2020 Tour Championship Primer: History, TV, Field, Odds

Justin Thomas TOUR Championship
Justin Thomas swings on the first tee during the third round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Aug 24, 2019, in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images

And it all comes down to this: Four days. 72 holes. 30 players. $60 million up for grabs.

A PGA Tour season like no other – both good and bad, but like all things, it has to end. And that conclusion is this week, as the top 30 in the final FedExCup Standings bring their best to historic East Lake Golf Club for the Tour Championship – both the last event of the 2020 Tour season and the final leg of the FedExCup Playoffs.

The stakes? Crazy high.

The FedExCup Championship brings validation to an exhausting season and a grind that includes endless hours of listless practice that the TV cameras do not pick up.

The FedExCup Playoffs have always been ultra-lucrative, but it was boosted to a different level in 2019, as the Fortune 500 mainstay increased the purse to a mind-boggling $60 million with a record $15 million going to the winner. 

To put that into perspective, this amounts to the combined annual income of 1,666 FedEx truck drivers.

Now, the elites of the PGA Tour – those still standing after 40-plus weeks – might not be living paycheck to paycheck like a FedEx truck driver, but that top prize is still a tremendous motivator.

Dustin Johnson BMW Championship
Dustin Johnson celebrates making his putt for birdie on the 18th hole during the final round of the BMW Championship on the North Course at Olympia Fields CC on Aug 30, 2020 in Olympia Fields, IL. Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In addition to the insane prize pool, the format implemented in 2019 offers a handicap system, or officially called Starting Strokes, where Dustin Johnson is already sleeping on a two-shot lead over Jon Rahm. Justin Thomas, a three-time winner in 2020, will start three back at 7 under.

Despite each still ranked inside the world top 30, three of the reigning major champions will be missing in Atlanta this week: Tiger Woods (Masters), Shane Lowry (The Open), and Gary Woodland (U.S. Open).

Other familiar names who failed to qualify include Jordan Spieth, who will miss his third-straight post-season finale, four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, and 12-time Tour winners Bubba Watson and Jason Day.

We are not saying all that to persuade viewers away from NBC, the network covering the event, but to make this point: if those guys DIDN’T qualify for the Tour Championship, what does it say about those who did?


The Skinny

Tournament: TOUR Championship
Dates: Sep 4-7, 2020 (Fr-Mo)
Where: Atlanta, GA
Course: East Lake Golf Club
Distance: Par 70, 7346 yards
Architect: Tom Bendelow (1908), Donald Ross (1913)
Redesign: Rees Jones (1994)
Format: 72-holes, stroke-play/starting-strokes, no cut
Purse: $60 million
Winning Share: $15 million
2019 Champion: Rory McIlroy


How to Watch & Follow

Paul Azinger and Dan Hicks GOLF Channel
Paul Azinger (L) and Dan Hicks of NBC Sports/Golf Channel appear on set during the second round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Aug 23, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Round-Day-Time (Network)
Rd1: Fr 01:00-6:00 PM (GOLF)
Rd2: Sa 01:00-6:00 PM (GOLF)
Rd3: Su 01:00-3:00 PM (GOLF)
Rd3: Su 03:00-7:00 PM (NBC)
Rd4: Mo 12:00-1:30 PM (GOLF)
Rd4: Mo 01:30-6:00 PM (NBC)

Links: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


History Spotlight

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods celebrates on the 18th green after winning the TOUR Championship at East Lake GC on Sep. 23, 2018 in Atlanta, GA. Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The Tour Championship has been the FedExCup playoff finale since the first playoff in 2007, but the event has roots going back 20 years earlier. Always an elite, limited-field event, the inaugural 1987 event was claimed by Tom Watson – two strokes clear of Chip Beck, the second member of the 59 Club.

Other champions have included former legends such as Curtis Strange, Tom Kite, Paul Azinger, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, and Jordan Spieth, along with stars such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

Woods holds the tournament record with three wins – two coming in the FedExCup format, the most recent of which was in 2018. Mickelson and McIlroy are the only other players to have won more than once, with Tiger as the runner-up in both of Phil’s victories.

East Lake Golf Club has been the Tour Championship’s permanent venue since 2004, although the FedExCup is only a small part of the club’s story. Founded 100 years earlier in 1904, the Atlanta course is a Donald Ross design, famous for being the home course of the legendary Bobby Jones.

It is believed to be the site where Jones played his first and last rounds. The course also once hosted the Ryder Cup, the 1963 edition, with Arnold Palmer as the U.S. captain.

History: Recent Winners

Year-Winner-To Par (Margin)
2019 Rory McIlroy -18 (4)*
2018 Tiger Woods -11 (2)
2017 Xander Schauffele -12 (1)
2016 Rory McIlroy -12 (Playoff)
2015 Jordan Spieth -9 (4)
McIlroy started -5 (Gross -13)

History: Wins

3 – Tiger Woods (1999, 2007, 2018)
2 – Phil Mickelson (2000, 2009)
2 – Rory McIlroy (2016, 2019)


2019 Rewind: McIlroy Magic

Rory McIlroy Wins Tour Championship and FedExCup
Rory McIlroy celebrates and pumps his fist after making a birdie to clinch a four-stoke victory at the TOUR Championship on Aug 25, 2019 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, GA. Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images

Rory McIlroy shot a 4-under 66 on Sunday to claim the FedExCup with a four-shot victory at the Tour Championship.

As it often seems to be when he is “on,” Rory’s game was near-immaculate at East Lake. The Tour leader for the season in strokes gained: off-the-tee, McIlroy did his best work with his driver, averaging well over 300 yards and finishing third in the field in driving accuracy.

It was the biggest difference on the back nine, as both Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele were shaky off the tees, while McIlroy constantly put himself in prime position.

In addition, McIlroy’s 20 birdies for the week led the 30-man field, he finished second in strokes gained: around-the-green, and on Sunday afternoon, his putter was hot as well. In particular, he sunk a difficult 8-foot putt to save par on the 16th hole, which steadied the ship after he had bogeyed the previous two holes.

McIlroy also made his final birdie putt on 18, a putt he said afterwards he was concentrating hard on, even though the tournament had already been decided, because he wanted to make sure he also had the fewest overall strokes to par of anyone at East Lake. He was wrong in that he did not need that birdie though: he was three strokes better than Schauffele for the week.

McIlroy finished his final day in Atlanta, Georgia with one bogey against five birdies to reach 18-under par.

It was McIlroy’s third win of the PGA Tour season, and second career Tour Championship and FedExCup title.

Top-5 Finishers

Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Rory McIlroy -18 (-4)
2. Xander Schauffele -14 (E)
3. Justin Thomas -13 (-2)
3. Brooks Koepka -13 (+2)
5. Paul Casey -9 (+2)


Stat of the Week

Rory McIlroy BMW Championship
Rory McIlroy reacts to a shot on the fifth green during the second round of the BMW Championship on the North Course at Olympia Fields CC on Aug 28, 2020 in Olympia Fields, Illinois. Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

8

The number of consecutive starts by Rory McIlroy without a top-10 finish. This is the longest such streak of his Hall of Fame career. His previous longest streak was four, although he did string together eight over a two season stretch – his last four starts of 2017 and first four of 2018.

The most perplexing thing about this slump, is that McIlroy was playing the best golf of his career before his game stalled. He entered 2020 off a MVP 2019 season, which included a win at both flagship events – The Players and The Tour Championship.

He got his first win of the new season at the WGC event in China, and proceeded to reel off six straight top-5 finishes. He was No. 1 in the world, and first-place in the FedExCup before the COVID break. He now finds himself ranked No. 4 in the world, and 12th in the points, and is a longshot to repeat, as he’ll start seven strokes back of Dustin Johnson.


Hole of the Week

The 15th hole at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia – the host venue of the PGA Tour’s season finale. Credit: East Lake Golf Club

No. 15, East Lake Golf Club
Par 3, 211 yards

Considered one of the oldest “isthmus” par 3s (not an island, but close to being one) in the country, the 15th hole at East Lake should once again provide all kinds of action this week. A super-flat green is surrounded by the golf course’s iconic lake, which provides a natural setting for gusts of wind to create havoc at most any time.

“The 15th hole will really be a gut-checking hole, as Justin Rose refers to some of the holes at East Lake,” Rees Jones said in 2016. “They will have to fight through 14 and 15 and then push the pedal down on the last three holes.”

The club’s signature hole has historically played well over par, and has ruined many good rounds down the stretch.

2019 Avg: 3.125 (3rd hardest)
2019 Scores: 18 Birdies, 76 Pars, 19 Bogeys, 7 Doubles


The Field

Jon Rahm Dustin Johnson
Jon Rahm waits for Dustin Johnson to putt on the third green during the first round of The Northern Trust at Liberty National Golf Club on Aug 8, 2019 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
1. Dustin Johnson

FedExCup Rank: 1st
Starting Strokes: -10
World Rank: 1st
Odds (W, 5, 10): 2-1, 1-3, 1-5
Last Six: 2, 1, 2, 12, MC, 1

2. Jon Rahm

FedExCup Rank: 2nd
Starting Strokes: -8
World Rank: 2nd
Odds (W, 5, 10): 3-1, 1-1, 1-3
Last Six: 1, 6, 13, 52, 1, 27

3. Justin Thomas

FedExCup Rank: 3rd
Starting Strokes: -7
World Rank: 3rd
Odds (W, 5, 10): 5-1, 1-1, 1-2
Last Six: 25, 49, 37, 1, 18, 2

4. Webb Simpson

FedExCup Rank: 4th
Starting Strokes: -6
World Rank: 6th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 10-1, 3-1, 1-1
Last Six: 6, 3, 37, 12, MC, 8

5. Collin Morikawa

FedExCup Rank: 5th
Starting Strokes: -5
World Rank: 5th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 25-1, 6-1, 3-1
Last Six: 20, MC, 1, 20, 48, 1

6. Daniel Berger

FedExCup Rank: 6th
Starting Strokes: -4
World Rank: 13th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 30-1, 6-1, 3-1
Last Six: 25, 3, 13, 2, MC, 3

7. Harris English

FedExCup Rank: 7th
Starting Strokes: -4
World Rank: 51st
Odds (W, 5, 10): 70-1, 10-1, 6-1
Last Six: 40, 2, 23, 19, 18, 13

8. Bryson DeChambeau

FedExCup Rank: 8th
Starting Strokes: -4
World Rank: 8th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 25-1, 6-1, 2-1
Last Six: 50, MC, 4, 30, MC, 1

9. Sungjae Im

FedExCup Rank: 9th
Starting Strokes: -4
World Rank: 27th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 110-1, 20-1, 9-1
Last Six: 56, MC, 9, MC, 35, MC

10. Hideki Matsuyama

FedExCup Rank: 10th
Starting Strokes: -4
World Rank: 20th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 35-1, 8-1, 4-1
Last Six: 3, 29, 22, 20, MC, 22

Patrick Reed Wins The Northern Trust
Patrick Reed lines up a putt on the 17th green during the final round of The Northern Trust at Liberty National Golf Club on Aug. 11, 2019 in Jersey City, NJ. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
11. Brendon Todd

FedExCup Rank: 11th
Starting Strokes: -3
World Rank: 39th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 150-1, 40-1, 14-1
Last Six: 8, 64, MC, 17, 15, 22

12. Rory McIlroy

FedExCup Rank: 12th
Starting Strokes: -3
World Rank: 4th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 25-1, 6-1, 3-1
Last Six: 12, 65, 33, 47, 32, 11

13. Patrick Reed

FedExCup Rank: 13th
Starting Strokes: -3
World Rank: 9th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 70-1, 10-1, 5-1
Last Six: 40, 49, 9, 13, 47, 10

14. Xander Schauffele

FedExCup Rank: 14th
Starting Strokes: -3
World Rank: 11th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 25-1, 5-1, 2-1
Last Six: 25, 25, 10, 6, 13, 14

15. Sebastian Munoz

FedExCup Rank: 15th
Starting Strokes: -3
World Rank: 80th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 20-1, 40-1, 16-1
Last Six: 8, 18, 74, MC, 48, MC

16. Lanto Griffin

FedExCup Rank: 16th
Starting Strokes: -2
World Rank: 73rd
Odds (W, 5, 10): 400-1, 100-1, 33-1
Last Six: 10, 58, 19, 58, 44, MC

17. Scottie Scheffler

FedExCup Rank: 17th
Starting Strokes: -2
World Rank: 36th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 90-1, 16-1, 7-1
Last Six: 20, 4, 4, 15, 22, MC

18. Joaquin Niemann

FedExCup Rank: 18th
Starting Strokes: -2
World Rank: 52nd
Odds (W, 5, 10): 150-1, 33-1, 12-1
Last Six: 3, MC, 42, MC, 52, MC

19. Tyrrell Hatton

FedExCup Rank: 19th
Starting Strokes: -2
World Rank: 15th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 110-1, 20-1, 9-1
Last Six: 16, 25, MC, 69, 4, 3

20. Tony Finau

FedExCup Rank: 20th
Starting Strokes: -2
World Rank: 14th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 55-1, 9-1, 5-1
Last Six: 5, MC, 4, 65, 3, 8

Rory McIlroy and Kevin Kisner
Rory McIlroy and Kevin Kisner check the the driver clubface of Kisner during the third round of the BMW Championship at Medinah CC No. 3 on Aug 17, 2019 in Medinah, IL. Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images
21. Kevin Kisner

FedExCup Rank: 21st
Starting Strokes: -1
World Rank: 29th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 150-1, 33-1, 14-1
Last Six: 25, 4, 3, 19, 25, MC

22. Abraham Ancer

FedExCup Rank: 22nd
Starting Strokes: -1
World Rank: 26th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 300-1, 80-1, 20-1
Last Six: 33, MC, 43, 15, 58, 11

23. Ryan Palmer

FedExCup Rank: 23rd
Starting Strokes: E
World Rank: 34th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 400-1, 80-1, 25-1
Last Six: 40, 8, 43, 15, 2, MC

24. Kevin Na

FedExCup Rank: 24th
Starting Strokes: -1
World Rank: 33rd
Odds (W, 5, 10): 300-1, 66-1, 20-1
Last Six: 51, 39, MC, 35, 9, 5

25. Marc Leishman

FedExCup Rank: 25th
Starting Strokes: -1
World Rank: 23rd
Odds (W, 5, 10): 600-1, 200-1, 100-1
Last Six: 69, MC, MC, 52, 40, MC

26. Cameron Smith

FedExCup Rank: 26th
Starting Strokes: E
World Rank: 48th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 600-1, 200-1, 80-1
Last Six: 20, 18, 43, 59, 68, MC

27. Viktor Hovland

FedExCup Rank: 27th
Starting Strokes: E
World Rank: 31st
Odds (W, 5, 10): 300-1, 80-1, 20-1
Last Six: 40, 18, 33, 59, 48, 3

28. Mackenzie Hughes

FedExCup Rank: 28th
Starting Strokes: E
World Rank: 65th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 600-1, 150-1, 50-1
Last Six: 10, 13, 58, 44, 6, 48

29. Cameron Champ

FedExCup Rank: 29th
Starting Strokes: E
World Rank: 75th
Odds (W, 5, 10): 600-1, 150-1, 66-1
Last Six: 65, MC, 10, 25, MC, 67

30. Billy Horschel

FedExCup Rank: 30th
Starting Strokes: E
World Rank: 32nd
Odds (W, 5, 10): 225-1, 40-1, 16-1
Last Six: 33, MC, 2, 43, 25, 13


Credits: OWGR, PGA Tour Media, Getty Images, Fast Scripts


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