On Thursday, the Tour Championship, the crowning event of golf's FedExCup playoffs, gets underway at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. At stake: a gargantuan trophy and a monstrous paycheck. In the field: pretty much everybody you know. Let's run down some of the scenarios here, starting with --
Wait, there are playoffs? In golf?
Oh. Wasn't aware this was going to be a Q&A. Yes, it's a four-tournament run, which started a few weeks back with the Barclays and then --
Heh heh. Golf playoffs.
No. No, man. Sorry. Carry on. Barclay something?
Right. The Barclays, followed by the Deutsche Bank and the BMW – why are you laughing?
Sorry, bro. It's just, I have this vision of all these golfers prancing around in their khaki pants saying, "Oh! Look at me! I'm Tom Brady! I'm in the PLAYOFFS! Now everybody in the hemisphere quiet down so I can putt --"
DUDE. The winner gets more than $10 million.
All right, point taken. So how do these playoffs we're talkin' about actually work?
Sort of like Frankenstein's monster, or an American Idol judge's panel, or that mysterious stew your grandmother used to make: It's a whole bunch of disparate parts never meant to work together. Golf is a game where you play the course, not your opponents. If you can beat the course better than anyone else, you're the winner.
So what the playoffs does is award you points based on your performance in each of the first three tournaments. If you total up enough points to get into the top 30, you get invited to this week's Tour Championship, and you get a shot at that $10 million prize.
Makes sense. So how do you earn points?
Don't ask. Not even the players are exactly sure.
Huh. OK. So who's hot right now? Tiger, right?
Tiger, but even more so than him, Rory McIlroy's worked over the courses like they were beachside putt-putts. He's won two of the three playoff tournaments.
Two of the three? Then he's totaled up enough points to walk away with this thing, right? He just needs to make sure that he shows up at the right course, tees off, and boom, ten mil in the bank, right?
Wrong. After three tournaments, the points got reset.
Yep. McIlroy still has the most points, but four other guys – Tiger, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker – all can leapfrog him and win the FedExCup if they win the Tour Championship.
Of course they can.
Look, sometimes the drama's there, and sometimes you've got to make the drama.
Out of thin air, apparently.
Hush. Now, look. Every player in the 30-man field has a mathematical chance at winning, but some – like poor Scott Piercy, down there at No. 30 – pretty much need to win the tournament and hope that every other golfer shows up at the wrong course four days in a row.
So you're saying there's a chance.
If it makes you and Scott Piercy feel better … yes, there's a chance.
So why does golf even have a playoff in the first place? Don't they already have four majors? Those are pretty cool.
They are, but here's the thing: the PGA Tour actually doesn't control any of the four majors, not The Masters, not the U.S. Open, not the British Open – not even the PGA Championship. It's like the NFL shepherding teams all the way through the regular season and then turning the Super Bowl over to the NBA. Don't ask how it happened; like everything else in golf, it's a long and very old story. The fact that golf's marquee events are out of its control doesn't sit well with golf's preeminent governing body.
But the problem is that golfers are independent contractors, meaning they can play whichever events they choose. And after several months of playing golf tournaments almost every weekend --
Oh, that must be so difficult.
– after a full season of playing golf tournaments every weekend, many players are ready for a break. So to yank these guys off their private planes, the Tour has tried to drum up interest in its own tournament, the Tour Championship, by offering what the majors don't: more money for one weekend's work than most people will earn in five lifetimes.
Yeah, but Mitt Romney said those people --
Nope. Don't even try it.
All right. Speaking of multimillionaires, who besides Tiger, Rory and Phil is in this?
It's as stacked a field as we've ever seen. You've got all four major winners from this year – Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els, in addition to McIlroy. You've got their rivals: Adam Scott, the guy who fumbled away the British Open to Els in heartbreaking fashion, Jim Furyk, who did the same thing in the U.S. Open but not quite as bad, and Louis Oosthuizen, who lost to Watson in a playoff in Augusta. There's Luke Donald, who's spent plenty of time at No. 1 without having won a major, and Lee Westwood, who's golf's version of Patrick Ewing/Charles Barkley/the Buffalo Bills. There's Jason Dufner, a rabid Auburn grad who loves to troll opposing SEC fans. And plenty more.
Roll Tide. Who's your pick?
I like Mickelson. He's peaking at the right time, he's won here before, and his new putting style is allowing him greater confidence on the gr-
Whatever. Hey, does anybody still ask Tiger about, you know … waitresses?
Uh … no. We're all kind of past that.
Hey, how about those guys who yell, "Get in the hole!" Man, that never gets old!
We're done here.
The Tour Championship begins Thursday and runs through Sunday afternoon. Follow Yahoo! Sports all weekend for on-the-scene coverage from East Lake.
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