MEDINAH, Ill. — Patrick Reed’s victory on Sunday at the Northern Trust highlighted a very real truth about the volatility of the FedEx Cup playoffs: A single victory is worth far more than any other win, including the major championships.
Reed, 29, won for the first time since he captured the 2018 Masters. Languishing in 50th place in the FedEx Cup standings — meaning his spot in next week’s Tour Championship was hardly assured — Reed vaulted up the standings with his one-shot victory over Abraham Ancer into second place behind Brooks Koepka heading into this week’s BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club.
His win was worth 2,000 points — 1,500 more than J.T. Poston received for capturing the Wyndham Championship a week earlier.
To really put it in perspective, the victory brought 200 more points than Tiger Woods, Koepka and Gary Woodland earned — combined — for their victories at the Masters, PGA Championship and U.S. Open.
Regular-season wins are worth 500 points, with 550 points going to winners of the World Golf Championship events and 600 to major winners. But once the playoffs begin, the Northern Trust and BMW provide far more opportunity for volatility.
Another way to look at it: Reed moved one spot ahead of Rory McIlroy, who has two wins this year, including the Players Championship, and 13 top-10s. Reed’s lone victory was Sunday, and he has four top-10s.
While the PGA Tour describes the FedEx Cup as a “season-long race,” getting hot right now makes a huge difference. That said, last year’s FedEx Cup champion, Justin Rose, won none of the four playoff (reduced to three) events this year. That means being near the top of the standings entering the playoffs is also a benefit.
In years past, the bridge to The Tour Championship consisted of the event outside of Boston that was for the top 100 players in the FedEx through the Northern Trust, followed by the BMW. The Boston event has been eliminated (it will rotate with the New York-area tournament as the first FedEx Cup playoff event), which means the top 125 from the Northern Trust was pared down to the top 70 at the BMW Championship this week.
The no-cut event at Medinah Country Club’s No. 3 course (site of the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships as well as the 2012 Ryder Cup) will determine the top 30 who advance to the Tour Championship.
In addition to providing the opportunity to play for immense financial perks next week in Atlanta ($15 million to the overall winner of the FedEx Cup), there is a huge incentive to make the top 30 for those looking to get spots in next year’s major championships.
Qualifying for the Tour Championship assures an invitation to the Masters and exemptions into the U.S. Open and The Open. That means this is a big week for the likes of Sung-jae Im (26th), Harold Varner (29th), Andrew Putnam (30th) and Jason Kokrak (32nd). None of those four players has ever played in the Masters.
Putnam holds down 30th in the FedEx Cup standings, which would give him the final spot in the Tour Championship if he is able to stay there. Joaquin Niemann secured the 70th and final spot in the BMW Championship with a final-round 66 at Liberty National that moved him into a tie for 30th and earned him 92.5 points, edging Adam Schenk by two points. Schenk made a spirited run of his own, shooting 67 to tie for 24th after starting the week 84th.
The movers (each way)
Four players moved into the 70 at the Northern Trust, with Varner making the biggest jump, from 102nd to 29th, thanks to a tie for third this past week. Troy Merritt (72 to 59), Wyndham Clark (90 to 58) and Niemann (74 to 70) were the others.
The four who fell out: Sergio Garcia, Danny Lee, Matthew Wolff and Kevin Streelman.
Garcia (72nd) is among the players who saw his season end at Liberty National, as he missed the cut. Others who did not advance were Wolfe, Branden Grace, Bubba Watson, Danny Willett and Henrik Stenson (he did not play the Northern Trust).
A second-place finish at the Northern Trust had Abraham Ancer move from just inside the top 70 at 67th to eighth in the standings, which assures that he will advance to the Tour Championship. That will mean his first appearance in the Masters. He will also return to both the U.S. Open and The Open next year. Ancer, 28, was bidding to become the first player from Mexico to win on the PGA Tour since Victor Regalado in 1978.
The Rahm threat
Jon Rahm had the lead on the back nine before settling for a tie for third at the Northern Trust, but he has been on a strong run of late. He has four straight top-11 finishes on the PGA Tour, including two third-places. He has moved into fifth place in the standings behind Koepka, Reed, McIlroy and Matt Kuchar.
The Spieth factor
Jordan Spieth’s 67 was his best final-round score of the year and was aided by another great day on the greens. He needed just 21 putts, tying his career best. It has been a struggle for Spieth for a good part of this year, but he has put himself in the mix several times of late, and his tie for sixth moved him from 69th to 44th in the FedEx standings, a jump of 25 spots. He will need another high finish to advance to the Tour Championship, which he missed last year for the first time in his career.
The Tiger chances
Whether Tiger Woods is healthy enough to compete at Medinah is still to be determined. He withdrew after a first-round 75 at the Northern Trust with a slight oblique strain but would have been hard-pressed to make the 36-hole cut had he not been hurting. Woods would have needed a 66 or better in the second round to advance. But any points would have been helpful, and Woods is now paying the price for a light summer of golf that saw him earn points at only the Memorial in early June and the U.S. Open.
After his Masters victory, Woods was 13th in points. He slipped to 28th heading into the Northern Trust and then fell another 10 spots, heading to the BMW at 38th.
To qualify for the Tour Championship at the BMW — at which all players will earn points — Woods is going to need a good week. According to the PGA Tour, Woods is projected to need a solo 11th-place finish or better to advance to Atlanta, where he won his 80th PGA Tour title last year.
The tour projects the range of points to qualify for the Tour Championship to be 1,280 to 1,365. Woods has 1,003 — or 177 below the minimum. If the minimum is all he needs, a top-18 finish would make it, but that is far from assured.
After this week’s BMW Championship, the top 30 move on to the Tour Championship, in which they will play under a new format meant to crown a single champion, the winner of the FedEx Cup.
Instead of a points reset, the leader — now Koepka — will begin the tournament at 10 under par. Whoever is second — currently Reed — will start at 8 under. Every player will have a “staggered score” down to those ranked 26th to 30th, who will start at even par.
The idea is to make it easier to follow. Instead of trying to figure how many points will push a player into the top of the FedEx standings, it will be apparent from the scoreboard in relation to par. But there will be no separate winner of the Tour Championship, as there was last year, when Woods won his 80th PGA Tour title.
The winner of the FedEx Cup will be credited with an official PGA Tour victory. But for the purposes of Official World Golf Ranking points, the players will earn points based on their 72-hole scores.
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