By Sam McPherson
After a year-long schedule of golf tournaments, only five PGA Tour professionals have a chance to win the 2015-2016 FedExCup this weekend at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. This quintet features four of the eight top-ranked players in the world, including both No. 1 Jason Day and No. 2 Dustin Johnson.
No. 6 Adam Scott, No. 8 Patrick Reed and No. 16 Paul Casey join them in the pursuit of the big prize. Only 30 players will compete in the Tour Championship after three FedExCup tournaments whittled the playoff field down from its initial 125 players last month at The Barclays.
The FedExCup standings have Johnson, Reed, Scott, Day and Casey in order atop the event’s 30 golfers. Johnson won the BMW Championship two weekends ago, while Reed won The Barclays the weekend before that. They have the best chance to win the overall title, as Johnson leads Reed by 986 points, while Reed leads place Scott by 724 points.
The winner of this event will get 2,000 points in the standings, so Day (1,780 points behind Johnson) and Casey (1,937) have the longest shots at the overall title. The possible outcomes, not to mention their odds, are too numerous to note here.
Like any golf tournament, all any players can do is determine his own score. How the other 29 pros perform on the East Lake course is beyond their control. The Tour Championship promises an exciting finish to the PGA Tour season no matter what this quintet does in the final four rounds of the season.
Johnson’s season has been fueled by big wins. He won the U.S. Open a year after three-putting away a chance at a playoff on the 72nd hole. Johnson followed up that victory with a win in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational two weeks later. With three tournament wins this season, Johnson also leads the Tour with over $9 million in earnings this year.
Reed won only once this season (at The Barclays), but he has 11 top-10 finishes — including two second-place efforts — which is second best on the Tour in 2015-16 to Johnson’s 14. Reed has been consistent throughout the long season, earning over $5.5 million along the way.
Scott’s year got off to a great start with back-to-back wins in the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship in February. Despite playing in only 19 events on Tour this season, he posted eight top 10s, including two second-place efforts, as he collected $6.2 in prize money.
Day has held the No. 1 ranking for a good part of the season, thanks to three wins and over $8 million in winnings. He also won back-to-back events, taking the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC-Dell Match Play events in March. Day followed up with a huge win at the Players Championship in May. Like Scott, he only played in 19 events this season, but still posted 10 finishes in the top 10.
Casey is an outlier among the five golfers still in contention. He didn’t win at all this year on Tour, and posted only six top-10 efforts in his 21 events. He’s 15th on this season’s money list with almost $3.5 million in earnings. Casey finds himself in contention for the FedExCup because of two straight runners-up finishes in playoff events — the Deutsche Bank Championship over Labor Day Weekend and the BMW Championship.
On the East Lake Golf Club course, once the home loop for the legendary Bobby Jones, it’s hard to envision a surprise winner. Johnson has the inside track for the Player of the Year award. And now that he’s broken through the barriers which hitherto held him back on the big stage, he also has the mental focus required to close the deal.
If Johnson finishes in the top five, chances are good he’ll take the FedExCup. Casey is due for a win, though, and after two straight second-place finishes, this could be his moment, even if it doesn’t result in the overall title. Remember, too, both No. 3 Rory McIlroy and No. 4 Jordan Spieth, the defending champ at East Lake, would love to play spoiler, even though neither can earn the overall title.
In the end, Johnson will play well enough to clinch the FedExCup championship (no matter who wins the tournament). No one will ever question his mental toughness again after he’s named Player of the Year, too. This was just his year, and it’s hard to argue with the numbers and the money.
The East Lake Golf Club course plays 7,374 yards long and is a par 72.
Favorites: Paul Casey, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson
Players to Watch: Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed, Adam Scott
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf and fantasy sports for CBS Local. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach. Follow him on Twitter @sxmcp, because he’s quite prolific despite also being a college English professor and a certified copy editor.