Top-ranked Jon Rahm, season points leader Justin Thomas and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy top the lineup for this week’s US PGA FedEx Cup playoff opener, the Northern Trust tournament.
The top 125 players on the tour’s season points list begin a three-week fight for the crown Thursday at TPC Boston with the top 70 advancing to next week’s BMW Championship, where 30 players qualify for next month’s season-ending Tour Championship.
“The playoffs are always an exciting time of the year,” said third-ranked McIlroy, last year’s Cup winner. “It’s nice to be up there even though I haven’t had the best few weeks from coming back from lockdown. I’m still right in there.”
McIlroy stands eighth in Cup points and is the only player in the field with two wins at TPC Boston, in 2012 and 2016.
“This is usually a time of year where I’ve historically played pretty well and Boston is a place and a course where I’ve got some nice history, so hopefully that can ignite something for me this week,” said McIlroy, who shared sixth in last year’s Northern Trust.
“Trying to get a bit of good form going. I think that’s the most important thing for me right now.”
Rahm, a winner at last month’s PGA Memorial, is more about bragging rights than he is about the huge payday on offer for the Cup winner next month at East Lake in Atlanta.
“It’s a lot more, at least for me,” Rahm said. “I don’t play for the money. 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 winning and trying to be the best.
“That’s what the FedExCup is, when you need to play good and you play good when you need to, right. It’s kind of how I feel.
“I’ve been able to start strong and maybe not finish so good at East Lake and that’s what I’m looking forward this year. Hopefully I can get in contention, not only every week but hopefully Sunday at East Lake.”
– Tiger faces ‘challenge’ –
Reigning Masters champion Tiger Woods, a 15-time major winner, will try for an 83rd career US PGA title to break the all-time record he shares with Sam Snead.
Woods, 44, starts 49th on the points list but says he will play next week at the BMW as he is still chasing a top-30 spot for East Lake. That would mean playing four times in five weeks.
“It’s going to be a challenge. I haven’t done it in a very long time,” Woods told Golf Digest. “It’s part of the playoffs and then we have the US Open at the back end of it, so it’s a long stretch of golf for all of us.”
Thomas leads the FedEx Cup points with 2,458 with PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa second on 1,902.
By leading the points last year heading to East Lake, Thomas began at 10-under par with a two-stroke lead on his nearest rival.
But Thomas only went three-under in four rounds on the course and was overtaken by McIlroy and runner-up Xander Schauffele.
This year, Thomas says he wants the chance to start 10-under once more at East Lake and take better advantage of his edge.
“It’s great coming into the start of the playoffs number one,” Thomas said. “I’m just trying to start the Tour Championship with a two-shot lead because that means that I’ve done what I need to do these first two playoff events, and get myself in the best position.
If I get to that spot once I tee it up on Thursday in Atlanta, I will have a little bit better idea how to handle it because, I mean, it was weird. Nobody in golf can say that they have ever teed up on Thursday with a two-shot lead and leading the entire field.
“I feel like I didn’t handle it as well as I should have or I didn’t go about it the right way and I felt like if I put myself in that position again, I’ll handle it a lot better.”