A lacklustre season is poised for a thrilling end at the most awaited 2020 Tour Championship
It was a heck of a putt. Even better than the 43-footer that Dustin Johnson drilled on the 72nd hole of last week’s BMW Championship to tie Jon Rahm for the lead. Just as we settled in on the couch, popcorn et all, for what was hopefully going to be the duel of the season, Rahm’s 66-foot bomb on the first hole of sudden death, put a swift end to our hopes.
But, perhaps it was just a trailer; perhaps, the real battle will come tonight, at the final round of season-ending Tour Championship, that will also determine the FedEx Champion. You see, once again, the mandarins at the traditional season-ending finale of the Playoffs, have dispensed with the points the players have earned by dint of their performances during the (albeit truncated) season. Players entered the Tour Championship with starting scores based on their rankings after the BMW Championship. That was great for some: Rahm, now ranked second after last week’s win pulled within two strokes of Johnson entering this week. And that—the chance to win the $15 million first prize—is arguably much more important than a tournament win—Rahm’s fifth on the PGA Tour—or the $1.7 million he picked up for it.Johnson entered the Tour Championship at 10-under-par with Rahm two strokes back. “I’m glad it ended that way, and I’m glad to be in the situation I’m in now,” Rahm said.For reference Justin Thomas entered at seven-under, one stroke ahead of Webb Simpson who was trailed by PGA champion Collin Morikawa at five-under.
Now for some, and that includes your columnist, that is downright weird. I mean the Tour Championship, in my opinion loses out by not confirming to a traditional 72-hole event format. That means there’s always a chance, weak as it may be, that whoever shoots the best score of the week will win neither—the Tour Championship, or the FedEx Cup. To end an event with the guy who outplayed everyone in that tournament, not winning, is not a good conclusion to any tourney. Two years ago, under the old format, Tiger Woods shot the lowest 72-hole score and won his 80th PGA Tour event. He wouldn’t have, if that had happened this year (Tiger isn’t in the field this year). It worked perfectly last year:Rory McIlroy started five back but shot the lowest score and won the event as well as the FedEx Cup.
Webb Simpson, who won twice this season, must be ruing his decision to skip the BMW Championship in order to rest for the Tour Championship. Doing that cost him one spot in the FedEx standings; the PGA Tour’s scoring average leader started four shots behind Johnson.
Just in case you need a refresher, the FedEx Cup carries a purse of $60 million, $45 million of which is paid out to the top 30 players competing in Atlanta. The remaining $15 million is spread out to those players who finished from 31st to 150th in the final standings. The winner receives $15 million, the person in second place makes $5 million, and the last man in the field of 30 still gets $395,000. Not a bad pay day for anyone in the field. Picks? Kind of silly to do that at a time when only one round has been played but I’m going to go on a limb and put my money on Simpson. He’s been the most consistent player all season and is now ranked sixth in the world. Simpson loves Donald Ross designs and tops the field in in total strokes gained all-time on those courses.East Lake quite similar in course strategy aspects as Sedgefield Country Club, which Webb has dominated throughout his career. Plus, Webb plays his best on shorter par 70 tracks with Bermuda grass greens—that’s East Lake for you. Even his decision to sit out last week might work out: he’s the only one in the top contenders to come in all fresh and rejuvenated for this event. It’s going to be a pretty special final round so don’t miss that tonight—the action is live on GolfTv in India.
The silver lining to the end of the season from the fans’ point of view is that it really isn’t the end. The PGA Tour has announced an unprecedented 50 event-calendar for the 2020-21 season. I can’t remember the last time I saw a schedule that packed, on any domestic or international tour. Apparently it has happened before: in 1975, pros on the PGA Tour played 42 official money events. That insane number has now been breached by the 2020-21 season, on paper at least.
For the first time ever, pros will be playing three extra Major championships including the Masters Tournament, the US Open, and the Players Championship. In addition there will be an extra 11 events that were postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic in this season. If that wasn’t enough, the Olympics Golf event will take place just under a year from now as a standalone event.
That exceptional season gets underway from September 7-13 at the Safeway Open in Napa, California, which will serve as the season-opening event for the sixth time ever since the PGA Tour went to a wraparound schedule. Next will be the The U.S. Open (September 14-20) at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York.The PGA Tour’s Asia swing that usually runs at this time stands relocated. The events will now be played in Las Vegas and California. The Tour is obviously pinning its hopes on a coronavirus vaccine and the world returning to status quo very quickly.
Amen to that.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game