LONG ISLAND, New York – The season-ending PGA Tour Championship scheduled to begin Thursday August 24 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta has a field that includes the top 30 players who qualified in the FedEx Cup point standings. But in fact, no more than the top 10 have a realistic chance of winning thanks to the controversial handicap scoring system that is designed to tilt the odds heavily toward the top players. It’s a format the PGA Tour only uses in the event that decides the season-long champion.
Before the first tee shot is hit, points leader Scottie Scheffler starts with -10 score. Second-place Viktor Hovland starts at -8, third-place Rory McIlroy begins at -7, fourth-place Jon Rahm is at -6, and fifth-place Lucas Glover goes off at -5. The remaining 25 players go off in groups of five at -4, -3, -2, -1 and even par. The group of five that starts at -4 includes Max Homa, Patrick Cantlay, Brian Harman, Wyndham Clark and Matt Fitzpatrick. There odds of catching the top five aren’t good, and it would take a miracle for anyone to come out of the bottom 20 to win.
Given the format and Scheffler’s unbelievable level of consistency this season, he is my unsurprising choice to be in the winner’s circle on Sunday. He also has special incentive to make up for the Tour Championship title Scheffler fumbled away in 2022 when he took a six-stroke lead into the final round only to shoot a 3-over par 73 and get overtaken by McIlroy, who won a record third Tour Championship.
But Scheffler has been the steadiest golfer on the planet this season. Although Rahm leads with four victories, Scheffler had two wins and totaled 15 top-10 finishes, which is four more than the next best. At one point, he finished 12th or better in 18 straight events. Scheffler’s dominance is reflected in the Tour statistics. He leads in four categories, including stroke average, total shots gained, shots gained approaching the green and greens in regulation. He’s also third in average number of birdies per round behind Rahm and Cantlay.
Of the next four behind Scheffler in the stacked-deck standings, Hovland and Glover come in on hot streaks. Hovland overtook McIlroy in the BMW Championship with a course-record final-round 61 at Olympia Fields outside of Chicago. Glover won back-to-back tournaments at the Wyndham Championship and then the Fed Ex St. Jude Classic that opened the playoffs in Memphis.
But given their class, Rahm and McIlroy probably rank as the best golfers with a chance to overtake Scheffler. McIlroy leads the Tour in driving distance, and his ball-striking was superb at Olympia Fields, where he posted a -12 score and closed with a 66. But his putting was an issue as he missed one relatively good birdie chance after another. Rahm has struggled a bit since his last win at The Masters, but he was T10 at the U.S. Open and T2 at The Open Championship, proving that he shows up on the biggest stages.
As for the players ranked sixth through 10th and start off at -4, Harman has been playing well with five finishes of T-12 or better in his past six events, including his Open Championship win at Royal Hoylake. The left-hander might be worth a flyer, but the stacked deck at that start makes Scheffler the obvious top pick.