying to figure out exactly what you are watching or how it works.
You’d be better off working a Rubik’s Cube, studying scientific journals or searching for Hoffa. Just sign off on it all and move on.
The reason it is the FedExCup is because it is sponsored by FedEx. If it was sponsored by Stanley Tools, it would be the Stanley Cup, which would make things even more confusing. Perhaps the winners would get their name etched on an oversized socket wrench.
If it were sponsored by The Athletic, the sports news subscription outfit, it would be The Athletic Cup, and winners might get their names etched on an oversized athletic cup. And wouldn’t that look great on the old mantelpiece?
Regardless of the name, the Cup represents the Publisher’s Clearing House of golf. If you track the FedEx package to when it arrives on Sept. 5 at East Lake Golf Club, you will see it contains $15 million for the winner.
To put that in perspective, one could win the first two playoff events ($1.71 million each), Masters ($2.07 million), PGA Championship ($2.16 million), British Open ($2.07 million) and U.S. Open ($2.25 million) and collect $11.97 million, or more than $3 million less.
Yeah, go ahead … “Baba Booey!”
These playoffs take place in stages, beginning with 125 qualifiers at the Northern Trust, trimmed to 70 survivors for the BMW Championship (Aug. 26-29), paired to 30 finalist for the Tour Championship finale (Sept. 2-5). It’s kind of like an NBA game, in that there’s no reason to pay close attention until the final moments.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Vince Lombardi would not be a big fan of the playoffs. That is, Lombardi once famously said, “Show me a good loser and I will show you a loser.” That doesn’t translate well to the FedEx format.
By the time the sun sets on Sunday, Sept. 5 at East Lake, the winner will not necessarily be the guy with the lowest score for the Tour Championship. The playoffs leader enters the Tour Championship with a score of 10 under. So, for instance, although Xander Schauffele shot the best four rounds at East Lake last year, he actually finished second in the weighted field. Dustin Johnson captured the FedEx pot o’ golf by virtue of finishing T4.
In short, and contrary to Lombardi’s creed, it takes a real winner to be a good loser in the FedEx. Again, don’t try to understand, just move on.
With this somewhat illogical overview complete, let’s take a look at a handful of favorites make the large bank deposit on Monday, Sept. 6.
The 24-year old British Open winner is atop the points standings coming in. Last month, he had the audacity to put new irons into play the week of his first British Open -- and then win it. Who does that? He also was T4 at the U.S. Open and T8 at the PGA. His poise, maturity and iron-play are off the charts. He is first on the Tour in tee-to-green and first in birdie average. By today’s standards, Morikawa is not long. But the FedEx facilities generally fall into the “shot-maker’s” category, which makes him a dangerous man.
If he can avoid testing positive for Covid for a third time, the 26-year old Spaniard figures to be in the mix. He has been a top-10 finisher in each of the last five majors, with a dramatic win at the U.S. Open in June and a T3 at the British Open. Rahm has been doing special things throughout his golf career, like being No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings for a record 60 weeks before turning pro. As Ghostbuster Winston Zeddemore might say, “He has the tools, he has the talent!”
He is a relatively modest 12th in the OWGR, but Spieth has been trending all summer and moved to second in the FedExCup standings. With a win, nine top-10s and 13 top-25s, he has rediscovered some ball-striking consistency. The 28-year old was especially noticeable at the British Open, where he shot four rounds in the 60s … and still finished second to Morikawa. In his last 15 starts, Spieth has been worse than T19 only twice. Remember, he has won three majors and the 2015 FedExCup. He knows how to do this.
Since winning the 2020 Masters last November, the 37-year old Johnson has not been especially prominent. A T8 at the British Open was his best 2021 major and he currently stands 17th in the points parade. But that doesn’t mean “DJ” has disappeared. He is third on the Tour in scoring average (69.564) and still second in the OWGR behind Morikawa. Oh yeah, he also is the reigning FedExCup champion. Last year, he was first at Northern Trust, playoff-second at BMW and 44-under par for the playoffs. Under different sponsorship, that’s Conn Smythe Trophy stuff.
Winner of the recent Olympic golf tournament, the 27-year old has made the East Lake 30 four years in a row and finished No. 2 in the FedExCup standings two years in a row. Like Morikawa, Schauffele is a shotmaker, who seems to perform when the spotlight burns brightest, evidenced by nine top-10s in majors over the past four years. This season he has three second-place finishes, seven top-10s, 14 top-25s and now some gold medal momentum entering the playoffs.