- Senior college football writer
- Author of seven books on college football
- Graduate of the University of Georgia
ATLANTA — A memorable PGA Tour season filled with Tiger Woods’ return and the emergence of rival LIV Golf Invitational Series comes to an end this week, when the Tour Championship starts Thursday at East Lake Golf Club.
There is plenty at stake for the 30 players who advanced to the season-ending championship, starting with an $18 million bonus to the winner. The second-place finisher will make $6.5 million, with $5 million going to third, $4 million to fourth and $3 million to fifth. The player who finishes 30th will earn $500,000.
There will once again be a starting strokes format, with world No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler beginning the tournament with a 2-stroke advantage over everyone else in the field. That advantage has paid off in years past. Since the current format for the Tour Championship started in 2019, each of the three winners started the tournament at least 5-under par.
“Just the same as every other week, just go out there and try and do my best,” Scheffler said, when asked how he would approach the unconventional format. “This is the only week of the year where you actually get strokes on the field, but I think I’ll be best suited if I just ignore that and just go out there and play my game and do my best.”
Here’s a look at every player heading into the tournament, ranked from most likely to win to least:
1. Scottie Scheffler (10 under)
The only four-time winner on tour this season, Scheffler bounced back from a missed cut at the FedEx St. Jude Championship with a tie for third at the BMW Championship, which moved him back to the top spot in the points standings. He tied for 22nd in last season’s Tour Championship.
2. Patrick Cantlay (8 under)
The defending FedEx Cup champion is heating up at the right time again. On Sunday, he became the first player to defend a playoff victory at the BMW Championship. Last year, he had four straight rounds in the 60s to win by 1 stroke over Jon Rahm at East Lake. Cantlay would be the first back-to-back winner of the FedEx Cup.
3. Xander Schauffele (6 under)
Schauffele has qualified for the Tour Championship every season since becoming a PGA Tour member in 2017. He has finished in the top five in the playoffs in four of his past five appearances. He’s coming in hot with two victories and a tie for third in the BMW Championship in his past five starts.
4. Cameron Smith (4 under)
The Australian skipped the BMW Championship because of lingering hip discomfort, according to his manager. That news came after Smith was penalized 2 strokes for playing his ball after an improper drop in Memphis, Tennessee. The Open Championship winner might be making his final start on the PGA Tour if reports about him joining rival LIV Golf are accurate.
5. Sam Burns (5 under)
A three-time winner on tour this season, Burns, Cantlay and Justin Thomas are the only players to finish in the top 10 in the FedEx Cup points standings in 2021 and 2022. Burns wasn’t great at East Lake last season, totaling 2-under over 72 holes.
6. Will Zalatoris (7 under)
After picking up his first PGA Tour victory at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, Zalatoris withdrew from the third round of the BMW Championship with a lower back injury. The injury cost him a chance to tee off at the Tour Championship with a 2-shot lead; he’ll start 3 strokes behind Scheffler instead.
7. Rory McIlroy (4 under)
McIlroy didn’t get the major championship victory he desperately wanted this season, but still had a stellar campaign. He finished in the top 10 in eight of his 13 starts on the PGA Tour, including each of the four majors. McIlroy will try to become the first player to win the FedEx Cup three times.
8. Justin Thomas (3 under)
Despite winning the PGA Championship at Southern Hills to end a five-year drought without a major championship victory, JT probably didn’t have the consistency he wanted this season. He had nine top-10s in 20 tour starts, but hasn’t really been in contention since finishing third at the RBC Canadian Open in mid-June. He was fourth at the Tour Championship last season.
9. Jon Rahm (3 under)
After starting the 2021 Tour Championship 4 shots behind Cantlay, the Spaniard nearly chased him down. Rahm played the final 54 holes with Cantlay there and finished 1 shot behind him in second place. He is coming off consecutive top-10s, tying for fifth in Memphis and eighth in Wilmington, Delaware.
10. Tony Finau (4 under)
After posting back-to-back victories at the 3M Open and Rocket Mortgage Classic, Finau has played well in the playoffs. He tied for fifth at the FedEx St. Jude Championship and 28th at the BMW Championship. He wrapped up an automatic spot on the U.S. team in next month’s Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina, along with Thomas, Burns, Schauffele, Scheffler and Cantlay.
11. Cameron Young (3 under)
The favorite for PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, Young has been so-so in his first FedEx Cup Playoffs. He tied for 31st in the FedEx St. Jude Championship and 23rd at the BMW Championship.
12. Sungjae Im (4 under)
The South Korean golfer is looking for his best FedEx Cup finish after coming in 12th at the FedEx St. Jude Championship and tying for 15th at the BMW Championship. His best finish in the FedEx Cup was 11th in 2020.
13. Matt Fitzpatrick (3 under)
Contending at East Lake would be icing on the cake for Fitzpatrick, who won his first major championship in the U.S. Open at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, in June. The normally soft-spoken Englishman took some digs at LIV Golf last week when he was asked about three former PGA Tour members not being allowed to participate in the playoffs. “Yeah, I think only three of them aren’t here, it’s not a massive loss in my opinion,” Fitzpatrick said.
14. Scott Stallings (3 under)
Stallings is making his first start in the Tour Championship after finishing solo second at the BMW Championship, finishing 1 stroke behind Cantlay. That finish landed the 37-year-old $1.62 million and a trip to Atlanta.
15. Max Homa (2 under)
Homa is also making his first start in the Tour Championship. He entered the BMW Championship at 30th in the points standings and advanced by tying for 23rd in Wilmington.
16. Sepp Straka (4 under)
The first Austrian-born player to win on the PGA Tour, Straka might still be smarting from his dramatic playoff loss to Zalatoris in the FedEx St. Jude Championship. He tied for 28th in the BMW Championship.
17. Jordan Spieth (2 under)
Spieth admitted his game was rusty from a nearly monthlong layoff when he missed the cut in Memphis. He bounced back with a tie for 19th at the BMW Championship. Spieth might have finished even better if he had listened to caddie Michael Greller, who tried to talk him out of hitting a difficult shot on the fifth hole in the third round at Wilmington Country Club. Predictably, Spieth’s ball went into the water and he made a double bogey.
18. Joaquin Niemann (2 under)
Niemann, from Chile, claimed his second PGA Tour win with a wire-to-wire victory at The Genesis in February. He’ll go into the Tour Championship on a nice run, too, after tying for 13th in Memphis and eighth in Wilmington.
19. Hideki Matsuyama (2 under)
Injuries have derailed the second half of the season for the 2021 Masters champion, so a nice finish in Atlanta might give him some consolation. After pulling out of the 3M Open because of a wrist injury and the FedEx St. Jude Championship because of a neck problem, Matsuyama tied for 35th at the BMW Championship.
20. Viktor Hovland (2 under)
Hovland tied for 35th last weekend and changed the life of a young caddie in the process. The BMW Championship benefits the Evans Scholars Foundation, which provides college scholarships to young caddies. Heading into the event, BMW offered a four-year $125,000 scholarship in the name of any player who landed a hole-in-one. Hovland did it on the par-3 sixth hole on Sunday.
21. Billy Horschel (1 under)
A nice showing in Atlanta might go a long way in Horschel securing one of U.S. team captain Davis Love III’s six choices for the Presidents Cup.
22. Brian Harman (1 under)
Thanks to a tie for third in Memphis, Harman is back in the Tour Championship for the first time since 2017. The avid hunter will wrap his golf season up this weekend just in time for dove hunting season to start on Sept. 3.
23. Collin Morikawa (1 under)
The two-time major champion’s game has just seemed a little off for most of what has been a strange season for him. Further evidence: After tying for fifth in the FedEx St. Jude Championship, he tied for 44th in the BMW Championship. He shot 8-over 79 in the final round, after making a quintuple-bogey 10 on the par-5 12th hole. It was the worst score of his PGA Tour career, which includes more than 4,000 holes played, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
24. Adam Scott (Even)
The Australian made an impressive par from a greenside bunker on the 72nd hole at the BMW Championship to advance to Atlanta. It is his ninth appearance in the Tour Championship but his first since 2019. He made a seismic move from 77th to 29th in the standings by tying for fifth in each of the first two playoff tournaments.
25. Sahith Theegala (Even)
While Young has probably wrapped up rookie honors, Theegala could sway some voters if he does something magical at East Lake. He was the only other rookie to advance to Atlanta, after tying for 13th in Memphis and 15th in Wilmington. By finishing in the top 30 in points, Theegala earned a spot in each of the four majors, the Players, Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial in 2023.
26. Corey Conners (1 under)
By advancing to Atlanta, Conners secured one of the International Team’s automatic spots for the Presidents Cup. Conners, a Canadian, was joined by Im, Scott, Smith, Niemann, Matsuyama, Joohyung Kim and Mito Pereira as automatic qualifiers.
27. Aaron Wise (Even)
Wise might have been the last player to make the 30-man field, but he has been playing sneaky good golf for a while. Wise had just five missed cuts and 10 top-25 finishes in 23 starts on tour this season. He is back at East Lake for the first time since his PGA Tour rookie season in 2018.
28. K.H. Lee (Even)
Last year, Lee made a bogey on the 72nd hole of the BMW Championship and finished 31st in points, one spot out of the Tour Championship. He wasn’t leaving it to chance in Wilmington, as he shot a 6-under 71 and tied for fifth.
29. J.T. Poston (Even)
After tying for third at the RBC Heritage in mid-April, Poston was 120th in FedEx Cup points. He picked up his second PGA Tour victory at the John Deere Classic on July 3 and played well down the stretch to get into the top 30.
30. Tom Hoge (1 under)
A first-time winner on tour at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Hoge’s game has been out of sorts for much of the summer. After tying for ninth at the PGA Championship, he missed the cut in seven of eight events; he tied for fourth at the 3M Open in the other one.
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