The Tour Championship will have many different wrinkles when it returns to Atlanta’s historic East Lake Golf Course this week.
The biggest — and to many the most disappointing — is the fact that defending champion Tiger Woods did not qualify for the season-ending event. Woods set off a raucous and emotional celebration when he ended a five-year winless drought at the Tour Championship last year, but was not among the top 30 on the FedEx Cup points list. So, the reigning Masters champion will not be among the 30 elite players who will tee it up this week at the childhood course of Bobby Jones.
“It’s disappointing,” Woods said. “I wish I could have. Last year culminated in a pretty special moment for me and would have been nice to go back there, but I’ll be watching the guys on TV.”
He will be watching the 30 qualifiers compete earlier than ever before and under a new set of rules that will ensure the tournament winner also wins the FedEx Cup.
The PGA Tour made numerous maneuvers — moving the Players Championship to March and inducing the PGA of America to play their championship in May — to get the Tour Championship on the schedule ahead of football. After years of going head-to-head with the NFL and college football, the Tour opted to play its season final earlier, despite the potential for a very hot week.
The format will be different, too. There are still 30 players in the field and there remains no cut. But instead of trying to decipher a points system to determine the FedEx Cup winner and potentially have different guys win the tournament and the Cup — as happened last year when Woods won the tournament and Justin Rose won the FedEx Cup — there will be a unified winner.
The solution was to essentially seed the TOUR Championship according to the FedEx Cup standings and give the participants a headstart, depending on where they stand. For example, No. 1 seed Justin Thomas will start the week at East Lake with a 10-under score. He begins the tournament with a two-shot lead.
“I can certainly say a thousand percent that I never slept on a Wednesday lead,” Thomas joked after winning last week’s BMW Championship, which vaulted him to the top of the FedEx standings. “I’m definitely excited for that and I’m just going to try to win the golf tournament as if everybody starts at zero.”
Patrick Cantlay is No. 2 and will start the tournament at 8 under, followed by No. 3 Brooks Koepka (minus-7), No. 4 Patrick Reed (minus-6) and No. 5 Rory McIlroy (minus-5).
“I don’t know what to expect,” said Cantlay, who won the Memorial and was second at the BMW Championship. “I’m just going to go out and have a good game plan and stick to that and let the chips fall where they do.”
Other major champions in the field include Webb Simpson, reigning U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Lucas Glover and Dustin Johnson, who qualified for the 11th straight year.
Georgia Tech product Matt Kuchar begins the week as the No. 7 seed — and starts six shots behind Thomas — and Georgia grad Kevin Kisner is the No. 20 seed.
Woods isn’t the only big name that won’t be participating. Jordan Spieth, who won the FedEx Cup in 2015, missed for the second consecutive year.