MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The closing stretch to another tumultuous season in men’s professional golf is finally here.
Since the start of the PGA Tour’s last wraparound schedule in September 2022, Tiger Woods had another surgery, the tour stunned the sporting world by forming an alliance with the DP World Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and LIV Golf League star Brooks Koepka won another major at the PGA Championship.
This week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind is the first of three playoff events to determine the FedEx Cup champion. Here’s what to know:
The FedEx Cup playoffs tournaments
FedEx St. Jude Championship
Where: TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tennessee
Defending champion: Will Zalatoris
Purse: $20 million ($3.6 million to winner)
The top 70 players in the FedEx Cup points standings will compete at TPC Southwind this week. That’s down from the 125 players who qualified for the tournament in recent seasons.
Two-time major champion Justin Thomas and Adam Scott are among the players who just missed making the field. Scott, a former world No. 1 golfer, had qualified for every playoff from 2007 to 2022. Matt Kuchar is the only golfer who has made every playoff since 2007.
“It’s certainly curious as to how it’s going to play out,” Open Championship winner Brian Harman said. “Obviously, 70 is a hard number. Our tour is very deep. There’s a lot of parity, a lot of talent. There’s been several years where I wouldn’t have been inside the top 70.
“It’s just really difficult, and I think the tour is in a spot where they’re as open-minded as they’ve ever been as far as being able to change and adjust, and if this doesn’t feel right, then I’m confident that we’ll get it right.”
Zalatoris, who defeated Sepp Straka in a thrilling playoff to pick up his first PGA Tour victory last year, also isn’t participating as he continues recovering from back surgery.
When: Aug. 17-20
Where: Olympia Fields Country Club, Olympia Fields, Illinois
Defending champion: Patrick Cantlay
Purse: $20 million ($3.6 million to winner)
The top 50 players in the FedEx Cup points standings after the FedEx St. Jude Championship will advance to the BMW Championship, which returns to Olympia Fields Country Club’s North Course for the first time since 2020. Three years ago, Jon Rahm defeated Dustin Johnson in a playoff to capture his first FedEx Cup playoffs event.
There’s even more incentive for players to crack the top 50 in points this year. The top 50 will earn spots in each of the eight signature events in 2024, starting with The Sentry in Hawaii on Jan. 4-7. That field will also include winners of PGA Tour tournaments this year who aren’t otherwise eligible.
FedEx Cup points are quadrupled for playoff events, with the winner receiving 2,000 points, so there’s plenty of opportunity for movement. Runner-ups get 1,200 points and third-place finishers get 760.
When: Aug. 24-27
Where: East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta
Defending champion: Rory McIlroy
Bonus pool: $75 million ($18 million to winner)
Since 2019, the PGA Tour has used a starting-strokes system for the season-ending Tour Championship. The player who has the most FedEx Cup points after the BMW Championship will start the final event at 10 under, 2 strokes ahead of the rest of the field.
The player in second place will start at 8 under, the No. 3 player at 7 under, No. 4 at 6 under and No. 5 at 5 under. Players from sixth to 10th will start at 4 under, players 11th to 15th at 3 under, players 16th to 20th at 2 under, players 21st to 25th start at 1 under, and players from 26th to 30th start at even par.
The player with the lowest scoring total after 72 holes will be crowned the FedEx Cup champion. In addition to collecting $18 million, the champion also gets a five-year tour exemption.
“I’m going to try to push it as much as I can, try to improve my position every week,” said Harman, who starts the playoffs sixth in points. “Just going to try to play the best golf that I can and see where that winds me up.”
Starting in front doesn’t always guarantee a victory. Last year, McIlroy rallied from a 6-shot deficit to Scheffler to capture the FedEx Cup for the third time. He closed with a 4-under 66 to pass Scheffler, who made only one birdie in a final-round 73.
Players who finish in the top 30 also get exemptions into next year’s Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship.
Who’s No. 1 in the points standings?
Rahm, who has won four times this season, including his second major championship victory at the Masters in April, is first in points with 3,320. His best finish in the FedEx Cup playoffs was solo runner-up behind Cantlay in 2021.
The Spaniard has never been first in points entering the FedEx Cup playoffs. It’s the 11th straight season in which a different player is No. 1. Only one of the previous 10 players, Jordan Spieth in 2015, went on to win the FedEx Cup.
“Obviously, you want to win every time we tee it up, but yeah, the goal is to try to get to East Lake as No. 1 and enjoy that 2-shot lead,” Rahm said. “It’s always made a difference. It made a difference when I finished second place. It’s the reason why they give it to you, so if we can take advantage of it, it would be nice.”
World No. 1 golfer Scheffler is second in points with 3,146, while McIlroy is third with 2,304. Max Homa is fourth (2,128), U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark is fifth (1,944) and Harman is sixth (1,827). Viktor Hovland (1,795), Keegan Bradley (1,774), Rickie Fowler (1,732) and Tony Finau (1,655) round out the top 10.
On the bubble
There are a few notable players who need to play well this week to climb into the top 50 in points to advance to the BMW Championship. Hideki Matsuyama is 57th in points (742), Keith Mitchell is 58th (698) and Kuchar is 60th (695). Ryder Cup hopeful Cameron Young is on the right side of the bubble for now; he’s 48th in points with 889.
Players who finish outside the top 50 after the FedEx St. Jude Championship and don’t win this year will still have an opportunity to qualify for two of the first three signature events in 2024. Players who finish 51st or worse will carry their FedEx Cup points into the fall schedule, which begins with the Fortinet Championship in Napa, California, on Sept. 14-17.
The seven-event fall schedule concludes with the RSM Classic at St. Simons Island, Georgia, on Nov. 16-19. The top 10 players in points after the fall schedule not otherwise exempt for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Genesis Invitational will qualify for those fields.
The eight signature events will also have four sponsor exemptions for PGA Tour members, which isn’t sitting well with all players.
“I wasn’t in favor of those tournaments having invites or exemptions, however you want to call it,” Rahm said. “Everybody that’s playing has earned it one way or another. To get exemption, you just don’t want it to go to somebody who, for whatever reason, they liked. As a person who got his PGA Tour card through PGA Tour exemptions, you want them to go to the right person.
“I’m hoping those events realize the position they’re in and give it to people that truly, truly can do something out of it.”
In the past, tournaments often gave their exemptions to amateurs or other players from their areas.
“It’s obviously common for a sponsor or a tournament to basically pull towards home turf,” Rahm said. “I would be an advocate for amateurs or college players to get certain invites. I don’t think those events would be the ones where amateurs should be in. That’s an example of what I mean. Give it to players that have been playing hard all year and this year to earn that spot and maybe didn’t get the chance but were quite close. That would be my view on it.”
Ryder Cup watch
The 2024 Ryder Cup, which will be played Sept. 29-Oct. 1 at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club outside Rome, is only 52 days away. Scheffler and Clark have already grabbed two of the six automatic spots for the U.S. team.
The top six in the U.S. team points standings will automatically qualify. Harman is third, Koepka is fourth, Xander Schauffele is fifth and Cantlay is sixth. They all seem assured of making the team, even if they fall outside the top six.
U.S. team captain Zach Johnson will make six captain’s picks. Homa is seventh in points, Young is eighth and Spieth is ninth. Those three also seem to be in good shape. Two-time major champion Collin Morikawa, who is 11th, and Fowler, who is 13th, also would be among the top contenders to make the team
That leaves perhaps only one spot for Bradley (10th), Sam Burns (12th), Thomas (14th) or Finau (19th). Thomas missed out on the playoffs (he was 71st in points), but he’s 16-5-3 in team competitions during his career and is popular among other players. He played better in last week’s Wyndham Championship. Bradley, Burns or Finau might need to do something big in the playoffs to knock JT off the team.
On the European side, Rahm, McIlroy, Hovland, Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood seem like sure bets to make the team. Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre also seems like an almost certainty. All but Fitzpatrick are currently ranked in the top three in either European points or world points, which would guarantee them roster spots.
Rose, Straka and Ireland’s Shane Lowry, who didn’t qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, are also strong contenders to make the squad.
Straka admits he’s starting to let his mind wander about the possibility of making the European squad.
“You definitely do when you’re just at home,” Straka said. “But with preparation and all that, you just kind of prepare for the tournament. It’s pretty easy to keep your mind on it when you’re in the playoffs because they mean so much. But yeah, when you’re off the course, when you’re away, you definitely think about it.”