Tournament: The Tour Championship, August 25-29, 2022
Course: East Lake Golf Club, par 70, 7,346 yards, a hair east of Downtown Atlanta.
Purse: over $59 million in bonus money, paid out to all 30 players. Last place, who is now Will Zalatoris thanks to his withdrawal Tuesday, will get $500,000. 20th place gets $640k. 10th place gets a cool million. (I think you can see how the money really rises). 5th place is $3 million. 4th = $4 million; 3rd = $5 million, and 2nd place is $6.5 million. But if you think $1.5 million is pretty stark between 2nd and 3rd place, hold my beer. First place is $18 million. Yes, a single friendly hop out of the long stuff, or a lucky roll onto the green, or even a vicious lip-out could be worth eleven and a half million dollars.
Defending Champ: Patrick Cantlay. The Bruin came into Atlanta having just won the BMW Championship the week before and held off everyone else thanks to his starting score. Yes, he shot the 4th best score over 72 holes but won the $15 million first prize check. More on this down below.
Fun Fact: The “Starting Strokes” format (probably trademarked) handicaps the field based on how players racked up points through last week’s 2nd playoff tourney. As such, those at the top start under par, those at the bottom start at par. So the 30th ranked player mathematically has a chance to win the whole shebang; he just has to beat the 72 hole score of every player, and has to beat the 1st ranked player by 11 shots (starting 10 shots behind on the first day). Here’s the breakdown:
No. 1 in the point standings, Scottie Scheffler, starts at 10 under par.
No. 2, Patrick Cantlay, begins at 8 under.
No. 3 is at 7 under par, Will Zalatoris in this case.
No. 4 is Xander Schauffele, and he tees off at 6 under.
No. 5 begins at 5 under, and that is Sam Burns.
Then Nos. 6-10 tee off at 4 under, which includes UGA’s own Sepp Straka.
Nos. 11-15 are at 3 under, Nos. 16-20 are at 2 under par, Nos. 21-25 begin at 1 under par (former ‘Dawg Brian Harman is in this position), and the last 5 in (26-30) start the tournament at level par.
TV Times: Thursday-Friday, 1 p.m.-6 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday, 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m. (Golf Channel), 2:30 p.m.-7 p.m. (NBC). Sunday, 12 p.m.-1:30 p.m. (Golf Channel), 1:30 p.m.-6 p.m. (NBC)
‘Dawgs in the Field: 2. Sepp Straka (#9) and Brian Harman (#25).
Sepp Straka is making the most of this season, having carded his first Tour win (Honda Classic) and a 2nd place finish (FedEx St. Jude), and 2 other top 10 finishes. He has earned over $4.7 million so far. Not too shabby for a guy having a bad summer... from the US Open until the playoffs, he missed 6 consecutive cuts. But he got hot again in Memphis and a T28 last week cemented his top 10 seeding.
Brian Harman returns to East Lake and the Tour Championship for the first time since 2017. The little lefty had a very consistent season, making the cut in 20 of 26 opportunities. Six of those twenty ended up as top 10 finishes, and two of those were in 3rd place. $3.2 million in prize money, with a shot at a couple million more, isn’t too bad a way to spend time between UGA football seasons.
Is this a contrived scoring system? Yes. Does it feel forced? Correct. Is it artificial and awkward? You betcha. But it does work. At least if your goal is to make a competitive tournament, giving everyone in the field a mathematical chance at winning the #1 bonus, yet also rewarding those who a) played well all season and b) played well in the post-season when the pressure was ratcheted up. There is no easy answer, and this format will be very straightforward once everyone completes round 1. At that time, the scores will be clear and every player will know what they have to do. Sure, you can go back and try to figure out their gross scores and wring your hands over that. But a large facet of golf worldwide is a handicap system, allowing players of any skill level to compete against each other on a more equal footing. And this follows along that same line of thinking, rewarding good play with a lower net start.
Harris English was the lone Bulldog here last year, English, Brendon Todd, and Kevin Kisner all represented UGA in 2020; Kiz was the only one in 2019; Bubba Watson was the only Bulldog to compete when Tiger famously won in 2018; Russell Henley and Kisner tied for 3rd in 2017 while Brian Harman ended up T24; Bubba and Kisner made it in 2016; Bubba, Kisner and English all played in 2015; Chris Kirk, Bubba, Henley, and Todd were quite the foursome in 2014 (maybe the best season by the wins, money list, finishes, etc. by former Bulldogs, and likely the time I started Fan Shots of Dawgs on Tour); and surprisingly no former ‘Dawgs in 2013. So it’s been almost a decade of constant red & black at the tournament with one of the toughest qualifying systems. I’ll end on that note. But as always...