Golf: McIlroy questions staggered scoring at Tour Championship

McIlroy smiles during a practice round prior to the Tour Championship.
McIlroy smiles during a practice round prior to the Tour Championship.PHOTO: AFP

ATLANTA (REUTERS) - Rory McIlroy is unconvinced by the new staggered start to be used at this week's season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta and questioned on Wednesday (Aug 21) whether it could affect the tournament's prestige.

The PGA Tour has instigated the scoring system, based on accumulated points, so that top seed Justin Thomas starts the event at 10 under par, with the second seed at eight under, and so on, down to even par for the 26th-to-30th ranked players in the elite field.

This has been done so that, for the first time, the winner of the season-long FedEx Cup points race and the winner of the Tour Championship are guaranteed to be one and the same person.

Last year, with no staggered start, Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship but Justin Rose won the FedEx Cup. The Englishman almost anonymously collected a $10 million bonus as Woods justifiably earned the headlines for ending his five-year victory drought.

Woods did not qualify to defend his title this week.

"You can shoot the best score of the week and not win the golf tournament," McIlroy told reporters at East Lake.

"If that happens to someone it's going to be hard for them to wrap their head around." The four-times major champion added: "If the FedEx Cup really wants to have this legacy in the game, like some of these other championships do, is people starting the tournament on different numbers the best way to do it?"

The Northern Irishman is also unconvinced that the tournament's relentless focus on the first prize of US$15 million (S$20 million) is helping the event's prestige.

Network TV golf coverage in the United States for the past couple of weeks has breathlessly discussed the game's biggest payout ever.

"I don't think the money needs to be front and centre, because I don't think that's what the fans care about," McIlroy said.

"Players might care about it, and we want to be rewarded and paid for what we do, but at the same time, competitively, it's not about that. It's about trying to win golf tournaments.

"Who know

s what the winner wins at the Masters? I don't know because that's not what it's about." Woods received US$2.07 million for his famous victory at Augusta National in April.

Fifth seed McIlroy, who will start at five under par, has PGA Tour career prize money of nearly US$50 million, not to mention earnings on other tours and in sponsorship deals.

Among this week's participants, Dustin Johnson leads career earnings with US$61 million, while tour rookie Im Sung-jae is last with just under IS$3 million.

"If the FedEx Cup wants to create a legacy that lasts longer it doesn't need to be about the money, it should be about the prestige of winning an event that you'll be remembered for," McIlroy said.