I always found it ironic that the club of the greatest amateur, Bobby Jones, would be the site of the biggest payout annually on the PGA TOUR.
The staggered starting grid is definitely something but there’s 72 holes to right the ship.
The moniker of 30-for-30 takes on an entirely different meaning this week as $60 million in bonus money will be awarded to the last 30 men standing on the 2018-19 PGA TOUR after they complete four rounds at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
From $15 million to the winner all the way to $350k for last place, the final event of the season is a win-win for those who have done the hard work of qualifying. Not only is there not a cut after 36 holes to sweat but additional bonuses include entry into the first three majors of next season and qualification for a pair WGC events. The winner also pockets a five-year exemption on TOUR to add to his spoils.
Don’t forget 10 of these 30 players have already scored a Wyndham Rewards bonus for their regular season finish. It’s great work, if you can get it!
For the second week in a row a Tom Bendelow/Rees Jones redesign provides the canvas. Donald Ross gets plenty credit and plaudits as his redesign was just five years after Bendelow’s original. Ross’s principles apply, especially in the tilted back-to-front greens that are the staple of his designs.
The par 70 stretches to 7,346 yards as Meyer Zoysiagrass fairways provide narrow landing areas protected by Bermuda rough that will nest at almost three inches. The next part of the examination will be finding 6,000 square foot Miniverde Ultradwarf tiered greens that will run upwards of 13 feet on the Stimpmeter. The putting surfaces are usually perfect and that shouldn’t change this week.
The last six winners, dating back to Henrik Stenson’s tournament record of 267, have posted between 9 and 12 under par. There have been just 20 players combined in the last three seasons who have NOT made 10 or more bogeys for the week. Grinding and scrambling for pars will be part of the formula as will keeping the ball out of the Bermuda rough.
2018: Tiger Woods (-11, 269)
Leading the field in scrambling, bogey-avoidance, putting: birdie-or-better percentage plus Par-4 scoring, the 54-hole leader was three clear entering Sunday. The last five winners finished in the top eight Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (seventh). Of the last five winners he was the fourth to lead the bogey avoidance category.
Notables: Gary Woodland and Webb Simpson’s “new” course record of 63 (since the change to Bermuda 2008) wasn’t bothered as 65 was the low round of the week set twice by Woods and Rickie Fowler (T7) and joined by Hideki Matsuyama (T4) and Patrick Cantlay (T21). … Only four players made less than 10 bogeys for the week, including Woodland and Simpson. … Justin Rose was the fifth FedExCup winner in seven seasons to begin the week No. 2 in the standings. … No player has defended the FedExCup successfully. … Woods is the only player to win this tournament twice at East Lake.
2017: Xander Schauffele (-12, 268)
The first rookie to win the TOUR Championship, Schauffele became the sixth player to win in his first appearance and first since Stenson in 2013. … Beginning the final round two shots back, the deficit grew to five before his birdie at the last secured his tournament victory. … Justin Thomas finished second and won the FedExCup title. … Kevin Kisner (T3) missed tying the course record in Round 3 with 64.
Notables: Schauffele led the field Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and was third in ball-striking. … Paul Casey led after 54 holes but closed with 73. … Only three rounds over par from players in the top nine.
2016: Rory McIlroy (-12, 268)
The winner of the Dell Technologies Championship two weeks prior fired 64 on Sunday to force a playoff and eventually win his first FedExCup title. … Leading the field Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, McIlroy is the only winner in the last five years NOT to pace the field in bogey avoidance as he was fourth in that department.
Notables: Casey also posted 64 on Sunday to cash fourth. … Dustin Johnson played in the final group and posted 73. … Kevin Chappell (P2) and Justin Thomas (T6) were two of four maidens in the top 10 so course history isn’t a prerequisite this week but it never hurts.
Key stat leaders
Golfers around the top 25 in each statistic on the 2018-19 PGA TOUR are listed only if they are scheduled to compete this week.
* – top 10 finish in the last five years
Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green
1 *Rory McIlroy
2 *Justin Thomas
3 Patrick Cantlay
4 *Adam Scott (T8, 2016 last appearance)
5 *Hideki Matsuyama (T4, 2018; 5th 2016)
6 *Dustin Johnson
7 *Paul Casey
9 Corey Conners (first appearance)
10 *Jon Rahm
11 *Brooks Koepka
12 Tommy Fleetwood (T11 on debut last year)
13 *Webb Simpson
14 *Xander Schauffele
15 *Gary Woodland
17 Jason Kokrak (first appearance)
18 Lucas Glover
21 *Matt Kuchar
23 *Tony Finau
1 Patrick Cantlay
2 *Webb Simpson
3 Charles Howell III
4 *Rory McIlroy
5 Tommy Fleetwood (T11, 2018)
6 *Matt Kuchar
7 Lucas Glover (first start since T10 in 2009)
11 Sungjae Im (first appearance)
12 *Hideki Matsuyama
13 *Brooks Koepka (6th, 2017)
17 *Justin Thomas
17 *Jon Rahm
17 *Rickie Fowler
17 *Xander Schauffele
23 Patrick Reed
24 *Tony Finau (T7, 2017)
2 *Paul Casey
4 Corey Conners
5 Charles Howell III
6 *Brooks Koepka
7 *Gary Woodland
9 *Jon Rahm
10 *Hideki Matsuyama
14 Jason Kokrak
16 Lucas Glover
19 *Rory McIlroy
23 *Matt Kuchar
23 *Justin Thomas
Rory McIlroy: Adds T2 from 2014 and T7 last year to his 2016 title. Too bad this isn’t an even year …
Justin Rose: He’s finished outside T11 twice in nine tries; last six are all top 10s.
Justin Thomas: Cashed T7 on his maiden in 2016; backed that up with second in 2017 and T6 last year. In those 12 rounds 11 are par-or better (21-under aggregate).
Xander Schauffele: He’s proven time and time again that his learning curve is quite steep. In two trips he’s won and finished T7 without posting a round over par.
Paul Casey: The first time he finished outside the top five in five tries was last year (T11).
Dustin Johnson: Collected his best paycheck last year (solo third) in nine tries, but that was No. 5 inside the top 10.
Webb Simpson: Six trips are highlighted by three paydays inside the top five plus a share of the course record.
Jon Rahm: T11 last year preceded by T7 in 2017 with six of eight rounds in the red.
Tony Finau: T15 last year preceded by T7 in 2017 with five of eight rounds in the red.
Patrick Cantlay: From eight rounds the last two years, half are under-par and the other half are over-par. Both Thursday and Saturday rounds are over; both Friday and Sunday are under. T20 and T21. Symmetry.
Adam Scott: Won the 2006 edition before it was the FedExCup Playoffs plus four other top-10 results. First start since T8 in 2016.
Kevin Kisner: Streak of three ended in 2018 but he cashed T3 in 2017 in his last visit.
Charles Howell III: First time back since T6 in 2011; was 2002 runner-up.
Lucas Glover: T10 in 2009 plus T8 in 2006, his last two trips.
Caution: Big-Name Department
Patrick Reed: T13 is the best in five tries.
Brandt Snedeker: His 2012 is his only top-15 result from six.
Matt Kuchar: Never cracked the top nine from eight attempts.
Marc Leishman: T28 (2009), T24 (2017) and T21 (2018). At least he’s trending!