The four-tournament FedEx Cup playoffs come to a close this week at the Tour Championship, and what a star-studded soiree it promises to be at storied East Lake Golf Club.
There are two titles on the line when the world’s top players tee it up on Thursday.
First, there’s the prestigious tournament itself, which will award the winner more than a $1.4 million in earnings and the final trophy of the 2013 season.
Second, and more importantly, there’s the battle for the FedEx Cup title itself, which can still be won by a host of significant players, including BMW Championship winner Zach Johnson, who rallied on Monday to win his first tournament of the year.
Albeit unlikely, there could be two champions crowned in Atlanta this weekend as only the top five players in the standings—Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Johnson and Matt Kuchar—would be guaranteed the $10 million FedEx Cup bounty with a season-ending victory.
Should someone outside that grouping win, it then becomes a matter of mathematics as to who will claim the seventh playoffs title in the brief history of the season-ending race for the serious cash. Those at the top of the standings have the advantage, but don't sleep on the players a little further down the list.
Bottom line, with two titles on the line and the game’s finest chasing them, things will get interesting and likely very complicated this weekend.
Read on to discover when to watch, who to follow, the challenges the top players face at East Lake and who is destined for the Tour Championship victory and ultimately the bigger prize of a FedEx crown next weekend in Atlanta.
The legendary Bobby Jones is most notably linked to Augusta National and the Masters, but there’s no denying the mark the mighty amateur left on East Lake Golf Club.
Located in the shadow of downtown Atlanta, East Lake was Jones’ home course, and even after nearly 110 years of existence, it stands as a shrine to one of the sport’s greatest gentlemen.
The layout was originally constructed in 1904 by Tom Bendelow but owes the majority of its majesty to the great Donald Ross, who reworked it nine years later.
The classic course is unique given its par-three finishing hole, which could be the stage for some serious drama as the top players in the FedEx Cup vie not only for a Tour Championship title but also a playoffs triumph on Sunday.
Measuring just over 7,100 yards, the key to success at East Lake isn't power but rather accuracy and a deft short game around the course’s challenging and mounded green complexes.
It’s all come down to this.
There are two titles up for grabs at East Lake this week as the best golfers in the world vie for both the Tour Championship and a $10 million playoffs title.
The FedEx Cup standings are as close as they've ever been heading to Atlanta, and the drama that is sure to play out over 72 holes this weekend is absolutely must-see TV.
It’s a good thing then that The Golf Channel and NBC have at least 22 hours of live coverage lined up for the PGA Tour’s season-ending event. Clear the deck best you can, because this finish to the 2013 season is going to be one worth watching.
Below is the television schedule for the 2013 Tour Championship.
Thursday and Friday
1 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET—The Golf Channel
10 a.m. to noon ET—The Golf Channel
Noon to 3:30 p.m. ET—NBC
Noon to 1 p.m. ET—The Golf Channel
1 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET—NBC
Once again players are paired together in the first round of the Tour Championship based on FedEx Cup standings.
That means there are some power twosomes late in the afternoon on Thursday and some interesting groupings earlier in the day worthy of keeping an eye on.
Here’s a look at the most captivating pairings at East Lake on Thursday.
11:40 a.m. ET: Luke Donald and Dustin Johnson—Neither player will be winning the FedEx Cup, but they are both threats to challenge for a Tour Championship crown from way back in the pack.
12:50 p.m. ET: Hunter Mahan and Keegan Bradley—Two of the top American players are hoping for a strong showing and some good fortune that could deliver an unexpected FedEx title on Sunday.
1 p.m. ET: Jordan Spieth and Jason Day—Two of the game’s best young players. Get used to seeing these two compete for significant titles in the very near future.
1:40 p.m. ET: Kuchar and Steve Stricker—Emotions will run low in this pairing between two of the most talented yet easy-going PGA Tour stars.
1:50 p.m. ET: Scott and Johnson—Two of the three winners in the FedEx Cup this year; it’s a strong possibility that a playoffs champion could come from this pairing.
2 p.m. ET: Woods and Stenson—Tiger is seeking his third FedEx Cup title. Stenson is looking to build on his Deutsche Bank triumph. Both will be around late on Sunday at East Lake.
There’s no bigger story at East Lake than the FedEx Cup title and the multitude of scenarios that can play out at the conclusion of the Tour Championship on Sunday.
Yes, winning the tournament itself is the goal of all 30 golfers who made it to the fourth and final tournament of the 2013 playoffs. The ultimate prize, however, is the FedEx crown and the $10 million that comes along with it.
Tiger has the inside track to his third career playoffs title, but four other golfers—Scott, Johnson, Kuchar and Stenson—can ruin his party with a victory of their own.
Likewise, there are a host of accomplished players sitting outside the top five who can still enjoy a playoffs double dip by winning at East Lake and stealing the playoffs in the process.
Top among those is Stricker, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker, who won both the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup last year.
A victory by any of those players will likely come along with a FedEx crown unless Woods can finish among the top two or three in the process.
In each of the past three years, the winner of the Tour Championship also claimed the FedEx Cup. Whether or not that happens again will be decided in large part by the top five heading to Atlanta.
Should they falter, however, there are plenty of talented golfers among their closest followers more than prepared to steal the title out from under them.
After grinding their way through a long PGA Tour season and three FedEx Cup events, five golfers own their own destiny regardless of what anyone else does at East Lake this week.
And what an impressive five it is.
Despite finishing in a distant tie for 11th at the BMW Championship, Tiger regained the top overall spot in the standings and is truly in the catbird seat heading to Atlanta.
If Woods finishes near the top at the Tour Championship he is all but guaranteed the title unless the tournament is won by someone else in the top five of the FedEx standings.
Despite skipping the first playoffs event to be the best man at his brother’s wedding, Johnson is poised to add a FedEx Cup title to his 2007 Masters triumph. The talented American is playing some of the best golf of his life and is a significant threat this week to be sure.
The same can be said about Scott, who sits in third place on the strength of his come-from-behind victory at The Barclays several weeks ago. The Aussie hasn't been in good form since that triumph, but few have been better when the stakes are at their highest, as will be the case at East Lake this weekend.
Joining that talented trio in control of their destiny is Deutsche Bank champion Stenson and Kuchar, who has held firm in the top five based in large part to his solid 2013 campaign just as Tiger has.
Those five golfers stand the best chance to claim the ultimate FedEx prize this weekend, but they still have work to do to ensure someone from the back side doesn't steal the title out from under them.
The top five players in the FedEx Cup standings have the inside track on a huge payday this weekend.
The chase for the playoffs title, however, doesn't end with those golfers.
In the past three years, the winner of the Tour Championship has claimed the FedEx Cup title, including Bill Haas, who captured the 2011 playoffs from the 25th spot in the standings.
We don’t see a player coming from that far back in the Tour Championship this year, but there are several talented golfers to keep an eye on as play gets underway at East Lake on Thursday.
Despite only playing in two of the three playoff events, Stricker is perhaps the most dangerous threat from outside the guarantee positions to steal the title out from under those players.
The American finished second at the Deutsche Bank two weeks ago and was in contention throughout at Conway Farms this past weekend before settling for a fourth-place tie.
Snedeker is the defending champion and also won the playoffs title last year with his victory at East Lake. Expect the former Vanderbilt star to have a significant say in things this time around.
A strong performance from Furyk is likely forthcoming, and keep an eye on PGA Tour rookie Jordan Spieth, who faded at the BMW Championship but has the game to win at East Lake without a doubt.
Reigning U.S. Open champion Justin Rose finished second to Snedeker last year and can certainly be a threat this week as well.
When Tiger has most needed his health and game to be in top form this year, they've let him down.
That ends at East Lake this weekend as the world’s top player gets a much-needed springboard to a critical 2014 season with a victory at the season-ending Tour Championship.
Because of injury or poor performance, Woods has only played at East Lake three times since the FedEx Cup began in 2007. In those starts, however, the 14-time major winner has three top-10 finishes, including a victory in the playoffs' inaugural season.
Last year, Woods posted a tie for eighth and was in the mix for a third FedEx Cup title at the start of the final round on Sunday. In 2009, he finished runner-up to Mickelson but still won his second playoffs crown.
Given that measure of success, it’s hard to bet against Tiger despite the fact that his game has been uneven at best the past couple of starts.
Tiger failed to win a major championship this year, and there is no measure of solace that will make that disappointment disappear.
That said, a sixth PGA Tour victory and a third FedEx crown will make the fall break feel a whole lot better for the world No. 1, who will look to end a five-year major championship drought early next year.
The eight-figure payday that comes with those two triumphs won’t hurt either.