Tour Championship: Why only the almighty dollar is driving the players to mediocre East Lake

Sinking the winning putt could score someone a $11.5m windfall.


So much for money and its supposedly limited power. Contrary to popular belief it really can buy everything.

Otherwise, how can we explain the irresistible appeal of this week’s finale of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup series, the Tour Championship ­a limited field event played on a mediocre golf course in the impossible heat of the American South in front of crowds you might expect to show up for a Krankies reunion tour?

The answer lies, of course, in the prize fund.

Putting for pocket change

Around $1.5m to the winner of the tournament itself, and $10m to player who finishes at the top of the FedEx Cup rankings after this, the fourth and final event in the play­off series.

And lest there be any doubt, there isn’t any sleight of hand involved here, that somehow the $10m bonus prize isn’t quite what it seems.

It is as was once explained to me by an indignant PGA Tour official, the $10m lands in the bank account of the champion on the Monday morning after the tournament ends. That is a chunk of change!

Hence, this week’s Tour Championship field ­ as always ­ can fairly be described as ‘stellar’. Anyone who is anyone will be at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

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The normal FedEx Cup rules apply. Anyone who begins the week in one of the top five ranking spots has it within their own power to secure the $10 million prize.

All they have to do is win the tournament come Sunday afternoon. This week the lucky five who will start with this advantage are Dustin Johnston, Patrick Reed, Adam Scott, Jason Day and England’s Paul Casey.

As well as their talent and the FedEx Cup points they have already accumulated, this five also have the weight of history on their side. The last four winners of the FedEx Cup all began the week inside the top five.

Revved-up Rory

Rory McIlroy lies just outside the enchanted circle, in sixth place. If he wins the tournament at , and Johnston finishes outside the top two then Irishman will bringing a mediocre year to a sparkling end.

He is in form, having won in Boston three weeks ago, and his putting stroke appears to be on the mend. He even has some form at the venue, having finished second there in 2014.

So far, so tempting, although only for those who don’t remember that 2014 performance for what it was, a disappointment which saw the Irishman outdueled by Billy Horschel in the final round. The problem then, as now, is the golf course itself. It doesn’t lend itself to the expansive golf played by the likes of McIlroy, and Dustin Johnson for that matter.

Seven thousand, three hundred yards counts as a short golf course in the modern era. East Lake offers a fiddly, occasionally frustrating challenge and neither man is known to embrace the fiddly.

This isn’t to say they can’t win ­ both could triumph at the local crazy golf course using an umbrella as a putter if they were in the mood ­ but they will have to do so playing a style of golf that lies outside their comfort zone.

Last drive for Watson

The same goes for the Adam Scott and Jason Day, who’s for the win, both of whom play their best when there is room in which to play.

There are plenty of bombers in the field who fall into the same category, not least Bubba Watson, who more than most needs to win around a golf course he has never enjoyed.

US Ryder Cup captain Davis Love will make his final “form” pick after Sunday’s climax and having already denied the two-­time Masters champion one of his initial three picks, it appears he is looking for any excuse not to take the world no7 to Hazeltine next week.

Watson will have to win at on Sunday to give himself a chance. That is a hell of an incentive.

His problem is there are other who will be just as motivated.

Best of the rest

Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Ryan Moore, Kevin Na. All have been whispered a potential picks for Captain Love and all will be in Atlanta, vying to catch his eye.

A real live American soap opera, awash with angst and competitive juices. Of that quartet perhaps only Thomas, whose game will never be described as subtle, might struggle.

The others fit the East Lake profile. They can grind it out with the best of them and could putt the lights out of the Empire State Building, Moore especially.

In fact, in another week in another year there is a strong case to be made for a Ryan Moore victory at , given his form, the style of golf he plays and his dreamy short game. He will go well this week, of that there seems no doubt.

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But will he go better than the man who currently sits second in the FedEx Cup ranking points?

Patrick Reed won the first of the FedEx Cup series tournaments, the Barclays at Bethpage, last month. He keeps the ball in play and on the rare occasion he doesn’t he has the patience and determination to limit the damage.

His short game is a strength and so is his self­-belief. Reed has yet to win his major but an FedEx Cup win would be the next best thing for the talented American.

It would cement his reputation as one of the game’s most potent players. And the money would be nice too.

What do you think?