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PGA Tour Finale: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm Headed For 1-2 Punch

The PGA Tour has worked hard to promote its FedExCup Playoffs, and despite the 2020 events lacking the excitement live spectators bring, the showdown brewing this week at the Tour Championship in Atlanta could deliver the best finale yet.

Only the Tour’s top 30 players remain, pared from 125 to open the FedExCup run two weeks ago in Boston and then from 70 at last week’s semifinals in Chicago.

What’s notable is that the three players at the top of the season-long standings – Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas – are also the top three players in the world golf rankings. How happy is the Tour to see that?

Even better, Johnson and Rahm are red-hot. Johnson won the first playoff event two weeks ago, then Rahm won the second event – dropping a 66-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to edge Johnson. And that came after Johnson made a 30-foot birdie on the last hole of regulation to tie Rahm and force the sudden-death playoff.

Now it’s off to Georgia. Golf is a game of streaks and golfers can stay hot for weeks. So while picking a winner this week will be difficult, there is every reason to expect Johnson and Rahm will be in the mix. The world’s top two players at the top of their game? Should be good stuff. 

This is the event the players are aiming at as they compete for points all season in the FedExCup standings. Simply advancing to the Tour Championship brings with it a guaranteed payday – last year, winner Rory McIlroy took home $15 million, but even the 30th place finisher collected almost $400,000 – plus a Tour exemption for next season and invitations to all four of golf’s majors.

Rory McIlroy Photo by Marc Serota

The FedExCup format was changed last year to favor competition over computers, and the result is better than ever for fans. Gone are the complicated calculations that not only were impossible to track, but also led to crazy outcomes in which a player could be crowned the season-long title without winning the final playoff event. 

That’s not how Americans like it. We think the winner should have to win. 

It’s simpler now. Whoever wins this week is the FedExCup champion. 

The points players accumulated all season do matter. They are cashed in this week to seed the field. It works like this:

  • The player who is No. 1 on the points list (Johnson) starts the Tour Championship at 10 under par. The No. 2 player (Rahm) starts at 8 under, No. 3 (Thomas) is 7 under, No. 4 (Webb Simpson) is 6 under, No. 5 (Colin Morikawa) is 5 under and so on. This is their reward for piling up points. 
  • The lower a player’s points, the less their advantage. Players ranked 21-25 start at 1 under and players 26-30 are even par. So yes, the 26-30th ranked players get in the final, but all start the event 10 shots behind the leader!

What it all means is, if you’re betting in Vegas, the smart money says the winner will likely come from the top 10 players on the points list. Everyone has to chase them. Yes, a player who starts the event four shots behind can make it up in four days. But is a guy 10 shots behind Dustin Johnson likely to catch him? It would take some spectacular rounds — and Johnson falling apart. 

The winner will come from the top dozen on the points list. Here they are:

  1. Johnson, 2. Rahm, 3. Thomas, 4. Simpson, 5. Morikawa, 6. Daniel Berger, 7. Harris English, 8. Bryson DeChambeau, 9. Sungjae Im, 10. Hideki Matsuyama, 11. Brendan Todd, 12. Rory McIlroy.

My pick: Johnson. He is world No. 1, won two weeks ago and lost last week in a playoff. One could fairly wonder: Does he have the steam to keep it up? Yes. In this pandemic-shortened season, the players aren’t tired and Johnson is rolling.

Dustin Johnson Photo by Marc Serota

Rahm, Thomas, Simpson and Morikawa are right on his heels and any could win. Indeed, Rahm may be his most formidable challenger. They’re both among the strongest, most gifted players on tour.

But the 6-foot-4 Johnson is a smooth athlete unlike any other on Tour and at age 36, he’s got the maturity and experience. He is already well qualified for the Hall of Fame with 22 PGA Tour victories, including a US Open, and 7 European Tour wins. 

It’s all about the putting for DJ. He was on in Boston and beat the field by 11 shots! That’s how good he is tee to green. Great driver, excellent wedge player, loads of confidence. 

He’s never won the FedExCup. He’s got his best chance this year. It’s going to be fun to watch. 

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About The Author
David Meeks
David Meeks
David Meeks has never hesitated to speak truth to power. He’s uncovered shady coal mine operators in Alabama, corrupt politicians in Louisiana and supported single fathers in Florida. When New Orleans flooded after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Meeks, then Sports Editor of The Times-Picayune, refused an evacuation order. He commandeered a newspaper truck, assembled a team of journalists and won two Pulitzer Prizes. He has worked for the Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and was the Managing Editor of USA Today Sports. He is Alabama-born and Michigan-raised, and today lives with his family in Washington, D.C.
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