Everything You Need to Know About How the FedEx Cup Works

Richard LeivenbergContributor IIIAugust 22, 2013

With a $10 million grand prize at stake and multiple millions in event purses, the FedEx Cup could easily be called the pay-offs rather than the playoffs.

As the 2013 FedEx Cup begins its four-event series at The Barclays, we'll take a look at how the 125 participating golfers got there. 

Although not as unwieldy as the World Golf Rankings, the seventh running of pro golf’s player- and dollar-rich playoffs requires knowledge of its progressive system of scoring, standings and purse structure.

Pro golf’s FedEx Cup is a NASCAR-like playoff involving an intricate system of point-accrual and customized point resets to guarantee parity as well as series-long suspense.

Heading into the opening round of The Barclays, Tiger Woods leads, but as history has shown, anything can happen as the playoffs unfold. Last year, Rory McIlroy led the field by 3,000 points, yet Brandt Snedeker snuck in to win the overall TOUR Championship, the Cup and its massive $10 million prize.

Additionally, the 125 players who make the first cut automatically retain their PGA tour card for the following season. How a player does in the FedEx Cup events can also determine whether he plays in the President’s Cup, which occurs in October.

So, get out your program, a calculator and maybe even a crystal ball as we look at how the FedEx Cup champ is determined over the course of four events in the next five weeks.


Year-Long Process

The FedEx Cup is the trophy given to the player who accrues the most points in a progressive set of post-season playoffs. But the race for the Cup actually begins in January.

Each event in the “regular” season of this year, from the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii to the Wyndham Championships in North Carolina, offered players a chance to earn points in the FedEx Cup standings.  

The number of points for winning a tournament ranges from 250 to 600, depending upon the quality of the field in the event, with the majority of the events worth 500 and majors worth 600.

Fewer points are also awarded to each player based on how they finish in the tournament. Points are only awarded to active, full-time PGA Tour members, although those who join the Tour midseason can gain points after becoming an official member.

The goal is to be among the top 125 players in points at the end of the season in order to enter the playoffs.


The Playoffs

The playoffs consist of four events played over five weeks. The first three events are worth 2,500 points each.  After each event, the field is reduced based on how many points a player has at the end of the event.

The Barclays (Aug. 22–25), played at Liberty National GC, Jersey City, N.J., has a purse of $8,000,000 and is reserved for those 125 top players.

The top 100 in points then go to the Deutsche Bank Championship (Aug. 30–Sept. 2), played at TPC Boston, Norton, Mass., with a purse of $8,000,000.

Then, the top 70 players move on to the BMW Championship (Sept. 12–15), played at Conway Farms GC, Lake Forest, Ill., and vie for a purse of $8,000,000.


Resetting Points

This is where it gets a bit tricky.

After the BMW, only the top 30 players move on to the final TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola event (Sept. 19–22) at East Lake GC, Atlanta, Ga., which also has a purse of $8,000,000.

Before the final event begins, all points are wiped out and “reset.”

So, the No. 1 player in the standings begins the TOUR Championship with 2,500 points, the No. 2 player has 2,250 points and so on, down to the No. 30 player, who is given 210 points.  

Equality is the goal. By resetting points prior to the final event, the FedEx Cup administrators seek to ensure that any of the 30 players have a chance to win the Cup. The top players still have the most points going into the event; in fact, they retain the best chance to win the Cup if they actually win the TOUR Championship.

The resetting of points resulted from what you could call the “Singh Rule.” In 2008, prior to the installment of a points reset, Vijay Singh won two of the first three events, mathematically eliminating the rest of the field from winning before going to East Lake, making the last event moot. All he had to do was show up, and he had won.

The last thing the FedEx Cup folks want is a lame duck event, so they instituted the reset idea.


The Purse

The resetting of points created a sort of sub-level of the playoffs, turning the TOUR Championship into a true final event.

There has been conversation about how much the FedEx Cup is worth over a major. But no one can deny the huge amount of money that is involved. Win the FedEx Cup, and you are a very rich man.

The prize for being the FedEx Champ is a cool $10 million, which is part of a $35 million bonus fund. The runner-up gets $3 million, third place $2 million, fourth place $1.5 million, fifth place $1 million and so on. In each event, the winner can take home $1.44 million.

Lots of millions are available to the guy lucky and skillful enough to grab it. The FedEx Cup winner also gets a five-year Tour exemption.


How Tiger Could Lose

Going into The Barclays, Tiger is not only the No. 1 player in the world, but the odds on favorite to win at 3:1.

Tiger has won five events this year and is the Tour’s statistical leader in scoring average and in the top five in a bunch of other categories. He’s even won the Cup twice, in 2007 and 2009.

But this is the playoffs, and anything can happen. Just take last year when Snedeker, who entered The Barclays ranked 19th, swooped in to capture the Cup ahead of McIlroy by winning the final event, or in 2009, when Phil Mickelson won the TOUR Championship but Tiger won the Cup.

This year looks to be just as indeterminable. Several players are playing so well that it would be difficult to predict a winner. Moreover, with the oddball, anyone-can-win point system, it will most definitely go down to the wire.

That is what the FedEx Cup sponsors want, what the PGA wants, what television wants, what the fans want and, most likely, what the players want.

Everybody wins.