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Tour Championship explained: Why Rory McIlroy starts Tour Championship five shots behind Justin Thomas as FedEx Cup reaches climax

Rory McIlroy goes into this weekend's Tour Championship five shots behind leader Justin Thomas.
Rory McIlroy goes into this weekend's Tour Championship five shots behind leader Justin Thomas.
MEDINAH, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 18: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walks from the fifth tee during the final round of the BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club No. 3 on August 18, 2019 in Medinah, Illinois. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Rory McIlroy will start the Tour Championship five shots behind FedEx Cup leader Justin Thomas this week.

World number three McIlroy could only close with rounds of 70 and 71 to tie for 19th place at Medinah, 14 shots behind Thomas.

Enjoying a six shot advantage after his course record equalling 61 on Saturday, Thomas eased to a three-shot win over Patrick Cantlay as he carded four birdies in his final eight holes for a Sunday 68 and a -28 finish.

So what does it all mean for this week's Tour Championship?

How does the new Tour Championship structure work?

In a revamped finish to the FedEx Cup season, the winner of the Tour Championship will automatically be crowned FedEx Cup champion and will scoop the $15m bonus for winning the season-long list.

If it all comes down to this weekend, what was the point of the rankings up to now?

Not only did the players, obviously, have to be in the top 30 to make it to East Lake, the higher up the rankings they finished ahead of the event, for the first time, determined their starting score.

For instance, first place will go into the weekend at -10 before a ball is struck.

Such is the weighting given to the FedEx Cup play-off events, Thomas' win at the BMW Championship catapulted the 26-year-old from 15th to top of the pile, two ahead of Cantlay.

The Medinah runner-up, who has nine top 10 finishes so far this season, goes into the week at -8.

World number one Brooks Koepka, despite winning three times this season, is down to third after a T24th place finish last weekend. He will start at -7.

Then there's Patrick Reed ahead of our man Rory McIlroy.

His fifth-place ranking is possibly the best indicator that season-long consistency no longer trumps timely form.

McIlroy's 13 top 10 finishes, including at Play-Off event The Northern Trust, are only enough to start the weekend five shots shy of Thomas, who has less than half of McIlroy's top 10s with six all season.

Then there's Abraham Ancer, who has missed more cuts (seven) than he has top 10 finishes (four) this season but a second place at The Northern Trust, his only top three of the season, is enough to secure 10th spot to start just a single shot behind Rory.

Who missed out on a place in the Tour Championship?

Two of the season's four major winners will not be at the PGA Tour's final event, despite enjoying undoubtedly more success this season than the likes of the well-placed Ancer.

Open Champion Shane Lowry needed to finish solo 29th at Medinah to secure his first appearance at the Tour Championship but tied for 48th on five-under after a 69 to fall from 25th to 33rd in the standings.

Masters champion Tiger Woods, who needed to finish 11th for the opportunity to defend his Tour Championship title, tied for 37th with Jordan Spieth after a 72 and fell further in the standings to 42nd.

Both Lowry and Woods had as many top 10 finishes this term as Ancer but the points-weighting system has cost them as third place in a play-off event earns more FedEx Cup points than a major win. Ancer's second place finish at The Northern Trust earned him DOUBLE the number of points Lowry and Woods were awarded for their major victories.

Spieth, too, misses out on East Lake at 44th in the standings.

Portrush man Graeme McDowell ended up 68th in the rankings after he tied for 57th in -3 at Medinah.

How the players start at the Tour Championship

1. Justin Thomas -10

2. Patrick Cantlay -8

3. Brooks Koepka -7

4. Patrick Reed -6

5. Rory McIlroy -5

6. Jon Rahm -4

7. Matt Kuchar -4

8. Xander Schauffele -4

9. Webb Simpson -4

10. Abraham Ancer -4

11. Gary Woodland -3

12. Tony Finau -3

13. Adam Scott -3

14. Dustin Johnson -3

15. Hideki Matsuyama -3

16. Paul Casey -2

17. Justin Rose -2

18. Brandt Snedeker -2

19. Rickie Fowler -2

20. Kevin Kisner -2

21. Marc Leishman -1

22. Tommy Fleetwood -1

23. Corey Connors -1

24. Sungjae Im -1

25. Chez Reavie -1

26. Bryson DeChambeau E

27. Louis Oosthuizen E

28. Charles Howell III E

29. Lucas Glover E

30. Jason Kokrak E

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