The Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta features an elite field of only 30 players, marking the end of the FedEx Cup playoffs and the conclusion of the 2013 PGA Tour season.
With a $10 million bonus on the line for the man who emerges with pro golf's premier postseason title, it's hard to imagine the stakes being any higher save for the prestige of a major championship.
Those in the top five of the point standings will be guaranteed the FedEx Cup title if one of them wins this event. If none of them do, the trophy is up for grabs for those outside that coveted quintet.
In descending order, the top five consists of Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar. Defending champion Brandt Snedeker is hanging tough in 10th place, while a plethora of other talented players aren't far behind.
The diminished size of the field makes for some compelling matchups between some of the game's biggest stars. Pairs of two are locked in for every round, as opposed to the threesomes that regularly open the first 36 holes of play during the season.
To prepare for the action down the stretch of this thrilling tournament, here is a preview of what pairings to watch for in the first round, tee times and where to catch the action on TV.
When: Thursday, Sept. 19, to Sunday, Sept. 22
Where: East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga.
Tee Times: First group is off at 11:40 a.m. ET. For a complete list of tee times for all rounds, visit PGATour.com.
Purse: $8 million
FedEx Cup Points: 2,500
TV Schedule (h/t PGA.com)
Thursday: Golf Channel 1-6 p.m. EDT
Friday: Golf Channel 1-6 p.m. EDT
Saturday: Golf Channel 10 a.m.-12 p.m. EDT, NBC 12-3:30 p.m. EDT
Sunday: Golf Channel 12-1 p.m. EDT, NBC 1-6 p.m. EDT
Pairings to Watch
No. 9: Jordan Spieth and Jason Day
This pairing showcases some of the game's best young talent, and unlike fellow high-profile prodigies such as Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, both Spieth and Day were able to maintain enough consistency to make it to this pivotal juncture in the season.
Spieth has impressively earned his way to East Lake by first breaking through at the John Deere Classic with a victory, which qualified him for the playoffs in the first place.
Meanwhile, significant contention at three of the year's four majors boosted Day, along with a tie for fourth last week at the BMW Championship.
The problem for Day has been finishing tournaments. Despite his three runners-up finishes in majors at the age of just 25, that hasn't translated to victories. He only owns one PGA Tour win—the same number as the 20-year-old Spieth.
A win at this tournament for either player would be huge. For Spieth, it would confirm his status as the next superstar in American golf, upstaging Fowler. As for Day, a win would boost his viability and possibly help him take the next step to among the elites in the game.
Day's team at Taylor Made is certainly confident, as is golf analyst Luke Elvy, who points out that the Australian nearly won this event two years ago:
These two need some help, but the developments necessary for either of them to take home both trophies aren't inconceivable.
No. 11: Justin Rose and Brandt Snedeker
It's kind of a no-brainer to keep an eye on the reigning U.S. Open champion and one of the best ball-strikers in the world along with the first man ever to get a shot at guarding his FedEx Cup trophy at East Lake.
Rose was arguably the best player who hadn't won a major before his breakthrough earlier in 2013, and now that burden pretty much falls on his playing competitor.
A magnificent round of 63 gave Snedeker the opening-round lead at the BMW Championship, but he faded on the weekend to finish tied for eighth. Meanwhile, his counterpart has seen a regression since tying for second at The Barclays, as Rose wound up tied for 33rd last week.
The ball-striking prowess of Rose is always fun to witness as he has one of the most mechanically sound swings as any other player on tour, while Snedeker is capable of putting better than anyone on the planet when he's on.
Even without any majors to his name, a win here by Snedeker and another FedEx Cup crown would silence any doubters and arguably be just as impressive, if not more so.
No. 15: Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson
Since going on a tear and finally getting his first win of the season at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Stenson has cooled off a little bit. His brilliant play, though, vaulted him all the way to No. 6 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Woods leads the tour with five wins in 2013, but hasn't taken home a trophy since early August at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
The world No. 1 won the inaugural FedEx Cup in 2007 and the Tour Championship that year as well. His other finishes at East Lake include a joint eighth effort last season and three runner-up showings.
At venues where he's had winning or at least consistent success before, it's been almost a guarantee that Woods has been a contender this year. In Atlanta, he's had both.
Stenson should be able to shake off the letdown of a tie for 33rd last week and be determined to back up his rapid ascent with a triumph and a FedEx Cup trophy to his name.
Tour Championship winner and FedEx Cup champion: Steve Stricker
A lighter 2013 schedule that included a voluntary absence from The Open Championship has paid dividends for Stricker. From tee to green, few have been more accurate, as Stricker is third in driving accuracy and second in greens-in-regulation percentage.
In his past six starts, he hasn't finished worse than 13th. All of those events were big tournaments, proving the notion that Stricker can bring his A-Game—or at least something very close to it—to any marquee event.
The reason Stricker is nicknamed "Mr. September" is because of his past success in the FedEx Cup.
Stricker withdrew from the 2011 BMW Championship and didn't participate in The Barclays this time around, but he's otherwise competed in every FedEx Cup event since the postseason's inception.
All that's missing from those impressive years of FedEx Cup play is the final prize, which Stricker will try to capture with a win at East Lake, where he finished a solo second in 2012.
Woods needs to finish tied for second or worse since Stricker is sixth in the FedEx Cup standings. So while winning won't guarantee the FedEx Cup, it's a pretty close bet for Stricker, who is due for his first victory since last year's season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
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