This time of year, it's all about the math, not just the score for a tournament. Right now, Henrik Stenson is leading in the FedEx Cup. But he is just 14 points ahead of Tiger Woods.
At this week's event, the BMW Championship being held outside Chicago, the winner gets 2,500 points, and 70th place is worth five points. If Stenson finishes middle of the pack and Woods does also, it's that 14-point differential that will determine who's on first as they head to the Tour Championship.
Woods and Stenson don't have to finish No. 1 and No. 2 to change places in the rankings. This week, for example, 15th place is worth 280 points and 18th place is worth 265. If Woods finishes 15th and Stenson finishes 18th, Woods is then ahead of Stenson by one. Points awarded at the BMW decline rapidly after fourth place.
If neither Stenson nor Woods wins BMW, they both might be lower in the top 10 by the end of the week, but they might both stay in the top five. It depends on how everyone else plays.
Regardless, they won't drop far, because first place at BMW is worth 2,500 points. Right now, Woods has 4,037 and Stenson has 4,051. No one lower than 19th place can overtake either Woods or Stenson at this juncture. It's the math.
Webb Simpson, in 20th place with 1,531 points, would be at 4,031 if he won BMW. If Woods and Stenson didn't play BMW, they would still be ahead of Simpson if he won BMW.
But that leaves 17 players who could jump over both Woods and Stenson by winning this week.
Right now Woods could overtake Stenson, as could Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and others in the top 10 spots. It just depends on who ends up where on Sunday evening.
Sure, the results are a matter of simple addition plus restacking the pecking order, but the permutations of who could move into what slot at the end of the week based on how the entire field performs are enough to drive most of us crazy. Nothing short of a high-quality computer could make all of the 70-player, second-by-second changes after each hole. And by the time one explanation of who is moving up in points is completed, the facts on the ground have changed.
The math that is really important is finishing in the top 30, and of more significance, the top five. Only the first 30 players in points after the BMW advance to the Tour Championship. So priority No. 1 is to get there.
However, a guy can go from 70th to the top 10 in points with a victory this week while a player in the top five before the BMW could probably skip the tournament and still make it to Atlanta. They won't skip, though, because of the top-five factor.
Those who are in the top five at the end of this week will automatically win the $10 million FedEx Cup if they win the Tour Championship. That's what Brandt Snedeker did last year. Everybody wants to be in those first five slots. They become the best bets for the $10 million.
If Woods and Stenson stay in the top five, they have the best chance to do what Snedeker did: win the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup. If the top five falter in Atlanta, it's anybody's trophy to grab.
Bill Haas was in 25th place at the start of the Tour Championship in 2011. He got the $10 million by winning in a playoff with Hunter Mahan. It was so close in the points determination that Luke Donald just missed out on the $10 million that year by an eyelash. After Donald's final round, the PGA Tour staff was on the phone with him as Haas was finishing, calculating and recalculating Donald's status after every stroke was made. It wasn't until the last putt dropped that they knew Donald would not win it, Haas would.
So get out your calculator, find the list of FedEx Cup points and let the addition begin. The points list is very hard to find (I had to call the PGA Tour to ask because I got frustrated after poking around on their website for 10 minutes with no success), but you can find it here.
Kathy Bissell is a golf writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.
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