The Tour Championship has plenty of guarantees:
- An historic venue
- Rich history
- An even richer FedEx Cup purse
- Late Sunday drama to win it all
That last fact has plenty of luck involved, but since the points format changed in 2009 to provide plenty of uncertainty heading into the final tournament of the PGA Tour season, the most exclusive stop on Tour hasn’t disappointed.
A new decade of the championship offers a chance for reflection, with the one question still looming: What does it mean, ultimately, to win the FedEx Cup?
Tiger Woods is the only player with more than one, which seems both fitting and important. Six of the nine men who have won the Cup are Hall of Famers (Woods, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy).
History has yet to process exactly what a FedEx Cup does for a player’s all-time resume. Is it merely a marketing ploy that will fade as years go by, or will it be an accomplishment equal of a major title in the eyes of future generations? Right now, the answer is subjective, but players are continuing to grind. Maybe it’s the money. Perhaps it’s the prestige.
This week, every player has a mathematical chance to win the FedEx Cup. No offense to No. 30 Jason Dufner, but that statement doesn’t feel accurate. All eyes will be on the top five, who each controls his own math. Win the Tour Championship, and the Cup is yours. Let’s forget the power rankings and instead speculate on this: Of the top five, who NEEDS to win the Cup this week the most?
In reality, the guys ranked sixth (Rickie Fowler) and seventh (Hideki Matsuyama) need the Cup the most to fill the current voids/questions in their resume, but they need help to make that happen. History shows us that somebody in the top five is probably winning, so let’s rank them on earnestness:
- Justin Thomas (Enters No. 2) – This is a harsh assessment of JT’s position, considering he’s the frontrunner for Player of the Year, a five-time winner this season and champion of the most recent major. He needs it just as much for the prestige and cherry on top it provides, as he does for who he will have to beat to get there. Jordan Spieth is the favorite this week, and the course fits him as well as any challenger. Yes, they are friends, but 2017 belongs to Spieth if he wins and joins Tiger in the two-Cup club. If this truly is the year of Thomas, he nabs the Cup.
- Jordan Spieth (Enters No. 1) – Take a mirror and read the Thomas passage above in it. Spieth has quietly cemented himself this year as the best golfer in his 20s. To join Woods with two FedEx Cups would be symbolic of that. There is scar tissue from The Northern Trust, but the most calculated player on this list has reserved focus and energy for four rounds this week. Nobody in the top five wants it more. Now he has to prove it.
- Marc Leishman (Enters No. 4) – Leishman was labeled so underrated after he won last week that he now feels overrated. He’s won five times as a pro, with three of those on the PGA Tour. He has more missed cuts in majors (9) than top-25 finishes (7). Does he have game? Absolutely! Is he a great guy? Yep! However, if he truly is as great as the noise around him, he has to capitalize on his current heater and earn some immortality.
- Jon Rahm (Enters No. 5) – He began the year 137th in the world with only 10 starts as a professional. He is now ranked fifth in the world and is one of the most terrifying rising forces in the game. He won’t be a weekly threat, but when he shows up one week with his game on point, nobody will beat him. He has flashed enough as a rookie to give us a taste. We don’t need any more proof. You know what it feels like? Spieth in 2013. He finished T2 that year in Atlanta. Expect something similar from Rahm.
- Dustin Johnson (Enters No. 4) – Wait, doesn’t he need something to salvage a season without his second major? Couldn’t a win prompt PoY discussion? Sure, but here’s the reality: DJ won more this year than any in his career. He established himself as the clear No. 1 in the world. A fluky fall at Augusta probably cost him a second major, but the Cup won’t help with that. He’s the best player in the game. The Cup won’t add to his swagger heading into 2018.