Billy Horschel has been there, done that, winning the FedExCup in 2014 after starting the playoffs that year ranked 69th in points. I caught up with Horschel earlier this week to get a player’s perspective on some of the proposed changes to the current model and found Billy to be analytical as always, and not afraid to speak his mind.
“My initial reaction was I’m not a big fan,” Horschel said from his home just a few miles from Tour Headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. “They want to rip the Band-Aid off and do a really re-do-it-type deal. I don’t think they did enough. I think they kept some of the Band-Aid on.”
Among the most dramatic variations reported by The Associated Press include a cash bonus to the leading player during the regular season and a new scoring format for the Tour Championship, with strokes to par granted to the top 30 players on a graduated basis. Here in lies a potential controversy. As this story becomes a talking point during the three remaining playoff tournaments, we will hear how allotting a 10-stroke bonus would be like spotting the NFL team with the best record 10 points at the start of a Super Bowl.
“It’s not going to have much volatility,” Horschel points out, “on a course [East Lake GC] where the winning score is [normally] 10 to 12 under and the No. 1 guy is starting at 10 under par already. There’s going to be such a big gap between the first and the 30th guy that he doesn’t have to do anything special to win.”
According to my sources, the Tour has been talking for years about how to tweak its points system to get a more volatile competition at East Lake. What set it in motion during Jay Monahan’s first year as commissioner was the confusion caused in 2017, when Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele won the Tour Championship by a stroke over Player of the Year Justin Thomas, who waltzed away with the FedExCup and its $10 million bonus. It didn’t help when Thomas referenced it a consolation prize.
Phil Mickelson won the Tour Championship, Tiger Woods the FedExCup in 2009 (Getty)
There was no identity crisis when Tiger Woods (FedExCup) and Phil Mickelson (Tour Championship) posed with their respective trophies in 2009. That was nirvana for then-commissioner Tim Finchem, but it didn’t seem to resonate when two of the game’s best young players shared the customary trophy shot last year.
It’s just cleaner and easier to understand when Jordan Spieth (2015) and Rory McIlroy (2016) win both trophies, but that can’t be counted on every year. “After thinking about it, and understanding it, I think for one it’s a better way for people to understand the final event,” Horschel said. “There’s not going to be a tournament within a tournament, so there’s no winner for the Tour Championship anymore; Just a winner for the FedExCup.”
Horschel was an outlier to the process in 2014. He started 69th in the standings, dropped to 82nd with a missed cut in the first playoff event, and then won the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship.
What Horschel lacked in star power he made up for in gritty victories over Bubba Watson at the BMW, and McIlroy and Jim Furyk in the Tour Championship. The irony is that under the proposed new system, he wouldn’t have won in 2014. And a run like he’s making this year – going from 41st to 14th after the first playoff event – might not be enough in 2019. Now that’s ripping off the Band-Aid.
“It comes when it comes,” Horschel said of his second late rally in four years. “And I’ll take it.”