WASHINGTON: Reigning Masters champion Jon Rahm, the season points leader, will be the player to catch when the PGA Tour FedEx Cup playoffs begin Thursday at the St. Jude Championship.
The top 70 players from the season will tee off at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee, hoping to be among 50 who advance to next week’s BMW Championship, from which the top 30 will reach the Tour Championship in two weeks at East Lake in Atlanta.
Rahm has never won the playoff top prize, which this year is $18 million from a prize money pool of $75 million.
If he can keep the points lead through the next two events, Rahm will get a two-stroke edge to start the Tour Championship over the No. 2 points holder, who at this point is American Scottie Scheffler, just ahead of three-time playoff winner and defending champion Rory McIlroy.
“You want to win every time we tee it up, but yeah, the goal is to try to get to East Lake as No.1 and enjoy that two-shot lead,” Rahm said Tuesday.
Rahm knows how much the extra strokes can matter. In 2021, he lost the Tour Championship by a stroke to Patrick Cantlay even though he played the four rounds in three fewer shots than the American.
“It has always made a difference,” Rahm said. “It made a difference when I finished second place. It’s the reason why they give it to you, so if we can take advantage of it, it would be nice.”
Top-ranked Scheffler, second-ranked McIlroy and world No. 3 Rahm will play together in the first two rounds.
Rahm has enjoyed an epic year with four titles, taking the Tournament of Champions and American Express titles in January, the Genesis at Riviera in February and his second major title in April at Augusta National. He also shared second last month at the British Open.
“It has been a really good season,” Rahm said. “Accomplished a lot of things I set myself out to do this year, and one of them was to be sitting right here as number one.
“Really proud of what I’ve done so far. I’m looking forward to keeping it going in the playoffs.”
Rahm expressed his support for PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who faced a players meeting at Memphis set for criticism about his handling of a merger deal with the Saudi backers of the LIV Golf League after a year of trying to keep PGA players from defecting to the upstart circuit.
“He should have the opportunity right now to finish this off the way he did,” Rahm said. “I think we’re quickly forgetting how well he managed a lot of things. He did an amazing job in COVID and kept a lot of people employed. We were the first major sport to come back.
“A lot of players were able to earn their cards and keep competing thanks to that. I think we shouldn’t forget that that quickly.
“Then, after everything is said and done, if players want to make a change, that would be a better time, but right now I don’t think it is.”
Rahm was among 41 players who signed a letter to Monahan that led to Tiger Woods getting a spot on the Tour Policy Board, which now has a player majority membership. It must approve the framework agreement that Monahan negotiated in secret with the Saudis by year’s end for the pact to become official.
Brian Harman, who won his first major title at the British Open, also backed Monahan, calling him “a very qualified leader.”
“Without Jay Monahan, I don’t know if we make it through COVID,” Harman said. “I think Jay deserves a pretty long leash.
“Jay had ultimate authority at all times as far as negotiating... he knew his reputation was going to take a major hit if they went forward. I think he believed that it was the best thing going forward, and that’s why he did it.”