Lost amid the excitement over the start of football season and Major League Baseball’s stretch drive is the PGA Tour’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, happening this weekend in Atlanta as the Tour Championship concludes golf’s postseason and hands the winner of the FedEx Cup $10 million.
It’s now official on the PGA Tour: Rory McIlroy has surpassed Tiger Woods as the weekly storyline. McIlroy won the BMW Championship on Sept. 9 for his second straight victory and third in his past four starts. He’s now a lock for the PGA Tour Player of the Year award with a Tour-high four wins in 2012. McIlroy is the first player since Woods in 2009 to win in back-to-back weeks on the PGA Tour and just the third golfer with six career wins at age 23, joining Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
McIlroy is the 9-2 favorite at Bovada to win this week at East Lake Golf Club, but the course will be somewhat unfamiliar for McIlroy, who is visiting for the first time for the first Tour Championship. McIlroy’s huge FedEx Cup points lead will vanish as the points are reset for the Tour Championship to give every golfer in the field a mathematical chance at the $10 million FedEx Cup prize. But any player in the top five in points is guaranteed the FedEx Cup if he wins the Tour Championship. Woods, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker round out the top five on the standings.
That McIlroy will have the points lead entering the finale isn’t a good omen by recent history. In the past two years, the player atop the points standings has failed to win either the Tour Championship or the FedEx Cup. Last year, Webb Simpson was leading in points but finished 22nd in the tournament and fell to No. 2 in the FedEx Cup. Bill Haas won the tournament and the $10 million but didn’t qualify for this year’s Tour Championship — the Top 30 in the points moved on from the BMW Championship. In 2010, Matt Kuchar led the points heading to the Tour Championship but tied for 25th at East Lake and dropped to No. 2.
Three players have won the Tour Championship in their debut: Haas last year, Bart Bryant in 2005 and Chad Campbell in 2003. According to the PGA Tour, McIlroy has a “reasonable” chance of winning the FedEx Cup if he finishes in the top five this week and no other player in the top five in points wins.
Tiger is the 5-1 second-favorite to win this week. Woods, who has three Tour victories in 2012, is playing this tournament for the first time since 2009, when he finished runner-up for the fourth time in his career at the Tour Championship. He won the tournament in 1999 and 2007. Woods has a good shot at winning the FedEx Cup with a top-three finish if no other player in the top five in points wins or finishes ahead of Tiger.
Mickelson is at 12-1 to win his third career Tour Championship — Lefty won it in 2000 and 2009. Mickelson, who was 10th at the Tour Championship a year ago, jumped into the top five in points with a tie for second at the BMW Championship, his best finish on Tour since February.
Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Lee Westwood all are 16-1 to win the tournament. This is the fourth Tour Championship for Johnson, and he has yet to have a Top-10 finish. He is No. 7 in the points and would need a victory and McIlroy and Woods to finish in a tie for second or worse to take the FedEx Cup.
Westwood — No. 8 in points — is playing his first Tour Championship and would need a victory and some help to grab the FedEx Cup. Scott — currently No. 21 — would need a victory and more help than Westwood. Scott did win this tournament in 2006.
The player with the best overall average finish all-time at the Tour Championship is Jim Furyk at 8.3, with eight Top-10 results in 13 previous visits. He won the tournament and the FedEx Cup in 2010, the last year he qualified. Furyk is 25-1 to win it this year.
The longest shot to win this week is Scott Piercy at 100-1 — he is 30th on the points list and qualified for the Tour Championship thanks to a final-round 68 at the BMW Championship. Piercy has never played in the Tour Championship and would need a victory and a minor miracle to win the FedEx Cup. For example, McIlroy would have to finish 29th or 30th for Piercy to have a shot.