Golf·CBC Explains

How golf's (new and improved) playoffs work

The PGA Tour added a playoff system in 2007. But it never fully caught on with casual golf fans, and it was overhauled for this year. Here’s an explainer on how the revamped FedEx Cup Playoffs work, what’s at stake and who to watch.

The FedEx Cup now has a better format and a lot more prize money

Brooks Koepka is the favourite to win his first FedEx Cup title. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

The PGA Tour added a playoff system in 2007. But it never fully caught on with casual golf fans, and it was overhauled for this year. Here's an explainer on how the revamped FedEx Cup Playoffs work, what's at stake and who to watch:

When and where are they?

The playoffs are made up of three tournaments over the next three weeks (down from four events last year). They start with the Northern Trust this Thursday to Sunday, then the BMW Championship, then the Tour Championship. All the tournaments are held at courses in the United States.

What's the format?

The top 125 golfers (based on a season-long points system) are invited to the first tournament. Four guys have pulled out, though, so the field is down to 121. Points from the regular season carry over, and golfers will add to their totals based on where they finish in this week's event. When the Northern Trust ends on Sunday, only the top 70 in the standings get to move on to next week's event. The same rules will apply there, except only the top 30 in the standings after that tournament advance to the playoff-ending Tour Championship.

This is when the big change takes effect. The No. 1 golfer in the standings heading into the Tour Championship will start the tournament with a score of 10-under par. The No. 2-ranked guy starts at 8-under, No. 3 at 7-under, No. 4 at 6-under and No. 5 at 5-under. Everyone below that gets put in groups of five. So the guys ranked 6th-10th start at 4-under, 11th-15th at 3-under, and so on until the players ranked 26th-30th start at even par. Then it's simple: whoever wins the tournament is the FedEx Cup champion.

The starting scores are new for this year, and it's a good change. There will no longer be an awkward situation like last year, when no one seemed to care that Justin Rose won the FedEx Cup with his fourth-place finish at the Tour Championship because Tiger Woods won the tournament to snap his five-year victory drought. Fans won't have to worry anymore about keeping track of both the Tour Championship leaderboard and the FedEx Cup standings at the same time. When they tune in for the final tournament of the year, all they'll have to do is look at the leaderboard and they'll know who's in the lead for the FedEx Cup and exactly how many strokes his competitors need to catch him.

Corey Conners is the top-ranked Canadian in the FedEx Cup playoffs. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

What's at stake?

A ton of money. The FedEx Cup champion wins $15 million US, and the total prize money for the playoffs is $60 million. That's on top of the $10 million already handed out to the top 10 golfers when the regular season ended on Sunday — $2 million of that went to the regular-season champ, Brooks Koepka. Last year's total prize pool was $45 million, and the playoff winner got $10 million.

Besides money, golfers can secure a bunch of different "exemptions." That's the word they use in golf for guaranteed spots in tournaments. The winner of the FedEx Cup gets a five-year exemption for all the events on the PGA Tour. The top 30 get a spot in next year's Masters. And all 125 golfers who qualified for the playoffs have already received a full tour exemption for next season.

Who are the golfers to keep an eye on?

Koepka for sure. He's already a lock to win his second straight player-of-the-year award after his incredible run in the four major tournaments. He won the PGA Championship, finished second at the U.S. Open, tied for second at the Masters and tied for fourth at the British Open. That kind of consistency in golf's toughest events is almost unheard of. Now he'll try to top it off by adding his first FedEx Cup to the regular-season title he just won.

Canadian Open champion Rory McIlroy is ranked No. 2 heading into the playoffs. Third is, surprisingly, 41-year-old Matt Kuchar. Defending FedEx Cup champ Justin Rose is 11th. Tiger Woods is 28th. He's the only player to win multiple FedEx Cups, but his last one came 10 years ago.

A record five Canadians qualified for the playoffs. Corey Conners finished the regular season ranked No. 31, followed by Adam Hadwin (46), Roger Sloan (91), Mackenzie Hughes (96) and Nick Taylor (117). The last three have some work to do this week to get into the top 70 and advance to the next tournament. But more points are up for grabs in playoff events — the winner earns four times what he'd get for a garden-variety PGA Tour win. So there's more opportunity to move up.

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