ATLANTA -- Justin Thomas found it difficult holding a six-shot lead heading into the final round of the BMW Championship on Sunday, knowing he was expected to win with such a big advantage.
He prevailed -- but not before feeling the pressure of the lead being cut to two strokes on the back nine -- winning for the first time in 2019.
That victory vaulted him to the top of the FedEx Cup standings, and it means he has had to sleep on a two-shot advantage all week leading into the Tour Championship.
Gone is the points reset used in various forms over the past 12 years during the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoff system that concludes at East Lake Golf Club with the start of the Tour Championship on Thursday.
In its place is a new system designed to mimic the disparity in points with a strokes-based scoring plan that will see Thomas begin the tournament at the top of the scoreboard at 10 under par. Patrick Cantlay, who is second in points, will start at 8-under. And the list goes all the way down to No. 30 Jason Kokrak, who begins at even par.
"You know, coming into a Sunday, a two-shot lead is nothing,'' said Brooks Koepka, who will start in third place, three shots back of Thomas. "We all know that. So what's the difference between a two-shot lead starting the week? That seems very reasonable to make up, especially if you're going to play well.''
The PGA Tour ran "a million simulations,'' according to commissioner Jay Monahan, to determine the disparity in points to strokes, with the idea of making it simpler to follow for fans and players, while also eliminating any confusion about who the real winner is this week.
It is simply a different way to begin a tournament -- which is really more than that.
"This is a season-long competition,'' Monahan said. "It's not a tournament. The FedEx Cup is not a tournament.''
Gone is the 72-hole event that Tiger Woods captured a year ago. There will be 72 holes at East Lake, but it is a continuation of the FedEx Cup playoffs that began two weeks ago at Liberty National and continued last week at Medinah. The player with the lowest score over four days will get the most world ranking points but no trophy.
The winner of the FedEx Cup gets a very nice trophy -- and $15 million.
"I can always figure out a way to spend another $15 million,'' Koepka said. "But I don't tee it up to try and win millions of dollars. It's the same nerves.''
Koepka could be excused if he were miffed to not be atop the standings. He won the PGA Championship, finished second at the U.S. Open and Masters, and was fourth at The Open. He won the WGC-FedEx. St. Jude. And he is third?
Such is the volatility -- some would say flaws -- of the playoff system, which saw Patrick Reed win the Northern Trust and bolt to fourth from 50th; Thomas win the BMW and move to first; and Cantlay jump over Koepka, Reed and Rory McIlroy -- despite winning just once at the Memorial -- into the second spot.
McIlroy has two wins and 13 top-10s this year and yet he is behind Reed, who has a single win and only four top-10s.
"The year that I won the FedEx Cup  was the worst ranking I went into the playoffs with,'' McIlroy said. "I was 36th going in. And I won Boston and won the Tour Championship and won. I've been No. 1 going into it twice and haven't won. You have to appreciate it for what it is.''
And some critics would suggest it is simply a money grab. To that end, FedEx increased its season-long bonus pool from $35 million to $60 million, with $15 million (up from $10 million) going to the winner and $5 million to second. The last-place finisher earns $395,000, and there are payouts all the way down to 150th ($60,000) on the final points list.
Since its inception in 2007, the FedEx Cup has undergone numerous alterations, mostly to the points structure. This year, for the first time, the playoffs consist of just three events, down from four. And the new staggered scoring is different, although it is meant to mirror what the FedEx Cup finale has always looked like, without benefit of a regular tournament.
Winning the FedEx Cup is not meant to be on the same hallowed ground as winning a major championship. And it might not be as meaningful as winning the Players Championship or a World Golf Championship event.
It is simply a way for the PGA Tour to put a bow on its long season.
"The FedEx Cup, it's different,'' Monahan said. "It's a way to wrap it all together, to crown a season-long champion.''