Simplicity the key with changes to FedExCup Playoffs finale

The next generation of the FedExCup Playoffs includes significant changes in 2019, but nothing is more important than this particular concept:

The season-ending TOUR Championship will be easier to follow.

Starting with next year’s event at East Lake, there will be only one leaderboard. No separate FedExCup points standings. No projections that fluctuate with each holed putt. No analytics to determine who might or might not have an advantage.

And on that Sunday afternoon, there will be one champion crowned. One winner standing on the 18th green, holding up one trophy – the FedExCup. Nothing will be shared. Everything will be definitive.

Winner takes it all.

“Win the TOUR Championship and you are the FedExCup champion. It’s that simple,” PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan said Tuesday when announcing the changes.

Credit a new scoring system called FedExCup Starting Strokes that was unveiled Tuesday and will be implemented at the 2019 TOUR Championship. A strokes-based bonus system related to the FedExCup standings, players will start the opening round with scores between 10 under to even par.

It will replace the system currently in use this week (and since 2009) in which FedExCup points are reset going into East Lake. Instead of two separate leaderboards – one for the tournament, the other for the FedExCup race – the 2019 TOUR Championship will have one leaderboard for a single, decisive winner.

The main benefits? Fans will immediately understand what’s going on, no matter if they’ve followed the TOUR all season or just tuning in for the final event. Meanwhile, players will know exactly where they stand at all times.

This change also eliminates the possibility that the TOUR Championship winner might not emerge as the FedExCup winner, which has happened three times in the first 11 years of the FedExCup Playoffs. Beginning in 2019, if any of the 30 players at East Lake wins the TOUR Championship, he is also guaranteed to win the FedExCup.

“I support it,” said Dustin Johnson, the FedExCup runner-up in 2016 who enters this week’s TOUR Championship ranked No. 4. “I think it definitely would make things a lot clearer. … It would definitely be a lot more fun to watch on the telecast.”

The Starting Strokes format was one of three key announcements made Tuesday during a news conference at East Lake with Monahan and Andy Pazder, Executive Vice President and Chief Tournament and Competitions Officer. Also announced:

• A doubling of the total FedExCup bonus pool money from the current $35 million to $70 million starting next season. The FedExCup winner’s share will have the largest increase, from $10 million to $15 million.

• Among that $70 million will be a $10 million regular season bonus pool, sponsored by Wyndham, tied to the final regular-season FedExCup standings. The new Wyndham Rewards Top 10 $10 million bonus will recognize the top 10 players who earn the most FedExCup points through the Wyndham Championship, the final event of the regular season. The leader will earn $2 million, followed by $1.5 million for the runner-up with the 10th-place finisher earning $500,000.

The bonus program will provide additional drama to the regular season finale and also place a greater premium on full-season performance, thus elevating the significance of each tournament on the schedule.

Add in previously announced changes to the PGA TOUR schedule – most notably the move of THE PLAYERS Championship to March, the PGA Championship to May, the reduction of FedExCup Playoffs events from four to three, and the earlier finish prior to Labor Day — and next season promises to be the most rewarding and intriguing that players and fans have experienced.

“It’s going to be different. It’s going to be interesting,” said reigning FedExCup champion Justin Thomas, currently No. 5 in the standings.

“We have no doubt it will create a compelling, dramatic conclusion for the TOUR’s ultimate prize,” Monahan said. “… We think this is a significant step forward for the PGA TOUR.”

It’s a “seismic shift,” said the Commissioner, adding that the TOUR first started the process in early 2015 after identifying ways to improve the FedExCup competition.

The changes were the end result after extensive research and feedback was received from the PGA TOUR members, media partners and the TOUR’s 5,000-member fan council — an “important sounding board,” Monahan said. Two things kept popping up – the need for a singular focus for the season-ending event, and an easy-to-understand scoring system.

The 16-member Player Advisory Council and four player-directors were then instrumental in helping the TOUR officials shape the end result, with a format that was collectively agreed on.

“We wanted to … address a concern that we’ve had for a number of years now, which is allowing our fans to engage at a much higher, much deeper level — and that has to start with them being able to follow the competition more closely than they have previously,” Pazder said.

“We’re all accustomed to following a leaderboard week in, week out in our sport. It’s as simple as it can get. Yet at the same time, we wanted to retain much of what we’e built over the previous 11 or 12 years, which is a system that identifies a player who’s had a great year. He’s our season-long champion. So we wanted it to be something that our players embraced and fully supported.”

Here’s how the points system will work in next season’s FedExCup Playoffs:

The top 125 players in points after the Wyndham Championship will qualify for the Playoffs — that hasn’t changed (don’t forget, though, that the top 10 will earn The Wyndham Rewards Top 10 bonus).

Since there is one less Playoffs event, the progressive cut will be adjusted. Only the top 70 after THE NORTHERN TRUST will advance to the second Playoffs event, which will now be the BMW Championship. (The first two Playoffs events will continue to award quadruple points.) Then the top 30 after the BMW will make the TOUR Championship.

That’s when the FedExCup Starting Strokes kicks in – and the points go away.

The No. 1 player in the FedExCup standings will receive a 10-stroke head start going into East Lake. In other words, he will tee off for the first round at 10 under.

The No. 2 player will start at 8 under. The No. 3 player starts at 7 under; the No. 4 player starts at 6 under; the No. 5 player starts at 5 under. Players ranked 6-10 start at 4 under; players 11-15 start at 3 under; players 16-20 start at 2 under; players 21-25 start at 1 under; and players 26-30 start at even par.

“This is a unique format,” Pazder said, “and we’re very excited about it. We know our fans are going to love it based on some early feedback we’re hearing, and our players are embracing it.”

If the format had been in place this week, Bryson DeChambeau would start at 10 under; Justin Rose at 8 under and so on to No. 30, Patton Kizzire, who would start at even par.

Once the TOUR Championship begins, then a player’s score will reflect both the tournament and the FedExCup standings. That should be easier for fans – and players – to follow.

“Incredibly beneficial for our players from our competitive standpoint,” Pazder said.

While the format itself is radically different and easier to track, the ultimate outcome compared to the previous system may not be drastically impacted.

If the new scoring system had been in place since the last significant adjustments in the current FedExCup system in 2009, just one champion definitely would’ve been different – Luke Donald would have won the 2011 FedExCup instead of Bill Haas. The year before, Donald would have been in a playoff with Jim Furyk (who in reality won the 2010 FedExCup title in regulation).

The PGA TOUR has been happy with its FedExCup winners in the first 11 years and did not want to compromise the drama that unfolds at East Lake. The goal was not to change the system but simply to make that drama easier to follow at the TOUR Championship.

“You ask yourself, why those stroke values?” Pazder said. “Our objective was to assign strokes values that as closely as possible approximate the win probabilities that our current system provides, and that was something that was very, very important to us.

“We feel like we do crown deserving champions. We do have a system that creates drama — and we want to continue with that.”

In order to get close to matching those win probabilities, the TOUR worked with a leading educational institution to run a total of one million simulations.

Based on the results, DeChambeau has a 28.8 percent chance of winning the FedExCup title this week in the current system. Next season, the No. 1 player will have a 27.1 percent chance of winning in the new format. The odds of one of the top five players winning this week is 59.3 percent; next year, that percentage will increase slightly to 63.9 percent.

On the flip side, the odds of one of the bottom 15 players in the standings winning this week is 15.5 percent; next year, those odds drop to 11 percent.

“Happy to say that our math checked out,” said Pazder, who added that the strokes-based system offers the chance for increased volatility during the four rounds at East Lake.

“A greater opportunity for players to move both up in the FedExCup standings but also to move down in the FedExCup standings if they were to have an off-week,” he said. “That’s an important point here.”

A year ago, Thomas won the FedExCup title without having to win the TOUR Championship (which was won by rookie Xander Schauffele). Certainly, Thomas didn’t mind how the results panned out in 2017, and under the new system, he still would’ve won the title.

No doubt there will be an adjustment period as players get comfortable with all the changes. As Thomas — a member of the PAC who has known about the changes for a while — said Tuesday, “We’re just going to have to become comfortable with it, because that’s the way it is.”

But their basic perspective remains the same.

“At the end of the day,” Thomas said, “you still have to play great golf to win a FedExCup.”