You just can’t beat a good scenario.
Give me a couple of hypotheticals and a few what-ifs. Maybe, if you’re really lucky, a vicissitude. Doesn’t all that make for just the best kind of sports viewing?
Any child can keep score and determine the big winner that way. It’s just too easy to watch something play out before you and fully understand what is happening and who is on top. I guess that’s OK, if you’re into clarity.
But here at the Tour Championship, the last stop on professional golf’s winding playoff system, we got scenarios.
Once Jordan Spieth, No. 1 in FedEx Cup points when the tournament began, decided to save his least-inspired golf of September for now, it opened a Russian nesting doll of possibilities. Spieth’s second-round 70 on Friday left him tied for 15th in this 30-man event. And hope trickled down the line. Who now might emerge from the fog of higher math and claim both this tournament and the season-long $10 million FedEx Cup bonus Sunday?
Buckle up for some hot scenario action.
Here’s just a taste. It’s heady stuff.
Second-round co-leader Webb Simpson is your FedEx Cup winner if:
He wins the Tour Championship.
And, Spieth finishes in a three-way tie for ninth or worse.
And, Justin Thomas finishes in a three-way tie for fourth or worse.
And, Dustin Johnson finishes tied for third or worse.
And, Marc Leishman finishes third or worse.
And, Jon Rahm finishes tied for second or worse.
The way this thing works is that any of the top five in accumulated FedEx Cup points coming to East Lake can simplify things by winning the tournament and automatically claiming the $10 million playoff bonus.
Only, here we are at the halfway point of the Tour Championship and only two among the top five are prominent – Thomas tied with Simpson and Paul Casey at 7 under, and Jon Rahm, just a stroke back. The other three have many bodies to step over – four back are Spieth and Dustin Johnson, nine back is Marc Leishman.
Once the top guy in FedEx Cup points backs up – in this case Spieth – that really brings a lot of possibilities into play.
It happened last year when No. 1 Dustin Johnson went south with a final-round 73 and the result was an honestly thrilling finish. With Johnson in the clubhouse watching a three-way playoff, rooting for anyone but Rory McIlory to win, McIlroy won. Johnson lost out on $7 million (the difference between first and second in the FedEx Cup) while sipping a cold one. Now, that was some good scenario.
Oddly, Spieth, the 2015 FedEx Cup champion, went a little Nostradamus early in the week and foretold of such a fate awaiting him.
“I think there's a likelihood that I'll be in that situation this year. I'm not sure. I don't know who the Rory will be,” he said.
“I imagine if somebody else made a putt for me to win a difference of $7 million, I'll probably celebrate accordingly with a scream or a fist pump or something. But it's an odd scenario, and it's likely to happen at this tournament.”
The past seven years, at least, the fellow winning the Tour Championship also has claimed the FedEx Cup. No divided celebrations.
But it has happened that two winners emerge on a Sunday at East Lake – as when Phil Mickelson won the tournament in 2009 and Tiger Woods held onto the FedEx Cup. The year before, it was a Vijay Singh/Camilo Villegas split. Let’s not delve into how such a complication might occur this year. That is the highest form of scenario golf – what 18-year-old single malt is to scotch – and I’m not sure you’re ready for that just yet.
But here’s just another little taste. Since he came to East Lake with a better points standing than Simpson, Casey’s FedEx Cup scenario reads just a little more realistic.
Casey wins the $10 million, if:
He wins the Tour Championship.
And, Spieth finishes fifth or worse.
And, Thomas finishes in a three-way tie for third or worse.
And, Johnson finishes in a three-way tie for second or worse.
And, Leishman finishes tied for second or worse.
And, Rahm finishes second or worse.
This is why the broadcaster spends so much time explaining where everyone stands during the Tour Championship, with visual aids and everything. Rare, indeed, is the championship event that requires an interpreter.
But, then, aren’t the movies with subtitles always the best ones?
After Friday, having backed up two very solid rounds, standing first in strokes gained off the tee and tee to green, Thomas would seem the clear favorite to sweep through the weekend and pick clean all the big prizes. No ifs, ands or buts. Just simple dominance. Winner take all.
What fun would that be?