With 1 simple statement, Rory McIlroy explains why controversial Tour Championship format works

Viktor Hovland of Norway poses with the FedEx Cup Trophy after putting in to win on the 18th green during the final round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on August 27, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia.

After Viktor Hovland won the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup by six, Rory McIlroy explained why he thinks the format works.

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Viktor Hovland may have just won the FedEx Cup and two other events this season, but he’s still probably an underdog for PGA Tour Player of the Year.

On Wednesday, Rory McIlroy said “it’s a two-horse race between Jon and Scottie.” That hasn’t changed.

The case for Jon Rahm is easy. He won four times, including the Masters, but didn’t win after the month of April.

The case for Scottie Scheffler is also easy. He put together a run of 19 straight top-12 finishes (earning comparisons to some of Tiger Woods’ best seasons) while winning twice, including the Players Championship. Scheffler had one of the best ball-striking seasons on record, despite being one of the worst putters (145th in SG: putting) on the PGA Tour. He wasn’t far from winning more.

Rahm ended the regular season as the No. 1 player in the FedEx Cup standings with Scheffler trailing close behind. But by the time the controversial starting strokes were allocated for the Tour Championship, Scheffler had taken the lead and started the Tour Championship at 10 under. Rahm, after two poor showings in the first two playoff events, dropped to fourth, at six under.

Both players were over par on the weekend in Atlanta, with Scheffler posting a T6 at 11 under and Rahm finishing T19 at seven under. That means, despite their incredible performances in the regular season, they’ll take away just $2 million and $670k, respectively, in FedEx Cup bonus money.

Xander Schauffele, who didn’t win at all this season, will collect $6.5 million for his second-place finish at East Lake.

Is that how this is supposed to work? Is that fair?

Earlier this week, Rahm said it wasn’t.

Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay holding the FedEx Cup trophy after their respective Tour Championship wins in 2020, 2022 and 2021.
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“I don’t think it’s the best we can come up with,” Rahm said Tuesday. “I think I’ve expressed my dislike towards the fact that you can come in ranked No. 1 in the FedExCup. You can win every single tournament up until this one. You have a bad week, you finish 30th, and now you’ll forever be known as 30th in the FedExCup this season. I don’t think that’s very fair.”

Unfortunately, that’s almost exactly what happened to Rahm these past three weeks.

Even before the format change in 2019, No. 1 seeds from the regular season haven’t fared well in the playoffs. The top player from the regular season hasn’t won the FedEx Cup since Jordan Spieth in 2015.

Rahm said he preferred the old format where the top player rarely fell out of the top three but said the current one is easier to follow. Previously, points were reset before the Tour Championship to ensure that if any player in the top five of the standings won the Tour Championship, they would win the FedEx Cup.

That format led to players who were outside the top 15 in the regular season points list winning the FedEx Cup three times, which was as many times as the top regular season player won it. Billy Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 despite finishing 69th during the regular season.

Only one time has the Tour Championship winner been outside the top seven in the regular season rankings (Dustin Johnson in 2020, who was 15th) in the five examples of the new format.

Viktor Hovland of Norway poses with the FedEx Cup Trophy after putting in to win on the 18th green during the final round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on August 27, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia.
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But if the PGA Tour wants a true “playoff” to decide its season-long champion, isn’t this exactly what it should be looking for? That’s what McIlroy thinks.

He was asked if it’s fair that Rahm’s season will go down simply as finishing 18th this week despite his incredible run in the first half of the year.

“A basketball team could go 82-0 and lose in the first round of the playoffs,” McIlroy said Sunday night.

The 16-0 2007 Patriots didn’t win the Super Bowl. The 73-9 2015-16 Golden State Warriors didn’t win the NBA Finals. Should golf be going for the same kind of volatility and weight in the postseason?

McIlroy thinks so.

“You’ve got the regular season and then you’ve got the playoffs,” McIlroy explained. “I think everyone tries to put them together in the same sort of thing, but really they’re like regular season and then this is sort of like a 12-round sprint to the finish.”

To McIlroy, who finished fourth this week after starting the tournament in third at seven under, there are changes that could be made, but he can’t tell you what they are. This is the best they have for now.

But, for context, McIlroy’s opinion can be taken with a mild grain of salt. He’s won the FedEx Cup in the new format, twice.

Jack Hirsh

Golf.com Editor

Jack Hirsh is an assistant editor at GOLF. A Pennsylvania native, Jack is a 2020 graduate of Penn State University, earning degrees in broadcast journalism and political science. He was captain of his high school golf team and recently returned to the program to serve as head coach. Jack also still *tries* to remain competitive in local amateurs. Before joining GOLF, Jack spent two years working at a TV station in Bend, Oregon, primarily as a Multimedia Journalist/reporter, but also producing, anchoring and even presenting the weather. He can be reached at jack.hirsh@golf.com.

 

 

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