The FedEx Cup was created to identify (and handsomely reward) the season’s best player. It was also meant to generate end-of-the-year buzz after the majors were done and dusted.
On the latter goal, it’s mission accomplished. But is the FedEx Cup champion truly the year’s best player, or just the guy who gets hot late? A great “regular season” hardly bolsters a player’s chances of hoisting the chalice. The FedEx Cup is a lot like the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA—it’s about how you do in the playoffs. Just ask Rory McIlroy. Entering last year’s playoffs, he’d reeled off three big wins—the British Open, the WGC-Bridgestone, and the PGA—to lead the FedEx Cup standings. Then Billy Horschel blew past McIlroy (and everyone else), vaulting from 69th to first in points, on the strength of victories in the playoffs’ final two events. In fact, only twice in the FedEx Cup’s eight-year history has the man with the most points entering the playoffs grabbed the $10 million check: Tiger Woods, in 2007 and 2009.
Yes, a solid year matters—everyone who cracks the top 125 qualifies for the playoffs and keeps his Tour card for the following season. But winning it all is about winning late, as Horschel proves. Thanks to three stellar playoff performances, including two wins, he parlayed a so-so 2014 (three top 10s and no victories through August) into a career year.