<
>

With double winners at East Lake, someone bound to be overshadowed

ATLANTA -- The two buddies who have been friendly rivals since their junior golf days, through college and now as professionals on the PGA Tour, battled down the stretch Sunday for the FedEx Cup title.

After a year that saw them both win major championships and multiple tournaments, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth seemed all but destined to fight it out over East Lake's closing holes for the season-long trophy that comes with a $10 million bonus.

And so it was during the final day of the long PGA Tour season, The Open champion and PGA champ vying for a difference of $7 million in bonus money and bragging rights.

While, of course, Xander Schauffele won the Tour Championship.

The system and format has always had the opportunity to present some awkwardness, and this is one of the rare times that it did.

And it is why 2019 can't get here soon enough, at least in terms of the FedEx Cup format.

By then -- if not next year -- a new format should be in place that either allows the Tour Championship winner to be crowned FedEx Cup champion, too, or leads to some sort of one-day shootout for the big prize.

Schauffele, 23, is a worthy tournament champion who now has his biggest victory to go along with a win earlier this year at the Greenbrier, making for an exceptional first PGA Tour season that will undoubtedly be capped with rookie of the year honors.

Thomas, 24, did his part, rallying to make the tournament compelling and forcing Schauffele to birdie the 18th hole at East Lake to win by 1 stroke. Thomas finished the season with five victories, including a major, the FedEx Cup title and undoubtedly player of the year honors.

But even he admitted the situation was strange.

"Feels very weird,'' he said. "I'm sure people were kind of shocked at my reactions or my tone because ... I wasn't mad, but my competitive nature, I mean I was upset. I felt like I had a great chance to win the tournament and I didn't. I wanted to win six times this year.

"It's odd getting something so tremendous, one of my best achievements in my career without winning a golf tournament. So it feels different, but it's still great.''

He then noted that the FedEx Cup was a great consolation prize -- probably the best ever, considering the $10 million bonus, not to mention the $945,000 he received for finishing second in the tournament.

Spieth, who got a $3 million bonus for finishing second in the FedEx Cup standings, tried to make it interesting, shooting a 67 that for a time had him ahead in the projected FedEx Cup standings, only to see Thomas birdie two of the last three holes to finish far enough ahead in second place to secure the big trophy.

"I almost kind of cheated my way into winning the FedEx Cup when he really deserved it,'' Spieth said.

And that, by and large, is how most players feel about it. They don't mind if someone wins the FedEx Cup if they win the Tour Championship, as Rory McIlroy did last year -- along with the six players in a row before him.

Short of that, they want to see the best player all year rewarded, which happened in this case with Thomas, but is hardly assured of occurring when you have a system that crunches out points instead of just going by what is on the scorecard.

To that end, numerous suggestions have been put forth to take the last tournament of the season beyond a computer program.

"We've considered virtually every single circumstance that's available to us,'' said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who might just want to push through a new concept so as to end the fatigue about the current one.

Among the various ideas that has gained some traction is concluding the Tour Championship on Saturday, crowning the champion, then taking the top 6 or 8 (or whatever number) of players in the points standings to compete for the FedEx Cup title the next day.

Not only would that produce the drama of the tournament title but also the sub-plot of who gets to compete for $10 million -- or likely more, as FedEx's commitment has been renewed for 10 years and is likely to rise.

"What you do like about the concept of a second event is it's a moment, and if you go in that direction, it's a different moment,'' Monahan said. "There's an awful lot on the line. Not that there isn't an awful lot on the line here (now), but in terms of creating moments that we don't have at any other point in the season and thinking about something that would pull fans, you could see some positives to that.''

From here, there would appear to be nothing but positives about doing away with such point permutations and computer projections -- at least for a day, if not for the entire Tour Championship.

To be fair, the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup have often produced compelling winners and champions. The season-ending playoff series is miles better than the bland end to the season of many-years-gone-by when there was nothing more than a dozen tournaments following the PGA Championship and a money-list champion.

The FedEx Cup was born, now contested 11 times, although this is the first since 2009, when Phil Mickelson won the Tour Championship and Tiger Woods won the FedEx Cup, when two players were on the podium accepting the different trophies.

Mickelson then famously quipped that "I shot 65 but he's got the check for $10 million,'' a product of the system that often leads to head shaking over the complexity of something that could be far simpler.

And yet there's nothing difficult to decipher about Thomas, who not only won five times, but shot 59 during a tournament victory in Hawaii, shot 63 during the third round of the U.S. Open, won the PGA Championship with a back-nine rally and also captured the second FedEx Cup playoff event. It's all but a formality that he is voted PGA Tour player of the year by his peers.

Afterward, Thomas shared what before had been his secret goals for the year, a list of he rattled off that included making the Tour Championship and winning a major championship. He failed on just one, which was 10 top-10 finishes -- he had just 9.

Still, he was annoyed about not winning Sunday.

"Yeah, I'm still not over it,'' Thomas said.

It's unlikely he will feel that way for long.