HomeWorld NewsRory McIlroy’s strong argument for Tour Championship format that Jon Rahm vehemently disagrees with
Rory McIlroy’s strong argument for Tour Championship format that Jon Rahm vehemently disagrees with
August 29, 2023
ATLANTA — The ‘starting strokes’ format at the Tour Championship is a polarizing topic among players, media, and fans. Some like it, while others, such as Jon Rahm, do not.
“I don’t think it’s the best [system] we can come up with,” Rahm said ahead of the Tour Championship.
The format is predicated on a player’s position in the FedEx Cup standings. Since Scottie Scheffler arrived at East Lake ranked first, he began the week at 10-under par. Viktor Hovland, who eventually went on to win, started at 8-under, and so on.
Rory McIlroy, last year’s champion, opened the tournament at 7-under when he began on Thursday.
Three nights later, he argued in favor of this format following his final round.
“A basketball team could go 82-0 and lose in the first round of the playoffs,” McIlroy said when asked about the FedEx Cup Playoffs structure.
In American professional sports, teams need to have a terrific regular season to make the postseason. The teams that do qualify are divided up, with favorable conditions to the teams that performed the best.
The same mantra applies in golf, as the top 70 players in the FedEx Cup standings qualify for the playoffs. Then when you reach the Tour Championship, the player having the best year earns an advantage via the aforementioned ‘starting strokes’ format.
But as McIlroy alluded to, the top team can get knocked out in the first round. Just ask the 2023 Milwaukee Bucks, the top-seed in the Eastern Conference who lost to the Miami Heat in the NBA’s opening round.
“It’s almost like two different competitions, two different events,” McIlroy continued. “You’ve got the regular season, and then you’ve got the playoffs. I think everyone tries to put them together in the same sort of thing, but really, they’re like the regular season, and then this is sort of like a 12-round sprint to the finish.”
Indeed, the top 70 players began the playoffs in Memphis for the FedEx St. Jude Championship. Then the top 50 in Memphis qualified for the BMW Championship in Chicago. From the Windy City, only the top 30 made it to East Lake, with Scheffler holding the top spot.
But look at what happened to Scheffler in Atlanta.
Early in his round on Thursday, the former Texas Longhorn was cruising. Then he arrived at the par-3 15th, where he made a massive blunder. From there, it was all downhill for Scheffler, who finished the tournament 16 strokes behind Hovland.
Rahm, meanwhile, finished first among the PGA Tour’s ‘Comcast Top 10,’ as he had four wins on the season. The Comcast Top 10 is an extra reward for players who finish inside the top 10 after the regular season.
But Rahm struggled at East Lake too, as he carded rounds of 69, 65, 71, and 74 on the par-70 layout.
“I’ve expressed my dislike towards [this format before],” Rahm said.
“The fact that you can come in ranked number one in the FedExCup. You can win every single tournament up until this one. You have a bad week, you finish 30th, and now you’ll forever be known as 30th in the FedExCup this season. I don’t think that’s very fair.”
Of course, McIlroy feels that the playoffs are different and should be treated differently than regular PGA Tour events.
Like the 82 regular season games in the NBA, there were 47 regular season events on the PGA Tour this past season—plenty of time for golfers to make a move into the coveted top 70 for the playoffs.
On top of that, the better the season a player has, the better ranking they will have come playoff time.
“I do like it this way,” McIlroy said ahead of the Tour Championship. “I think it gives the guys that have had the better years an advantage going into the week, which I think they should have.”
Hovland had a terrific season, winning the Memorial, and entered the playoffs ranked 7th. He then won the BMW and Tour Championships, thus claiming the FedEx Cup. The hottest player in the world went on a postseason run to win the PGA Tour’s grand prize.
You see that in seemingly every other sport. If teams get hot at the right time, watch out. The same theory applies to golf, too, hence McIlroy favoring the ‘starting strokes’ format.
Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko for more golf coverage. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough too.