MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Much of professional men’s golf’s attention was on a California court Tuesday, when a federal judge ruled it was okay to ban three players who had left for the PGA Tour’s rival LIV Golf Series from competing in FedEx. Cup games.
Starting Thursday, eyes will turn back to the course as world No. 1 golfer Scotty Scheffler and others begin the FedEx Cup in the first round of the FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind.
“Going into the FedEx Cup Playoffs ranked No. 1 wouldn’t change a thing for me,” Scheffler said. “I’m trying to get out here, have a good start and put myself in position to win this tournament. The field is very good, all the best players in the world are here, and I’m looking forward to this week’s challenge.”
Well, not all of the world’s best players are here — and it’s not yet clear how many of the best will still be working on the PGA Tour after the Games.
Open Championship winner Cameron Smith, the No. 2-ranked player in the world, is the latest top golfer to link up with Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf. London’s The Telegraph reported Tuesday that Smith had agreed to a deal worth more than $100 million to join the new circuit, and Smith did little to deny the report at a news conference.
While Tuesday’s win on the court was huge for the PGA Tour, losing a player of Smith’s caliber, or worse, having him lift the FedEx Cup at East Lake in Atlanta in three weeks and then entering LIV Golf, will be tough to swallow.
Here’s what to watch in the FedEx Cup Playoffs:
LIV people are not here
U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman’s decision to bar the PGA Tour’s Taylor Goch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford from the playoffs is significant. It was a win for the PGA Tour in what could be the first of many battles between the dueling circuits.
The PGA Tour’s attorney, Elliott Peters, argued during the hearing that having LIV players on the course, wearing LIV hats and shirts, and talking about the new circuit at news conferences would be a “platform” for competitors.
“It’s true that the competition is tough,” Peters said.
In a memo to PGA Tour players, Commissioner Jay Monahan said, “B [Tuesday’s] News, our players, fans and partners will be able to focus on what really matters over the next three weeks: the best players in the world in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, an incredibly compelling season that won the FedEx Cup Championship. Tour Championship”.
With those three players out, the FedEx St. Jude Championship field consisted of 121 players. Daniel Berger (back), Lanto Griffin (back), Tommy Fleetwood (injury) and Nate Lashley (leg) are out and will not be replaced.
How the playoffs work
The top 125 players in the FedEx Cup point standings have qualified for this week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship for the first round of playoffs. The field is trimmed to a maximum of 65 and after 36 holes. The 70 on the points list after the final round at TPC Southwind will advance to next week’s FedEx Cup playoff at the BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club in Delaware.
They compete for essentially four times the points they play in official PGA Tour regular-season events (players receive 600 points for winning the Playoffs and the four majors, and 550 for invitationals and WGC events). So a player who wins the FedEx St. Jude Championship will earn 2,000 points, giving players further down the leaderboard a chance to pass.
The BMW Championship is a no-cut event, and after that race the top 30 in the points standings advance to the inevitable Tour Championship, scheduled for August 25-28 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
How important is player position in the points rankings?
That could mean the FedEx Cup in the player’s interest and the $18 million bonus that comes with winning it. For the fourth consecutive season, the Tour Championship will use a tiered, stroke-based scoring system. The player atop the points standings starts the Tour Championship at 10 under, before even hitting the tee shot. The player in second place starts at 8 under, third at 7 under, fourth at 6 under and fifth at 5 under.
Players 6th through 10th in the standings start at 4 under, 11th through 15th at 3 under and 16th through 20th at 2 under. 21st through 25th start at 1 under and 26th through 30th at par.
In the year Rory McIlroy rallied from a 5-stroke deficit to win the FedEx Cup in the first season of the 2019 “starting strokes” format. But after starting the Tour Championship as the points leader, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Cantley were winners the next two seasons.
What about the Presidents Cup?
One of the stories behind the FedEx Cup Playoffs, at least not the biggest LIV Golf one, will be the Presidents Cup, scheduled for September 20-25 at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina.
After the BMW Championship, the top six players in the Presidents Cup points standings automatically qualify for Team USA. Scheffler, Cantlay, Sam Burns, Xander Schauffel, Justin Thomas and Tony Finau are currently in the top 6.
Team USA captain Davis Love III will make six captaincy choices after the Tour Championship.
Jordan Spieth, Colin Morikawa, Max Homa, Will Zalatoris, Billy Horschel and rookie Cameron Young have finished in the top 12 and are within striking distance of cracking the top six in playoff competition.
Kevin Kisner, Tom Hoge, JT Poston, Cameron Tringale and Russell Henley, one of the best match-player actors in the world, can be considered.
International team captain Trevor Immelman’s job is a little tougher. His team will be made up of international players from countries outside of Europe, with two of the best players – South Africa’s Luis Oosthuizen and Mexico’s Abraham Anser defecting to LIV Golf.
The top eight players in the Presidents Cup rankings make up the international team, and that list currently includes Cameron Smith, Hideki Matsuyama, Sungjae Im, Joaquin Niemann, Joohyung Kim, Corey Connors, Mito Pereira and Adam Scott.
Immelmann has four captain choices, and KH Lee, Eric van Rooyen, Ryan Fox, Lucas Herbert, Adam Hadwin, Sebastian Munoz and Marc Leishman could all be considered.
Team USA has won eight straight and nine of the last 10 Presidents Cups (the teams met in 2003). The international team’s only victory in 13 matches was in Melbourne, Australia in 1998. Under the leadership of captain Tiger Woods, the American team won the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia 16-14.
Will Scheffler stay at No. 1?
With four wins in 6 starts, Scheffler is atop the FedEx Cup points standings and No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings this spring. .
Scheffler hasn’t won since, but finished second at the Charles Schwab Tournament and finished second at the US Open. He heads into the playoffs with a 1,221-point lead over Smith, who is perhaps his biggest challenger for PGA Tour Player of the Year.
Scheffler is definitely the favorite heading into the playoffs. He has already earned a single-season record $13.2 million in prize money and collected a $4 million bonus for finishing first in the Comcast Business Tour Top 10 and $1 million for winning the Aon Risk Reward Challenge.
“You know, I feel like I’ve been leading for a while,” Scheffler said. “I had a big lead and maybe I’m up by 1,200 points or something like that, and I think a win for some of those guys will help them get past me if I don’t play very well this week.” But I still have a strong lead in the game even though the points are going up. So if I’m going to continue to play good golf, I should have a lead going into East Lake, which is definitely good going in.
Can Fina keep winning?
Notably, Finau is the defending champion of the FedEx St. Jude Championship despite never having played in the event. Last season, Finau won the opening game of the Northern Trust FedEx Cup at Liberty National in Jersey City, New Jersey, and that history carries over to TPC Southwind.
The Northern Trust ended Finau’s more than five-year win streak and moved him to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup points standings for the first time in his career. He is tied for 11th after the 2021 Tour Championship.
He enters this year’s playoffs seeded seventh in his career and is coming off back-to-back wins at the 3M Open and Rockets Mortgage Classic.
“I would love to be in the top 10 going into the FedEx Cup,” said Finau. “This is a place I’ve never been. Honestly, you probably want to be Scotty Scheffler. You’re controlling the entire FedEx Cup. If he wins the playoffs, he controls the FedEx Cup.” It holds relatively one hand. That’s probably a good position, but the way the streak is set up right now, I think if you’re in the top five, the top 10, you’re going to have a great chance to win the FedEx Cup.
Above the line
Many of the PGA Tour’s biggest names are in prime position to make it to the Tour Championship. But a few notable players have work to do this week at TPC Southwind to advance to the BMW Championship.
Matt Kuchar (No. 54), Harold Varner III (No. 58) and Marc Leishman (No. 62) are tied for 70th place, Gary Woodland (No. 73), Adam Scott (No. 77). , Joel Dahmen (No. 80), Justin Rose (No. 94), Jason Day (No. 113) and Rickie Fowler (No. 125) must play well to go up. Speaking of Fowler, he has Cobras rep Ben Shomin on the bag this week and is not working with caddy Joe Skovron.