ATLANTA – The magic number on the PGA Tour is five.
Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Marc Leishman of Australia and Jon Rahm of Spain hold the top five positions in the point standings. If one of them wins the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf this week, he would take home the FedExCup.
The last seven winners of the Cup won the final event of the season.
“It’s obviously been a great year thus far, but you don’t want to say it’s nothing,” said Thomas, who has won five times this season, including his first major in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.
“I’m in a great opportunity to finish this thing off and win the FedExCup, but there’s a lot of other great players that are playing great golf.”
Spieth is trying to join Tiger Woods (2007, 2009) as the only two-time winner of the Cup. He said of being in the top five heading into the fourth and final tournament in the playoffs: “Well, it’s vital. It allows you to control your own destiny.”
Taking the Cup would check another box on the career resume for Johnson. He leads the world rankings, claimed his first major title last year at the U.S. Open, has won five World Golf Championships events and has played for the U.S. in multiple Ryder and Presidents cups. A year ago, Johnson collected the PGA Tour
Player of the Year Award, the Vardon Trophy and the Byron Nelson Award while leading the money list.
Johnson also would have been holding the Cup last year had Rory McIlroy not beaten Kevin Chappell in a playoff to capture the Tour Championship and the season-long title. Johnson tied for sixth at East Lake.
“Well, I’ve won a major; I haven’t won the FedExCup, but to me, they go pretty hand-in-hand,” said Johnson, who has four playoff victories in his career. “It’s a big tournament where we get paid very, very well if we win, so you know it means a lot. … It’s something that I want to win, and I drive myself to win it. Being the FedExCup champion is something that I want on my resume. …
“The next step in my career is to put my name on that trophy.”
Leishman climbed into the top five by winning the BMW Championship by five strokes on Sunday.
Lurking right behind and hoping to steal away with the Cup should one of the top five not win the Tour Championship are Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Justin Rose of England, U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and Paul Casey of England.
The past seven winners of the FedExCup who won at East Lake were Jim Furyk (2010), Bill Haas (2011), Brandt Snedeker (2012), Henrik Stenson (2013), Billy Horschel (2014), Spieth (2015) and McIlroy (2016).
Surprisingly, Spieth and Snedeker are the only Cup winners to make to back to the Tour Championship the following year.
McIlroy, slowed by injury this season, joined the group of those who failed to make the top 30 and qualify for the finale, finishing 58th this season.
Furyk, Haas and McIlroy are the only players who were not in the top five heading into East Lake to walk away with the Cup since that format was instituted in 2009, and Horschel is the only player to claim the title after starting the playoffs outside the top 30.
Anybody who doesn’t like the format can blame Woods and Vijay Singh.
The Big Fijian captured The Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship to almost wrap up the FedExCup midway through the 2008 playoffs. He already had the trophy in hand before the Tour Championship, sucking all the drama out of the finale at East Lake.
A year earlier, Woods virtually had the Cup in his possession going to Atlanta. So, then-commissioner Tim Finchem and the PGA Tour powers-that-be introduced the format in which the point totals are adjusted before the Tour Championship, setting it up so that any player in the top five who won the final event would take home both trophies.
Of course, that’s given us some dramatic moments at East Lake.
The latest was McIlroy coming from three strokes down with an 8-under-par 64 in the final round last year, including a hole-out eagle from 137 yards on the 16th hole, and then winning a playoff against Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell by sinking a 15-foot birdie putt on the fourth extra hole.
In 2011, Haas hit a chip shot from the edge of a lake for an improbable par on the second playoff hole and beat Hunter Mahan one hole later with a 3-foot par putt to win the Tour Championship and FedExCup after Mahan could not get up and down from a greenside bunker.
Furyk claimed both trophies in 2010, providing some drama on the final hole of the Tour Championship. He saved par from a greenside bunker with a brilliant shot out of the sand and a 3-foot putt to beat Luke Donald of England by one shot.
It was an interesting finish in 2009 when Phil Mickelson captured the Tour Championship by three strokes. He outplayed Woods in the final round but had to share the spotlight with his rival as Tiger took the Cup for the second time in three years.
Since 2016-17 has been one of the most exciting PGA Tour seasons in recent memory, it figures to be another fight to the finish at East Lake