The difference between Nos. 50 and 51 in the FedExCup Playoffs? A whole season of bigger paydays and better chances.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The largely-manufactured drama of the PGA Tour’s postseason has always undercut the relative success of the playoffs.
Meaningful golf during a time of year when only football matters is the secret sauce of the postseason, and making it to the Tour Championship has always come with all manner of perks, with the $18 million payday to the FedExCup champion being the primary motivation. But true drama has largely been an illusion.
The top 125 who have historically qualified for the playoffs have also secured their status for the following season, which means, other than qualifying for the season finale, the only real stress test was working your way up the points list to earn more money.
That changed this week as the circuit prepares to transition to a signature-event schedule next year, with limited fields and mostly no-cut tournaments.
Next year’s eight signature events – The Sentry, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, The Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo Championship, the Memorial and Travelers Championship – will feature fields of 70 to 80 players. The primary qualification for these tournaments will be being among the top 50 from the previous season’s points list.
That cutoff looms Sunday at the FedEx St. Jude Championship.
Again, there have always been bubbles and projections framing the postseason narrative, but the focus on this year’s top 50 is much more profound.
Consider that exactly 3.11 points currently separate No. 50 (Nick Hardy) from No. 51 (Alex Smalley). That’s the difference between a 13th- and 14th-place finish at the Honda Classic – one stroke, one putt, one bounce that stayed in the fairway instead of nestling down in the rough. That one stroke in the scheme of next year’s reimagined schedule will be quantifiably massive.
If No. 50 from this year’s points list finishes 10th in all eight signature events in 2024, he’ll earn 1,400 points. By comparison, No. 51 on the points list would earn 600 points if he were to finish 10th in eight comparable full-field events. That’s the difference between finishing the regular season 14th on the points list – virtually assured a trip to the Tour Championship – and finishing 71st (based on this year’s list) and not qualifying for the playoffs.
There’s also the money gap between the signature events and their full-field counterparts. The eight designated events in ’24 will play for $155 million in purses (based on ’23 calculations). The eight comparable full-field tournaments – Sony Open, Farmers Insurance Open, WM Phoenix Open, The Classic (formerly Honda Classic), AT&T Byron Nelson, Valero Texas Open, RBC Canadian Open and Rocket Mortgage Classic – will offer $69.7 million in combined purses.
No one on Tour next year, whether they’re qualified for the signature events or not, is going to go poor, but the gap between the relative have and have-nots has never been so clear.
Worth noting: Six of next season’s signature events will not have a cut. The three designated stops that will have cuts – The Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial – will see the top 50 and ties and anyone within 10 shots of the lead play the weekend. Being guaranteed four rounds and a payday is a cushion that can’t be ignored, and that new reality isn’t lost on players.
“Normally, top 30 is the big cutoff. There’s a lot of rewards to top 30. That gets you in all the majors, all the big events. That’s really where you want to be. That’s still where you want to be. Obviously, that gives you the opportunity to go win the FedExCup, which is what it’s all about,” Justin Rose said. “But I think [top] 50 is a really significant number. It’s been in my mind all year, just to make sure that you’re playing a level where next year you can build a schedule that is to your liking and with no compromises. [Top] 50 has been a really important number, I think, for a lot of guys on Tour this year.”
That build up ends Sunday, with no shortage of potential winners and losers.
Saturday’s projections had just two players trading places: Cam Davis moved into a tie for 12th place thanks to a third-round 69, jumping from 62nd to projected 49th and bumping Mackenzie Hughes, No. 47 to start the week, to 51st.
“I don’t really want to look at that until after the round tomorrow. I’ll put my head down, try to make as many birdies as I can and see what happens at the end of that,” Davis said of his top-50 plight.
Harris English had been projected outside the top 50 all week after beginning the post season 42nd, but he rallied late Saturday, playing his final 11 holes in 3 under par to move to 49th on the projected list. Patrick Rodgers (No. 42) had also slipped after opening rounds of 70-72, but he clawed his way back into the top 50 with a 66 on Saturday.
Based on last year’s list, anything around 960 points should be safe to advance to next week’s BMW Championship and maintain a coveted spot in the top 50. That means every player from about No. 41 (Andrew Putnam with 914 points) and down will be watching the scoreboard carefully on Sunday.
In the history of the playoffs, the consequences have never been higher.