ATLANTA — Justin Thomas has a two-shot lead, and the Tour Championship hasn’t even started.
If that seems difficult to fathom, consider that someone could win this week without having the lowest 72-hole score.
And remember, such a radical change was to make the FedEx Cup finale easier to follow.
The first staggered start in PGA Tour history — Thomas begins at 10-under par, the bottom five players are at even par — unfolds Thursday at East Lake when 30 players who reached the final stage of the FedEx Cup playoffs chase the $15 million prize, the biggest payout in golf history.
“I could see a scenario where come Sunday, 15 guys might have a chance to win the entire thing,” Rory McIlroy said Wednesday. “It will be exciting. It will be different. But at the same time, you’ve just got to go out there and try to play some good golf and not look around at what other guys are doing, and trust that by the end of the week things will hopefully even out.”
The idea behind the new format was to bring clarity to the FedEx Cup by having only one winner Sunday.
Each of the past two years, one player won the Tour Championship and another player won the points-based FedEx Cup. It was especially awkward last year because while Justin Rose won the FedEx Cup, all anyone cared about was seeing Tiger Woods in his red shirt celebrating a two-shot victory, his first in five years.
“My bank manager didn’t mind,” Rose said.
One function of the FedEx Cup hasn’t changed: It was designed to give an advantage to players who had the best season, and who played their best golf in the postseason when the points were valued four times higher.
Now, the advantage is strokes to par.
Thomas, who won the BMW Championship last week to become No. 1 in the FedEx Cup, tees off Thursday already at 10-under par. Patrick Cantlay is No. 2 and will start at 8-under, followed by Brooks Koepka at 7-under, Patrick Reed at 6-under and McIlroy at 5-under.
The next groups of five players in the standings will be at 4-under, 3-under, 2-under, 1-under and even par.
The leaderboards on the course, online and on television will show only the score to par, not what was shot each day.
It could be wild on the weekend. Or maybe Thomas opens with a pair of 64s and makes it a runaway.
“I’m just going to have to try to play another golf tournament and act like everyone’s starting at zero and try to shoot the lowest 72 holes,” Thomas said. “Because I know if I do that, then I should be OK.”
Doug Ferguson is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/golf/article/FedEx-Cup-changes-put-Justin-Thomas-in-good-14369172.php.