Thomas knows No. 1 seed only a start in postseason

Thomas knows No. 1 seed only a start in postseason


NORTON, Mass. (AP) — No longer No. 1 in the world, Justin Thomas at least is No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings.

Neither is relevant as the PGA Tour goes into its lucrative postseason, and Thomas need only to review history – whether it’s last year or the last decade – to appreciate that.

Nothing illustrates the depth and parity in golf more than the fact that Thomas is the eighth player in the last eight years to start the FedEx Cup playoffs as the No. 1 seed. He was preceded by Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.

Only one of them – Spieth in 2015 – went on to capture the cup and its eight-figure bonus.

Spieth missed the cut in consecutive weeks, finished 11 shots behind in the third event and then – stop if you’ve heard this one before – he made putts from all over East Lake to win the Tour Championship.

It’s even more difficult now because of a restructured finale that features a staggered start. The No. 1 seed going into East Lake is at 10 under with a two-shot lead before hitting a shot, all the way down to the last of the 30 qualifiers at even par.

Thomas was the top seed a year ago and was spotted a two-shot lead. Even though it was his worst scoring performance of the postseason, he wasn’t seriously out of contention until the final day. McIlroy wound up winning the $15 million prize.

Thomas said it felt weird to be leading before he started. He’d still rather be in that spot than having to make up ground, and that means playing well over the next two weeks in The Northern Trust outside Boston and the BMW Championship outside Chicago.

”I felt like if I put myself in that position again, I’ll handle it a lot better,” Thomas said Tuesday.

Then again, nothing about this year feels similar.

Points are worth triple, not quadruple, because the PGA Tour lost 13 events to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means less volatility – only 19 players have a mathematical chance of taking over the No. 1 seed this week at The Northern Trust, compared with 72 players had this event been worth four times as many points.

And then there’s the tricky part of getting the game to peak at just the right time.

Players typically would love for that to happen four times a year in the majors – three times this year with the British Open being canceled – and it has worked for the likes of Billy Horschel in 2014. He remains the only FedEx Cup champion to start the postseason outside the top 50. He was at No. 69 and was runner-up and won twice in a three-week stretch.

”You’re trying to get ready for one week in a major,” Thomas said. ”Whereas here, I’m not trying to peak this week. I’m trying to kind of start the upward climb to hopefully be peaking come … Saturday, Sunday, Monday in Atlanta.”

It all leads to Atlanta, and it’s ultimately about cash.

Prestige requires time, and 13 years of the FedEx Cup isn’t enough. What will help move it along is the influx of youth that don’t know anything different.

Thomas was only 14 when the FedEx Cup began in 2007.

Jon Rahm, who returned to No. 1 in the world, was a 12-year-old in Spain when Woods won the first FedEx Cup.

”I remember the whole thing. I know I remember knowing what they were playing for,” Rahm said. ”Luckily, I’ve been able to make a lot of income for somebody my age. But I’ve never played golf for money. I played it for the enjoyment and the winning and trying to be the best. That’s what the FedEx Cup is – when you play good when you need to, right?”

For players like Koepka, Spieth and British Open champion Shane Lowry, they need to play well immediately. Koepka is at No. 97, Spieth is at No. 100 and No. 122 Lowry, who only qualified for the postseason last week, have to move up to the top 70 to advance to the BMW Championship next week.

Then again, this might not be the worst time to make an early exit. Because the biggest difference to this postseason is that it doesn’t feel like the season is ending at all.

The U.S. Open is two week after the Tour Championship. Still to come is the Masters in November.

The end of the road can feel like the start.

”Usually right after the Tour Championship, at least for me, I’m looking for a release, whether it’s a vacation or just put the clubs in my garage. I need to have some fun. I need to just relax,” Thomas said. ”That’s not the case this year.”

Strange year. But it still pays well.



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