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Koepka leads sprint to PGA Tour's richest finish

By Chuah Choo Chiang | China Daily | Updated: 2019-08-08 09:56
Brooks Koepka during the third round of the World Golf Championships - FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis, Tennessee, on July 27, 2019. [Photo/IC]

It's billed as 'Ultimate August', with an eye-popping $15 million awaiting the new FedExCup champion. And for red-hot Brooks Koepka, it could mean collecting $18 million just in bonus money by the time the dust settles.

Welcome to the conclusion of PGA Tour season, when every stroke matters and every missed shot can mean disaster.

The stars know they have everything to fight for as one of the most prestigious accolades in sports await the FedExCup champion.

Three tournaments remain out of the 46 that have seen the tour traverse the United States, Canada, Latin America and Asia over the past 11 months, cementing a legend's stature, establishing new superstars and heralding the arrival of a new generation of exciting young champions.

The all-powerful Koepka is primed to be the season's biggest winner. Following his third victory of the season at the World Golf Championships-FedEx St Jude Invitational two weeks ago, he picked up a cool $2 million bonus for winning the Wyndham Rewards Top 10, which recognizes the high achievers in the regular season that concluded with last weekend's Wyndham Championship.

The 29-year-old American then added another $1 million to his bank account for clinching the Aon Risk Reward Challenge, a new and innovative competition that highlights golf's best strategic decision-makers.

This week, the top 125 golfers from the FedExCup points list are teeing up in the make-or-break Fed-ExCup playoffs, comprised of The Northern Trust, the BMW Championship and the Playoffs Finale, which will feature the top 30 and use a stroke-based system to determine the FedExCup champion.

This season's $15 million payout to the FedExCup champion is $5 million more than what England's Justin Rose earned last year, thanks to a cash boost from FedEx, which topped up the overall bonus pool by $25 million to $60 million.

Koepka, who also won this year's CJ Cup @Nine Bridges in South Korea and the PGA Championship, is geared up for a strong finish as he enters the playoffs at No 1 on the points list.

"It's incredible. To look at what I've done this year, the consistency, trying to take my game to a new level. I've done all that. To be up there in the FedExCup with a chance in Atlanta, that's incredible," Koepka said.

Rory McIlroy, who is trying to join Tiger Woods as the only two-time FedExCup champion, is one of the contenders aiming to derail Koepka.

"You want to be as high up in the rankings as you possibly can. Obviously, there's a lot to play for. Every year, the FedExCup is getting bigger and bigger, and it's more of a target on all the guys' radar. There's a lot to play for in August," said McIlroy.

Much of this month's excitement is due to the vision of PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who has advocated changes to the tour schedule and pushed for greater rewards to capture and expand the imagination of players, fans, sponsors, and TV and online viewers.

As previous FedExCup champions include current greats such as Woods, McIlroy, Rose, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson and Vijay Singh, winning the season-long competition has become a priority for the new generation.

Reigning WGC-HSBC Champions and Sentry Tournament of Champions winner Xander Schauffele of the US, who enters the playoffs in third place, summed up the importance of the next three tournaments: "We have so much to play for. Everything's on the table. It's just as big as a major championship. I go to sleep thinking about those things."

Rose, who became the first Englishman to taste FedExCup glory last year, added: "Obviously the playoffs are all about volatility and bringing your game when you really need it. We've all bought in and love that concept."

Asia will have keen interest in the playoffs, with South Korean rookie Im Sung-jae currently ranked as the highest Asian on the points list in 23rd position, followed by compatriot Sung Kang in 29th and Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama in 30th.

Chinese Taipei's CT Pan, who sits 35th, broke through for his first PGA Tour win in April and is determined to make it to the Championship for the first time.

"It's been my goal for the past three years. It's all I'm trying to do, get into the Tour Championship," said Pan.

The writer is the PGA Tour's senior director of communications and is based in Kuala Lumpur.

 

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