At Tour Championship, Scottie Scheffler knows not to rest on head start

AP photo by Charles Rex Arbogast / Scottie Scheffler reacts after missing a birdie putt on the ninth hole during the final round of the BMW Championship on Sunday in Olympia Fields, Ill.

ATLANTA — Scottie Scheffler already has one small piece of history at the Tour Championship, where he is the only player to be the No. 1 seed going into the FedEx Cup finale in consecutive years.

He also is reminded, by history and experience, that finishing it off at East Lake Golf Club to capture the silver cup and its $18 million bonus is no small feat.

A year ago, Scheffler not only began the PGA Tour's season finale with a two-shot lead, he expanded the margin to six strokes until throwing it all away on the front nine in the final round. He wound up finishing one shot behind Rory McIlroy.

"I definitely wanted to end the season on a better note than I did last year, for sure," Scheffler said Wednesday before another light day of practice due to temperatures in the upper 90s.

Historically, only five times in 16 years of the FedEx Cup has the No. 1 seed at East Lake gone on to win the trophy, and only twice in the last four years — Dustin Johnson in 2020 and Patrick Cantlay in 2021 — since the Tour Championship went to a staggered start.

Scheffler starts at 10 under par as the No. 1 seed, two shots clear of Viktor Hovland (No. 2 after his victory Sunday at the BMW Championship), three ahead of No. 3 McIlroy and four ahead of No. 4 Jon Rahm, who was on top of the standings when the postseason began two weeks ago with the FedEx St. Jude Championship. The rest of the top 30 who reached the FedEx Cup finale are grouped at various stages all the way down to the last five players, who start at par.

Is it the best system? The only agreement from players is they can't think of anything better. The last thing the PGA Tour wanted — and golf fans needed — was keeping track of points and doing extra math to figure out who was going to win.

"There's a lot of people that have different opinions on what it should be," said McIlroy, the only three-time winner of the FedEx Cup.

His only conclusion was it gives the best chance to the one who has played the best golf all year, followed by the two postseason events. Scheffler has produced one of the most consistent years since the height of Tiger Woods: no missed cuts, a top-10 finish in 16 of his 22 tournaments, two victories.

Most players would take Rahm's year, with the Masters (his second major title) one of his tour-leading four victories, though none since April. He also finished in the middle of the pack at the first two postseason events, hence his slide in the standings.

That effectively cost him four shots going into the Tour Championship, and Rahm knows from experience what that means. Two years ago, he started four shots behind Cantlay, had a raw score that was three shots better and wound up one behind.

"I don't think it's the best, but it is the easiest to understand," Rahm said of the format that dates to 2019. "So if you ask me, I think we can come up with something better."

There's potentially another competition brewing between Scheffler and Rahm, one that could illustrate how PGA Tour players feel about the FedEx Cup.

Ballots will go out next week for PGA Tour player of the year. Rahm would seem to have that locked up with the most wins and a major.

However, if Scheffler wins the FedEx Cup, that gives him three victories — one of them The Players Championship, the next best thing to a major — along with the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average and a record $21 million in earnings, some $4.5 million ahead of Rahm.

"It depends what you value," McIlroy said. "Scottie, he could end up with the best ball-striking season of all time. He's hit the ball as good, if not better, than Tiger hit it in 2000, which is the benchmark for all of us. But I think Jon probably has a little more to show for his year.

"I think it could come down to this week and who performs. But it's a two-horse race between Jon and Scottie."

For now, it's a 30-horse race in stifling heat to cap a season in which Scheffler has never had a really bad week — only two results worse than a tie for 12th — and would desperately like to win for more than just 18 million reasons.

He was tied for the 54-hole lead last weekend, shot a 66 and was passed by Viktor Hovland and his 61, the lowest final round by a winner all year.

"I think it's just quite difficult to win out here," Scheffler said.

That includes the FedEx Cup.