The FedEx Cup Playoffs start this week as the top 125 point-earners on the PGA Tour this season battle for a grand total of $67 million over the following month. That's a lot of money, and what we're about to experience is a lot of golf. So let's start at the top with an overview of how the FedEx Cup works and then take a look at who stands to gain the most and a few predictions for the 2018 edition of this event.
The Northern Trust field is the top 125 in the points race, but that gets cut to 100 before Boston. After that, the BMW Championship field is reduced to 70 before splitting again to 30 for East Lake.
- The Northern Trust -- Ridgewood Country Club: Aug. 23-26
- Dell Technologies Championship -- TPC Boston: Aug. 31 - Sept. 3
- BMW Championship -- Aronimink Golf Club: Sept. 6-9
- Tour Championship -- East Lake Golf Club: Sept. 20-23
Each tournament functions with its own normal PGA Tour purse, but the big money gets distributed at the end. After players collect points in the first three playoff events to add to their current season-long totals, the points are reset before the Tour Championship.
The top five at that point will be able to win the FedEx Cup (and $10 million first prize) by winning the Tour Championship, but everyone else will need help based on where various competitors finish. Last year Xander Schauffele won the Tour Championship, but Justin Thomas took the FedEx Cup because Schauffele wasn't high enough going into the finale to overtake him for first place.
- 1st place: $10 million
- 2nd place: $3 million
- 3rd place: $2 million
- 4th place: $1.5 million
- 5th place: $1 million
It helps to start out in the top 10 or 20 going into the playoffs, but it's not imperative to winning the eventual championship and prize money. Here's a look at all the former winners and where they started going into playoff event No. 1.
- 2017: Justin Thomas (2nd)
- 2016: Rory McIlroy (36th)
- 2015: Jordan Spieth (1st)
- 2014: Billy Horschel (69th)
- 2013: Henrik Stenson (9th)
- 2012: Brandt Snedeker (19th)
- 2011: Bill Haas (15th)
- 2010: Jim Furyk (3rd)
- 2009: Tiger Woods (1st)
- 2008: Vijay Singh (7th)
- 2007: Tiger Woods (1st)
Current top 10
As for where players are positioned going into the playoffs, the list probably won't surprise, although Bryson DeChambeau making an appearance might.
- Dustin Johnson
- Justin Thomas
- Brooks Koepka
- Justin Rose
- Bubba Watson
- Jason Day
- Webb Simpson
- Francesco Molinari
- Bryson DeChambeau
- Patrick Reed
Johnson is the overall favorite to win at 6-1, but Thomas (who won last year) is right behind him at 8-1. Koepka is 10-1, and then Rose, Woods and McIlroy are all 12-1.
Stat that sticks out
How about this one? Andrew Putnam (No. 35), Chez Reavie (36), Ryan Armour (37) and Beau Hossler (42) are all ranked ahead of former FedEx Cup champ Jordan Spieth, who is currently No. 43. I know this hasn't been Spieth's best year, but he also nearly won two major championships. Finding him outside the top 40 stunned me.
Tiger Woods goes into the playoffs ranked No. 20 in the FedEx Cup race. It's actually historically not that great for him, but considering where he was a year ago, it's astonishing. Woods hasn't even made the playoffs since 2013 when he went in ranked No. 1 and finished No. 2 to Stenson. He'll presumably play every event if he makes it all the way to the Tour Championship, which means five events (including the Ryder Cup) in six weeks for Big Cat. That's a lot of golf, but he seems ready for it.
If Tiger plays in all 4 playoff events, he will have 18 starts this season on the PGA Tour. It would be only the 2nd time since he turned 30 that he made 18+ starts in a PGA Tour season.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) August 20, 2018
Most to gain
When $10 million is at stake, everyone has a lot to gain, but a few players stick out.
- Jordan Spieth: He can salvage a poor season with his second FedEx Cup in four years.
- Rory McIlroy: See above. He hasn't been as relatively down as Spieth given that he actually won an event, but he can flip an average McIlroy year into something special with a couple of playoff Ws, another FedEx Cup and a potential European victory in Paris.
- Xander Schauffele: Finished on the fringe of the Ryder Cup automatic qualifiers, and last year's Tour Championship winner is much better positioned to take home an even bigger prize this year.
- Brandt Snedeker: If you're looking for somebody to make a "Billy Horschel in 2014" run, this is your guy. After shooting 59 at the Wyndham Championship en route to the ninth win of his career, Snedeker moved from No. 80 to No. 30 in the standings. What if he reels off another victory at one of the first three events and forces Jim Furyk's hand when it comes to Ryder Cup selections? There's a lot on the table over the next few weeks for Snedeker.
Most to lose
If the Ryder Cup captain's picks had to be made today, Jim Furyk would likely select Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar and Bryson DeChambeau. The only player in those four I could see playing his way out of that is DeChambeau. It's not been the greatest month for the Memorial champ, but he can solidify his spot on the team (three picks will be made Sept. 3 and another one on Sept. 9) with a strong first few playoff events. That also means, theoretically, that he could lose it, too.
Thoroughbreds only at East Lake, please. Look back at the last three winners of the FedEx Cup. I think we sometimes deride it for being contrived, incomprehensible and maybe even a little hokey, but Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth consecutively as your champs is no joke. Three generationally great players, and I think we get another one this year. I'm taking Koepka to add to an odd resume that includes three majors and just one other win. He sits at No. 3 in the FedEx Cup rankings going into the first playoff event so he won't need to do a lot over the first three events to be positioned nicely for East Lake.
Koepka probably already has PGA Tour Player of the Year locked up, but I think he continues a recent trend of players winning the FedEx Cup following a season in which they also won a major (Thomas and Spieth).