Column: FedEx Cup about the money, not the majors

ATLANTA (AP) — The FedEx Cup is still about the money.

Whoever wins this week at the Tour Championship gets $15 million, more than Greg Norman’s career earnings on the PGA Tour.

The FedEx Cup might one day be as much about prestige.

Tiger Woods (twice), Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk won the first four FedEx Cup titles, and all four will be in the World Golf Hall of Fame if they’re not in already. The last four winners were Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. That’s good company to keep.

The FedEx Cup was never about major championships.

Woods is absent from East Lake, this time not by choice but because he didn’t qualify.

It stands out because of his last two victories, Nos. 80 and 81, both in Georgia.

The first was the Tour Championship, the most electric moment in golf all of last year. Woods won at East Lake to cap a remarkable return from four back surgeries, a DUI arrest stemming from his reliance on painkillers and his own fears that he would never compete again.

Memories would be a lot stronger if he were here. Instead, he becomes the seventh player to win the Tour Championship and not be eligible to return the following year during the FedEx Cup era.

Should he be at East Lake?

It seems that way because of his other victory, this one in April at Augusta National, as captivating as any of his 15 majors. Woods said Sunday at Medinah when his season officially ended that he was disappointed and he wished he could be at East Lake. But he hardly was torn up over it, for one reason.

“I’m the one with the green jacket,” he said of winning the Masters.

He also has company.

British Open champion Shane Lowry didn’t make it to East Lake, either. He has a claret jug at home in Ireland to console him.

This is the fifth time in 13 years of the FedEx Cup that at least two major champions were not at the final event, usually with extenuating circumstances involved. Five major champions who didn’t make it to East Lake were not PGA Tour members, three of them in 2010 — Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer.

The last time was in 2016, when Masters champion Danny Willett and British Open champion Henrik Stenson fell short. Willett didn’t become a PGA Tour member until after he won the Masters. Stenson had a knee injury he wanted to protect for the Ryder Cup and wound up playing just two playoff events.

Given their stature, it would seem the majors should get more FedEx Cup points than a measly 20% bump. For example, Woods received 600 points for winning that little invitational at Augusta National. That’s only 100 points more than Kevin Tway got for winning the Safeway Open.

Could it be more? Sure.

Does it need to be? Not necessarily.

Would anyone even be talking about major champions not being at East Lake if not for Woods being one of them?

Because while the PGA Tour has drastically changed its season with the FedEx Cup format, what hasn’t changed is what matters — winning majors. The reward for capturing a Grand Slam event is worth far more than having a tee time at East Lake and a chance to win $15 million.

Besides, it’s not like Woods and Lowry didn’t have the opportunity.

Woods played only six times after he won the Masters — three times he failed to make the cut, the other three he was a combined 39 shots behind the leader — and finished the season with 12 events.

Lowry played 14 times, a product of having only conditional status at the start of the year. He had middle-of-the-pack performances at two playoff events. He finished 57 points short of East Lake, which equates to being two shots better at Liberty National and at Medinah.

“I think what it says is that it’s really hard to get to Atlanta and the Tour Championship,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said. “You’ve got to play exceedingly well over the course of an entire season. And with volatility, there’s risk.”

The volatility refers to the playoff events offering four times as many points. If any change should be considered, perhaps triple the value would do the trick. Or the tour could double the points for the first event and triple the points for the next one.

It really doesn’t matter.

The majors are over. Names are etched on silver trophies and in golf lore.

The FedEx Cup is merely an end-of-the-year competition to keep golf compelling and to give the PGA Tour season a definitive end. It hasn’t done any harm. If anything, it has kept the best players competing against each other after the majors.

And they all get rich when it’s over.

Total bonus money for the 30 players who made it to Atlanta is $46 million. That’s what they will be chasing over the next four days.

Woods and Lowry now can only look behind them. The view is just as sweet.