Spectators will not be all that’s missing from the 2020 Tour Championship. The event returns to East Lake Golf Club this week for the 20thtime, and will be unlike the previous 19 Tour Championships held at the historic Atlanta club. Like the previous 13 PGA Tour events played this year after the three-month cancellation of tournaments due to Covid-19, the Tour Championship will be held without spectators.
Also missing will be many of golf’s biggest names, beginning with two-time East Lake winners Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, neither of whom finished in the top 30 of the FedExCup standings after the second of three Playoffs events last week.
The tournament’s other two-time champion – Rory McIlroy – is one of the 30 qualifiers for the Tour Championship, but his appearance is contingent on the imminent birth of his first child.
If McIlroy is a late withdrawal, that will leave Billy Horschel (2014) and Xander Schauffele (2017) as the only former champions in the field, with Horschel barely getting the 30thand final spot thanks to a four-putt on the 72nd hole at Olympia Fields last week by his playing partner.
Among the other prominent names missing from this year’s field are the likes of Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Rickie Fowler, all of whom failed to advance to last week’s second Playoffs event in Chicago along with Mickelson.
Former East Lake winner Adam Scott was in position to qualify for the Tour Championship but fell short, as did Bubba Watson, Jason Day, Paul Casey, Matt Kuchar, Patrick Cantlay and Woods, whose 2018 triumph marked his first victory in more than five years.
The list of 30 qualifiers for the Tour Championship, which tees off Friday and concludes on Labor Day, is heighted by the top three players in both the FedExCup standings and Official World Golf Rankings – Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas.
Rahm defeated Johnson on the first playoff hole last week at Olympia Fields, rolling in a 66-foot birdie putt after Johnson holed a 43-footer on the same 18thgreen moments earlier to force the playoff. Johnson also won the first Playoffs event the week before at TPC Boston, shooting 30-under par to finish 11 ahead of runner-up Harris English.
Under the staggered scoring system introduced to the Tour Championship last year, Johnson will begin this week’s tournament with a 2-stroke lead over Rahm, three over Thomas, four over Webb Simpson, five over Colin Morikawa and between six and 10 shots over the other 25 players in the field.
McIlroy began last year’s Tour Championship five shots behind Thomas, but shot 13-under 267 to finish at 18-under after beginning the tournament 5-under. Thomas, who began at 10-under as the leader in the FedExCup standings, shot 3-under for the tournament to finish with a 13-under total, tying for third with Koepka. Schauffele was second at 14-under after posting a 270 total for 72 holes, and would have been second behind McIlroy had all the players started at even par.
The change in format was made to avoid the possibility of one player winning the Tour Championship while another finished first in the final FedExCup standings. That happened three times, most recently in 2018 when Woods won the Tour Championship and Justin Rose placed first in the final FedExCup points list.
With so many of the game’s most prominent players absent from this year’s field, a sizeable number of the 30 qualifiers fall into the lesser known category. Lanto Griffin and Scottie Scheffler both competed on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019, while Viktor Hovland and Brendon Todd earned their 2020 PGA Tour status thanks to their play in the 2019 KF Finals.
All but eight of the winners from the 2019-20 PGA Tour season qualified for the Tour Championship, with Woods and Scott both playing limited schedules and not playing particularly well apart from their lone victory.
Two of the more surprising qualifiers for the Tour Championship are a pair of ex-Georgia Bulldogs whose career paths have taken a decidedly upward turn after some recent down seasons.
Todd is playing the best golf of his career after plummeting to the depths of his profession for the second time in a decade. Early in his career, Todd went almost two years without making a cut on the PGA and Nationwide (now KF) Tours before winning the now defunct PGA Tour Q-school event and the 2014 Byron Nelson Classic
That earned him his first trip to East Lake, but after a solid season in 2015, he suffered through an even longer stretch of miserable results before mounting a second comeback in 2019. Todd closed out last year with back-to-back victories in Bermuda and Mayakoba, and nearly made it three in a row in the RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club.
Since the PGA Tour resumed play in June, Todd has been a frequent tournament contender, with five top-25 finishes in his last eight starts, including the Memorial, WGC in Memphis, PGA Championship and last week’s Playoffs event in Chicago. Some poor final rounds severely damaged his chances in Hartford, the Memorial and Memphis, but he shot 67 in the final round of the PGA and hung on for a top-10 finish Sunday in Chicago.
Todd, 35, comes into the Tour Championship 11thin the FedExCup standings after being first on the points list at the end of the 2019 portion of the schedule. He was a member of Georgia’s 2005 NCAA Championship team and scored the second of his two KF victories in 2013 in the final tour event played at the UGA course in Athens. Todd has lived in Georgia since he graduated in 2007, and has returned to the Athens area after residing in Atlanta.
English was a top-50 player on the PGA Tour for four straight seasons with a pair of victories in Memphis and Mayakoba, but dropped out of the top 100 in 2017 and lost his exempt status after the 2018-19 season. He began this year with limited non-exempt status after barely cracking the top 150, but placed third, sixth, fourth and fifth in four of his first five starts in 2019-20,
The 31-year-old English has been a fixture in the top 30 of the FedExCup standings the entire 2019-20 season, turning in a string of strong showings earlier this year before the PGA Tour shut down for three months. He has been among the Tour’s most consistent performers since play resumed, notching five straight top-25s before his runner-up finish to Johnson at TPC Boston in the Playoffs opener.
English begins the Tour Championship in seventh position, six shots behind Johnson and one better than fellow ex-Bulldog Todd. After narrowly missing out on qualifying for the Tour Championship in 2013 and ’14, he cracked the top 30 in 2015 and competed at East Lake for the first time that year.
The Valdosta native and St. Simons Island resident made his mark on golf in the state before enrolling in Athens, winning the 2007 Georgia Amateur just prior to his freshman season. He won an event on the then-Nationwide Tour as an amateur in 2011 and added a pair of top-3 finishes that year as a pro before making his PGA Tour debut the following season.
Kevin Kisner is the third ex-Bulldog in the field, and will be making his fifth start at East Lake over the past six years. Kisner has three wins and eight runner-up finishes since his breakthrough season in 2015, and was 21stin the FedExCup standings coming into the Tour Championship.
With only about six weeks left in the 2019-20 regular season, Kisner was outside the top 75 on the points list, but has finished third or fourth three times since, including a tie for fourth in the Playoffs opener in Boston. He begins the Tour Championship nine shots behind Johnson.
Kisner, a native and lifelong resident of Aiken, S.C., had his best showing at East Lake in 2017, tying for third at 10-under 270, two shots behind Schauffele. He scored the first of his three PGA Tour titles in 2016 in the RSM Classic at Sea Island GC, with his biggest win coming in the WGC Match Play Championship last year, where he defeated Kuchar in the finals.
Like Todd, Kisner was a member of Georgia’s 2005 NCAA Championship team that also included PGA Tour member Chris Kirk.
Also in the field this week is former Augusta State golfer Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters champion. Reed will be making his seventh straight start at East Lake, but has broken par of 280 only once in six tries.
Reed has eight wins in his eight full seasons on the PGA Tour, including this year’s WGC event in Mexico, his second career WGC title. He also has two Playoffs victories among his eight titles. Reed, who led Augusta to back-to-back national championships in his two years there, begins the Tour Championship seven shots behind Johnson.
The Tour Championship was originally scheduled to be played the last week in August, but all three Playoffs events were bumped back one week to accommodate the re-scheduling of the PGA Championship in early August,.
The 2020-21 PGA Tour season, which is now essentially an extension of the 2019-20 season, begins in Napa, Calif., three days after the Tour Championship ends. Both the U.S. Open (Sept. 17-20) and the Masters (Nov. 12-15) will be included as part of the Tour’s Fall schedule after being postponed from their original dates.
The Tour Championship will be televised Friday and Saturday on the Golf Channel, which will have early round coverage on Sunday and Monday preceding NBC’s broadcast.