No. 1 at start of PGA Tour postseason rarely finishes that way

AP photo by Mark Baker / Jon Rahm celebrates on the 18th green at Augusta National after winning the Masters on April 9. Rahm is No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings as the PGA Tour's postseason tees off, but the top seed has rarely finished that way over the past decade-plus.

MEMPHIS — Jon Rahm has the golf game for any occasion, most notably the PGA Tour's postseason.

He just doesn't have history on his side.

Rahm is the No. 1 seed going into the FedEx Cup playoffs, courtesy of four wins this season, including the Masters for the second major championship of his career, along with a runner-up finish in the British Open last month. But only once in the last 13 years has the top seed at the start of the PGA Tour's postseason gone on to capture the FedEx Cup.

The exception falls to Jordan Spieth, and that surprised him.

"Because usually if you're the No. 1 seed, you've won at least a couple of times," Spieth said as he began his Wednesday afternoon pro-am at rain-soaked TPC Southwind.

One good week should be enough to get it done, provided that one week is the last one.

In 2015, Spieth was three strokes away from a shot at the calendar Grand Slam. He then entered the playoffs with an enormous lead in the standings, missed the cut in two events, but made up for it by winning the season-ending Tour Championship.

Circumstances are far different going into the FedEx St. Jude Championship, which starts Thursday at TPC Southwind as the first of three postseason events.

There are no cuts this year. The field for the opening event has been reduced from 125 players to 70, with only the top 50 (down from 70) reaching the BMW Championship next week near Chicago. As usual, the top 30 after that go to Atlanta for the Tour Championship.

And while Rahm may be No. 1 in FedEx Cup points, the 28-year-old Spaniard has company. One spot behind him is Scottie Scheffler, who has two wins and has finished in the top 10 at all but four of his 17 tournaments this PGA Tour season, with his worst showing is a tie for 23rd at the British Open. That's why he's No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Also right there is Rory McIlroy, No. 3 in the FedEx Cup standings and No. 2 in the world (Rahm is No. 3). For all the focus on McIlroy going a ninth straight year without winning a major since earning the fourth such title of his career, he has two wins this season and hasn't finished out of the top 10 in three months.

Is it pure talent or a little bit of timing?

"I'd say a little bit of both," said McIlroy, who speaks from experience as the only player to win the FedEx Cup three times. "You have to put yourself up there. To just consider it good timing seems unfair on my part. I'd like to think that I play good enough golf over the years to give myself a chance a bunch of times."

It starts to unfold Thursday on a course that for has been getting soaked since Monday, with a big downpour that cut out half of the pro-am Wednesday. This could be a case of target golf and low scoring, but that's not the only way to keep score.

The key is the top 50, and not only because players want to advance. Those who do are assured of playing in all eight of the $20 million signature tournaments next year in the new PGA Tour schedule.

Rahm, Scheffler and McIlroy are already mathematically assured of being among the top 30 who reach the FedEx Cup finale at East Lake Golf Club. For now it's about winning for the sake of winning and making sure they're still among the best of the best when they get to the finish.

Rahm started from behind two years ago — the No. 1 seed starts the Tour Championship with a two-shot lead — when Patrick Cantlay beat him by one shot on the final hole.

"Obviously you want to win every time we tee it up," Rahm said. "But yeah, the goal is to try to get to East Lake as No. 1 and enjoy that two-shot lead. It's always made a difference. 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."

Ben Griffin got the 70th and final spot at TPC Southwind by nine points over Justin Thomas, who missed the postseason for the first time. Matt Kuchar is at No. 60, the only player to reach the postseason every year since the FedEx Cup began in 2007. Right on the bubble for making it to next week at No. 50 is Nick Hardy.

Baylor School graduates Harris English (No. 42), Keith Mitchell (No. 58) and Stephan Jaeger (No. 61) are also among those in the postseason.

Points are quadrupled for the playoffs, allowing for more movement and more pressure.

Scheffler has strong memories from last year's postseason, and they're not of the happy variety. He was the top seed at the start and going into the Tour Championship. He had a two-shot lead to start the last event and had a six-shot lead on the final day, only for McIlroy to beat him.

"I'm excited to get another crack at the playoffs. I'm obviously not ecstatic with the way last year finished," Scheffler said. "I feel like last year ... I should have won the FedEx Cup, and I didn't, and this year is a year where we've had a lot of guys having really good seasons. Jon had a great run at the beginning of the year, and I've been consistent most of the year, and Rory has popped up on leaderboards here and there and won a few times.

"It should be an exciting finish to the year."