Chaos theory: The final FedEx Cup projections


ATLANTA – Cameron Tringale is on the Mensa side of the PGA Tour intelligence curve.

He graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in management and his favorite book is “Pillars of the Earth,” all of which means he can tell you the difference between GIR and GNP.

If anyone in the field of 29 players assembled this week for the Tour Championship could explain the various FedEx Cup scenarios that could make the last Sunday of the 2013-14 season an exercise in long division, it would be Tringale.

“I think I had to win and, uh . . . Chris Kirk had to finish 12th or worse, and Billy (Horschel) needed to finish sixth or worse,” he explained. “I just knew that because my caddie told me.”

In Tringale’s defense, the national tax code would make an easier sound bite, and he’s hardly alone when it comes to blissful ignorance in regards to the litany of FedEx Cup scenarios.

“I knew Chris Kirk needed to have a really bad week,” Justin Rose said with a smile, when asked about his formula for FedEx Cup success at East Lake.

Few celebrations in golf require a slide rule, which is why the vast majority of players who make it to the Tour Championship decide that’s it better to not know how the sausage - eh, FedEx Cup champion - is made.

“I did well in 2010, because I really kind of kept my head down and didn't look at the projections and the leaderboard and I was just trying to win the golf tournament and let everything else fall as it may. Tomorrow I’m just going out there and do the same things,” said Jim Furyk, the 2010 FedEx Cup champion.

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A year later, when Bill Haas hoisted the silver chalice filled with $10 million, he didn’t even realize he’d won the FedEx Cup until well after the last putt had fallen.

For players, the dizzying number of possibilities is a competitive liability, and for the better part of three days, the science and scenarios have been rather straightforward. If Horschel or Rory McIlroy win the finale, the duo ended Day 3 tied atop the leaderboard at 9 under, they will cash the golden lottery ticket.

But other than in the case of the 2008 Tour Championship - when eventual champion Vijay Singh only had to remain upright for four days to claim the season-long award, a statistical anomaly that has since been remedied - Sunday at the finale has at least provided a measure of intrigue, and this year still has a measure of possibility.

If Horschel stumbles - remember, this is the same player that had a total of two top-10 finishes this season before pulling himself out of his slumber at TPC Boston - Furyk (T-4), Rickie Fowler (T-4), Rose (T-4) and Jason Day (T-4) could all send the Tour’s accounts into a frenzy.

For more than a month, your scribe has avoided the Tour’s master mathematician when it comes to the season-long arithmetic. You don’t talk pennant races in June and you don’t study FedEx Cup scenarios in August. But each Tour Championship Sunday, we reconnect.

At the risk of breaking the internet, Day can win the pot of gold if he wins the finale and Horschel finishes no better than in a six-way tie for second place; Fowler cashes in with a victory and no better than a solo third-place finish for Horschel; Furyk needs the win and Horschel to finish no better than a two-way tie for second; and if Dustin Johnson were to show up on Sunday at East Lake and win, the Tour would decline to comment.

None of those scenarios include your points leader Kirk, who stumbled on Day 3 with a 1-over 71 but could rally and make things even more interesting on Sunday.

Of course, the cleanest and most logical outcome would be if McIlroy closed out his Hall of Fame year with his fourth victory and first FedEx Cup title. Two years ago the world No. 1 fell victim to one of those complicated scenarios, when he finished tied for 10th place at East Lake after winning two playoff events but still lost the FedEx Cup to Brandt Snedeker.

“Would it be poetic justice? I mean, it would be a little,” said McIlroy following his third-round 67. “I'd feel really good about it just because of what happened in 2012, feeling as if I was a little bit hard done by.

“But at the same time, you have to accept that this is what the FedEx Cup playoffs are, this is what they're all about, about creating excitement, giving guys like Billy Horschel a chance to win that jackpot at the end of the year.”

Just twice in the FedEx Cup era, in 2008 when Singh won and 2009 when Tiger Woods claimed the cup, has the East Lake champion not hoisted both trophies late Sunday. And despite pages filled with endless projections, that’s the only scenario that matters to a player.

As for the rest of us, Sunday is finally the day to embrace the small print.