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Former ‘Dawgs Back In Georgia For Tour Championship

2015 East Lake Cup - Day 2 Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Tournament: The Tour Championship, August 24-27, 2023

Course: East Lake Golf Club, par 70, 7,346 yards

Purse: $75 million, with $18 million to the winner. That’s not a typo - $75 million is the bonus pool for the 30 golfers accumulating the most FedEx Cup points over the current season. I don’t know how much of that is coming from FedEx itself, but they are bearing the brunt. And as there is actual tournament for these 30 players to determine a champion, there are payouts for how you finish. The winner gets $18 million, $6.5 million for 2nd, $5 million for 3rd, $1 million for 10th, all the way down to $500,000 for 30th (last) place.

Defending Champ: Rory McIlroy. The Holywood, Ireland product barely got into the Tour Championship, and started 10 shots back of leader Scottie Scheffler. He whittled away and Scottie never pulled away. McIlroy carded a 63 in the 3rd round which ate up a lot of the difference, but still began Sunday 6 shots back. Scheffler played his worst round, a 73, while Rors continued his charge and overtook Scheffler with just a couple of holes left.

Fun Fact: East Lake was actually the first golf course of the Atlanta Athletic Club. Opened in 1906, the AAC owned the East Lake property until 1968, when they moved to northern Fulton County.

TV Times: Thursday-Friday, 1-6 p.m. (Golf Channel). Saturday, 1-3 p.m. (Golf Channel), 3-7 p.m. (CBS). Sunday, noon.-1:30 p.m. (Golf Channel), 1:30-6 p.m. (CBS). The bigger the bag, the longer the TV coverage.

‘Dawgs in the Field: 3. Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Sepp Straka.

We started with 70 players in the FedEx post-season, 7 of whom were ‘Dawgs. That was whittled down to 50 for last week’s BMW Championship, 6 of which were Classic City Canines. And of the 20 players who did not advance out of Chicago last week, 3 of those were former Bulldogs. Which means for the final 30 players, 3 have that ‘Dawg in ‘em.

Harris English was #49 so had the hardest hill to climb. He probably needed a top 4 finish to leapfrog his way into East Lake. He certainly tried, but a Saturday 72 doomed him, even as he shot 66 Sunday, jumped 15 spots on the leaderboard, but only 11 places in the playoffs. It was still a top 10 finish and a nice payday to end your season. And finishing in the top 50 of the playoffs gets you in all 4 majors plus all the signature events, which are all big money.

Brendon Todd started at #39, so he was also going to need a strong week. Alas, no rounds under par so his T41 finish actually dropped him to 47th in the final rankings. But again, set up nicely for next season.

Chris Kirk started inside the line (#29) and opened with 66-66. He made the weekend projected top 10 in the playoffs. But a 75-71 finish (T29) means he actually fell 3 spots in the playoff rankings, and was the only player inside the line to fall out. Dubiously.

You want some drama? Sepp Straka was #24 to begin the week. Yet he was over par and near the bottom of the field after rounds of 71-74-71. Thank goodness he found something late, and fired a final round 66, finishing about 2 hours in front of the leaders, but projected at #32. And thank more goodness a couple of players behind him petered out also (Denny McCarthy was one), which moved Straka back up the rankings. When all was said and done, the Austrian returns to the Tour Championship at #30. And he was O’Hare when he found out.

Russell Henley was #34 just 3 weeks ago. He played well at Wyndham and moved to #20. Another good week in Memphis jumped him up to #15. A top 10 (T8) last week and he enters the final event at #12. He’s always been streaky, and seems to be a little bit of a heater.

Then Brian Harman, Champion Golfer of the Year, was already locked for East Lake. So what does he do? Just shoots every round under par for a T5 finish and moves up one valuable spot to #8. Why is each spot valuable? Because of the incredibly awkward “staggered scoring” the Tour uses in the Tour Championship.

The huge payouts are supposed to be for those who had the best year, and able to beat the best in the post-season. Even if you’re consistent through the year, you still need a win or multiple top finishes to even make the playoffs. And if you’ve been top 10 in points all season long, surely you should be rewarded with playoff seeding, right? So to reward that good play, the Tour assigns players a “starting score” in the Tour Championship, reflective of where you stand. It’s essentially a handicap system, but un-evening the field and giving the advantage to the highest ranked players. Every one of the 30 has a chance to win the whole enchilada, you just might have a much tougher row to hoe.

Scottie Scheffler, #1 in points, starts at 10 under par. 2nd place Viktor Hovland begins with a score of 8 under par. Rory will be 7 under, and Rahm 6 under. Comeback Kid Lucas Glover will be 5 under Thursday morning. Then #s 6-10 will start at 4 under, which includes Brian Harman. #’s 11-15 get a 3 under par reward, and Henley is in that group. #16-20 are 2 under par, #21-25 are 1 under par, and #26-30 (like Straka) begin the tournament at even par.

So while 10% of the Tour finale are Georgia Bulldogs, they are already behind on the leaderboard. Both Harman and Henley are showing good form right now, and Straka has historically turned his game around quickly after a poor result. So they’ve got a chance, and they will have the crowds behind them - East Lake is usually filled with UGA fans, especially when it doesn’t conflict with a Georgia football game.

Here’s wishing them luck, and hopefully FedEx will change their colors Sunday to red and black. As always...