This week's Tour Championship at Atlanta's East Lake Country Club will decide who wins the FedEx Cup title and the $10 million bonus.
So who's going to win it all? The simple answer is, most likely the player who wins the Tour Championship.
The more complicated answer is, the big prize is still theoretically up for grabs. You can take theoretical as far as you'd like thanks to the confusing and, some would say, pointless FedEx Cup points system. For example, according to pgatour.com, Scott Piercy, who enters the Tour Championship in 30th place, can win the Cup if he wins the Tour Championship; McIlroy finishes 29th or worse; Woods finishes in a three-way tie for sixth or worse; Watney finishes in a four-way tie for third or worse; Mickelson ties for third or worse; Snedeker finishes in a three-way tie for second or worse; and Louis Oosthuizen ties for second or worse. It's the longest of long shots, but it's remotely possible.
(Related photos: Previous FedEx Cup champions)
Some other things you should know about the FedEx finale:
– You know those FedEx Cup point totals that Golf Channel and CBS insisted on jamming down your throat on every telecast all season? Your reward for keeping track of that stuff, if you did, is that those totals were reset for the Tour Championship. Everyone is starting over, but it's a staggered start. McIlroy resets to 2,500, Tiger goes to 2,250, Barclays winner Nick Watney to 2,000, Phil Mickelson to 1,800 and so on. First place in the Tour Championship is worth 2,500, but the points fall off dramatically after that, to just 550 for fifth. So the emphasis is truly on winning.
– It's the equivalent of a 400-mile NASCAR race stopping after 350 miles so the racers can start over on the same lap and still have a chance to win. While that undermines the importance of the results so far in the playoffs, it makes for a closer, potentially more exciting finish. McIlroy has won two of the three FedEx Cup events so far. He's utterly dominating it. But guess what? Even if he'd won all three tournaments by a dozen shots each, he'd have the same 250-point lead he has now. No one is allowed to dominate the playoffs.
– Really, almost anyone can win. For proof of that, just look to last year's Tour Championship. Bill Haas came out of nowhere to win the tournament and the $10 million bonus despite starting 25th on the points list, the lowest any FedEx Cup winner has ever ranked. Going into the final hour of play at East Lake, eight players still had a shot at the $10 million because Webb Simpson, who was first in points, tanked and finished 22nd at East Lake.
Crunch the numbers. Here are some pertinent details, minus the math, for your consideration:
— The top five players (McIlroy, Woods, Watney, Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker) control their own fate. If they win the Tour Championship, they win the FedEx Cup.
— With a top-5 finish, McIlroy would beat almost everyone but his top four pursuers.
— Woods can finish as low as a five-way tie for fifth and still have a mathematical chance to win.
— Mickelson needs to finish third or better.
— Snedeker must finish no worse than tied for second to have a chance to win.
Meet the favorites: Here are the five players most likely to snag the $10 million bonus:
Rory McIlroy. What's not to like? The 23-year-old has won his last two starts in the U.S., he romped to victory in the PGA Championship and is already slightly ahead of the major-winning pace of a young Tiger Woods. He's a lock for Player of the Year, he's the clear-cut best player in the world and his future, as old-time cliché-mashing announcer Curt Gowdy used to often say, is still ahead of him. McIlroy excels on long, soft courses in the American style of target golf. Rain was forecast for Tuesday in Atlanta, so that might soften the greens to his liking.
Tiger Woods. Sure, he's had difficulty playing his best golf on the weekend, but he's getting himself into contention just about every week. He has won before at East Lake, in 2007 at the inaugural FedEx Cup, in a rain-drenched week. Plus, Tiger doesn't have to win the Tour Championship to win the FedEx Cup. A second, third or fourth just might be good enough.
Phil Mickelson. It's been the usual roller-coaster, feast-or-famine year for Mickelson. He seems to be back on a roll now, wielding his putter with a claw grip and tuning up his game for next week's Ryder Cup. He, too, has history on his side at East Lake. He won the Tour Championship there twice, in 2000 and 2009.
Louis Oosthuizen. He's turning into quite the Nearly Man. He nearly won the Masters, the Bridgestone Invitational, the Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship. His swing is textbook, his tempo is sweet and the man can putt. He's already got a British Open on his resume. He can play, now he just needs to learn how to close.
Brandt Snedeker. Snedeker has had a great second half to his season. In addition to his game run at the British Open, where he finished third, he was second at the Barclays, sixth at the Deutsche Bank Championship and in the process played his way onto the Ryder Cup team as a wild-card selection. He ranks No. 1 in the PGA Tour's strokes-gained putting category, which should come in handy on East Lake's devious greens.
Five other notable contenders:
Dustin Johnson. He hasn't finished in the top 20 in three appearances at East Lake. This course may just not be his style.
Nick Watney. He had something of an off-year for a player of his talent, then came out of nowhere to win the Barclays. Then he cooled off again, finishing 20th and 45th in the last two playoff events, and got passed over for the Ryder Cup.
Luke Donald. It's seems to be his lot in life to be continually overlooked, even when he was the No. 1 player in the world. Now that he's not, it's easy to forget he plays East Lake pretty well. He was third last year, second in 2010. He ranks 15th on the reset points list.
Matt Kuchar. It's got to feel good to be home. Kuchar, who won The Players, played his college golf at Georgia Tech. He's 16th on the points list but not exactly on his game. His last top-10 finish was T8 at the Bridgestone Invitational. After that, he missed the cut at the PGA, then finished T38, T35 and T54 in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Steve Stricker. Good iron play and great putting work well almost anywhere, but he's only been in contention once in the last five years at East Lake. He was 15th last year, 25th in 2010 and sixth, 24th and 17th in the three years before that. It's that time of year when he's looking ahead to bow-hunting back home in Wisconsin, but with the Ryder Cup next week, he'll want to have his game sharp. Stricker is 13th on the reset points list.