Last year Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship at East Lake. It was the prodigal’s return to winning ways; a seismic occasion in tournament golf. Very much below the radar, Justin Rose birdied the final hole to finish fourth and thereby claim the FedEx Cup, the season-long multi-bucks climax to the PGA Tour. Things just weren’t working out right. It was decided that what was wanted was to make sure that whoever finished first after four rounds of the 2019 Tour Championship would also be the FedEx Cup winner. How to do this? By adopting a handicap system that reflected the results of the first two FedEx Cup events, which meant that Justin Thomas began the tournament in Atlanta at 10 under par, two shots clear of Patrick Cantlay. At the back of the pack were five dew-sweepers who were teeing off in boringly conventional fashion at level par.
Thomas’ advantage didn’t last long. By the end of the first round, in which he shot a level-par 70, he’d been caught by Xander Shauffele (64) and Brooks Koepka (67). And by the end of the week, he had finished five shots behind the man who had played with Tiger this time last year – Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy began the tournament with an effective score of five under par and said he had told the sponsors: “If the FedEx Cup really wants to have a legacy in the game, like some of these championships do, is people starting on different numbers the best way to to do it?” Justin Thomas, the initial beneficiary of the revamp of the regulations, said: “We changed the system because we thought it was for the better but, like anything, you don’t really know for a couple of years until you see what happens.” I guess we’ll find out in due course what next season will bring. Or the one after?
McIlroy had put it best when he said of the revised formula: “You could shoot the best score of the week and not win. If that happens to someone it’s going to be hard for them to wrap their head around.” As it happened, it was he who shot the best score of the week (a 13-under-par 267, which translated out to 18 under par for the tournament). Thomas was 10 shots worse, which meant he finished five shots behind McIlroy. Clear on that?
McIlroy thus joined Woods as the only multiple winer of the FedEx Cup. Heading into the latter half of a season which contained the massive disappointment of missing the cut in the Open Championship at Royal Portrush, this victory brought the substantial financial consolation of a $15 million prize and the professional satisfaction of playing with Brooks Koepka, the world No. 1, and besting him by six shots in a head-to-head battle that earned him a significant measure of revenge for Koepka having swatted him aside in the World Golf Championship event in Memphis last month.
“To play like that alongside Brooks and get the win, win the FedEx Cup, yeah it’s awesome,” said McIlroy. “It’s amazing how different things can be in a year.” And we’ll see if the PGA Tour keeps the FedEx Cup the same for another year.
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