Realistically, the race to be named PGA Tour Player of the Year is down to three players: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and Dustin Johnson.
Adding an extra wave of intrigue to the TOUR Championship, this event could very well end up deciding which of those three is declared the best of 2017. Coincidentally, the three are coming into the playoff finale at Nos. 1, 2, and 3 in the FedExCup standings, respectively.
With five victories on the season, including a major, Thomas is the clear front-runner for the Tour’s annual MVP award. Spieth, who has three wins in 2017, and four-time season winner Johnson need a win at East Lake to have any chance of knocking off Thomas.
Thomas, no matter what he does in Atlanta, is guaranteed to end up with more wins than Spieth, and one-up DJ relative to major championships, which is usually a POTY prerequisite.
A win by Thomas in Atlanta, and the debate becomes a non-starter. However, if either Spieth or Johnson were to capture the TOUR Championship this week, the debate could become intense.
A win by Spieth would give the young Texan four titles on the season, including a major and a playoff event, in addition to the FedExCup trophy. A victory by World No. 1 Johnson would be his fifth on the season, tying Thomas for the top spot. Overall, DJ’s set of six trophies (two WGCs, two Playoffs, and FedExCup title) would be tough to ignore.
Voters might feel that the body of work of Spieth or DJ (if they win this week) would trump Thomas’ five-win season, which includes the CIMB Classic, a fall season event in Malaysia, and two wins during the Hawaii swing in January.
Of course, the debate is also dead if Spieth or DJ fail to win at East Lake, even if the points shake out, and one of them captures the FedExCup title, sans the TOUR Championship title.
TALE OF THE TAPE
5 WINS: CIMB Classic, SBS Tournament of Champions, Sony Open, PGA Championship, Dell Technologies Championship
RUNNER-UP: 0, TOP 5: 7, TOP 10: 10
1 MAJOR: PGA Championship
1 PLAYOFF WIN: Dell Technologies Championship
2017 PLAYOFFS: T6, 1, T47
HOW HE WINS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Thomas would be the POTY with a win or if someone other than DJ or Spieth win. Even a win by DJ or Spieth, doesn’t knock out Thomas.
3 WINS: AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Travelers Championship, The Open Championship
RUNNER-UP: 3, TOP 5: 8, TOP 10: 11
1 MAJOR: The Open Championship
2017 PLAYOFFS: 2, 2, T7
HOW HE WINS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Spieth could win POTY honors with a win. Voters may feel that Thomas, despite one more win, was not as consistently great as Spieth (three runner-ups and two 3rd place finishes) and that the bonus of the FedExCup, with finishes of 2, 2, T7, and 1, more than wash out an extra win by Thomas at the CIMB Classic.
4 WINS: Genesis Open, WGC – Mexico Championship, WGC – Dell Technologies Match Play, The Northern Trust
RUNNER-UP: 1, TOP 5: 6, TOP 10: 8
2 WGC: WGC – Mexico Championship, WGC – Dell Technologies Match Play
1 PLAYOFF WIN: The Northern Trust
2017 PLAYOFFS: 1, T18, T33
HOW HE WINS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Johnson could win POTY honors with a win regardless of the finish by Thomas. Voters may feel that Johnson’s five wins (two Playoffs, two WGCs, and FedExCup) are more impressive than Thomas, despite no major championship victory.