Okay, I get it—you’re a bit sour on the idea of “playoffs” in golf. It doesn’t make sense to you, and hey, you’re not wrong. It’s hard to get excited about a so-called postseason in a sport where the four biggest events have already happened.
Even for golf nuts, it can be tough to get the juices flowing after the majors come to an end. And for casual fans, it’s almost impossible, especially if those fans also happen to enjoy football, the American monolith that dominates autumn airwaves just when the PGA Tour is trying to market its postseason.
But as the first three legs of the FedExCup playoffs have proved, the system is actually kind of great. And there are a few terrific reasons see the drama through to the end.
Last week, I wrote that the race for player of the year had come down to four men: Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, and Justin Thomas. With just one event to go, you can erase Johnson and Matsuyama from that list—even winning the PGA Tour’s $10 million prize at this weekend’s Tour Championship in Atlanta won’t garner them that honor. They had to win at the BMW last week, and they did not.
That means it’s a battle to the finish between the two bosom buddies, Spieth and Thomas, to compete for the big prize. If one of them can win at East Lake Golf Club this weekend, he will definitely take home $10 million, and almost definitely take the “player of the year” prize with it.
This duel alone gives you plenty of incentive to watch, but it’s not the only draw.
The Tour Championship boasts the smallest field in golf—only the PGA Tour’s 30 best players tee it up. Each leg of the FedExCup playoffs reduces the list a little bit more, and for this, the final leg, we’re down to the creme de la creme.
For that reason, it’s a terrific viewing experience. You get to see more shots and more footage from the world’s top players, and it comes with the added bonus of a shorter telecast. It’s a golf nerd’s dream, but interestingly enough, it’s also a perfect way to introduce a newbie to the sport. If there was ever a time when it’s reasonable to call golf “fast-paced,” this is it. The lifer and the greenhorn will come away with the same thought: I wish professional golf was always like this.
But enough free shilling for the PGA Tour. Let’s talk about the best storylines: Spieth vs. Thomas is obviously the main event here (hopefully they’re paired together at least once), but there are a few interesting undercards. I’ll be interested to see how two lesser-known young guys, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele (both essentially Tour rookies), fare on a really big stage.
It’s remarkable enough that they even made the final 30 (they did so by the seat of their pants), but I’m hoping one or both can make a serious impact and prove that there are other big names from the 25-and-under club beyond Spieth and Thomas.
Two other young players, Tony Finau and Patrick Reed, have had excellent seasons without actually winning an event, and I’m curious to see if they have any last-minute heroics in store. Then there’s the old guard—Rose, Garcia—and the older-but-not-super-old-guard—Day, Johnson—who have all been in solid form lately and won’t go down without a fight.
Here are my picks for the last weekend of the 2017 regular season:
Brooks Koepka – 20/1
I’m getting tricky on you—there’s a guy I haven’t even mentioned yet, and it seems like I’ve mentioned the entire field at this point. The 27-year-old Koepka was this year’s U.S. Open champion, and—by his long, athletic, swashbuckling, Clint Eastwood-quiet-but-confident style—seems to be the heir apparent to Dustin Johnson.
More importantly, he’s catching fire again. After a very slight dip toward the end of the season, he was back in the top 15 at the BMW, and shot a 63 on Sunday. With only 30 players in the field, I’m going to make a rare guarantee: Koepka will finish in the top five at East Lake.
Justin Rose – 16/1
It’s not always easy to appreciate Justin Rose, a phenomenal golfer who has somehow only won a single major in his otherwise stellar career. He’s quiet to the point of shyness, and if you only know him from TV, you might think he was a little boring. But don’t let the personality fool you—unlike a Matt Kuchar type, he’s capable of catching fire and really putting the squeeze on an opponent.
We almost saw it this past weekend, when he had Marc Leishman running scared until a couple missed opportunities on the back nine. But if you doubt his ability to win this thing outright, look at this finishes in the playoff events thus far: 10, 10, 2. And he plays well on this course, with second-place finishes in both 2012 and 2015. With the field reduced to 30, I absolutely love Rose this weekend.
Justin Thomas – 10/1
It wouldn’t be right if I wimped out of picking a favorite between the player of the year contenders, so here I go. For me, this pick is easy—despite an rare off week at the BMW, Thomas is absolutely brimming with confidence after his major victory and a win in the second playoff leg two weeks ago. He’s the best player in the sport, he’s the player of the year, and he’s going to get it done against his good buddy Jordan Spieth at East Lake—a course, by the way, where he finished sixth in his very first appearance last year.