Tour Championship primer: Who's in, who's leading, what's at stake

Scottie Scheffler enters the PGA Tour's final event of the season with a two-shot lead this week in Atlanta

ATLANTA — The Tour Championship tees off Thursday, bringing an end to the 2022-23 golf season. Here's what you need to know about the PGA Tour's crowning event.

The background: It takes all year to get here

While the sport of golf revolves around the four majors — the Masters, the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open and the British Open — the PGA Tour handles the tournaments before, between and after the majors. The Tour's season-long FedEx Cup gives players the chance to pile up points over the course of many months, with grinders able to stack up stats while victorious players hit occasional highs.

The format: Scheffler's head start

After years worth of tinkering, the PGA Tour has settled on a Tour Championship scoring system that both gives strong performers a reward for prior play while leaving the door open for a miracle finish. Players have compiled FedEx Cup points throughout the season in the hopes of reaching the top 70 heading into the three-event playoffs. The top 50 advanced through to the second round at the BMW Championship, and the top 30 advanced to East Lake this week.

Scottie Scheffler comes into the Tour Championship with the points lead, which entitles him to start the week at 10-under before hitting a single shot. Second-place Viktor Hovland is two strokes back at 8-under, Rory McIlroy is at 7-under, Jon Rahm at 6-under and Lucas Glover at 5-under. The rest of the field cycles downward from there, with the final five players in the field of 30 starting at even par. There is no cut, meaning that all 30 players will be playing all four days, and even the even-par players have a tiny shred of hope.

It's a confusing system, to be sure, but it's better than earlier variants. Some used a points system that required a Ph.D. in statistics to understand or explain; others robbed the Tour Championship itself of any suspense by allowing a golfer on a hot streak to claim the FedEx Cup before even arriving in Atlanta.

Jon Rahm is one of 30 players competing for the Tour Championship, the finale of the season-long FedEx Cup, at East Lake Golf Club this week in Atlanta. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)

The leaders: Major champions, major questions

Six of the top 10 players atop the Tour Championship leaderboard are major champions — Scheffler, McIlroy, Rahm, Brian Harman, Matt Fitzpatrick and Wyndham Clark. McIlroy has already won the FedEx Cup three times. Scheffler is playing some of the best golf of his storied career, but his putter continues to victimize him. Hovland is coming off an exceptional win at the BMW Championship. Storylines run up and down the leaderboard in this all-killer, no-filler format.

The Ryder Cup question: Who plays themselves in, or out?

Six players automatically qualified for the United States' 12-man Ryder Cup team. Six spots remain for team captain Zach Johnson to fill. One of those will likely go to Brooks Koepka, who isn't here this week because he joined LIV Golf. But several other players have the opportunity to shoot their way into Johnson's good graces, including Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler. The most interesting case belongs to Lucas Glover, who didn't even play in the four majors this year but is in the mix because he won two straight tournaments earlier this month. Is that enough to get him on the team? The way he plays this week will likely have a significant impact on his Ryder Cup fate.

The heat: Fiery fairways ahead

For much of its history, the Tour Championship teed off in late September, which is slightly cooler than August in Georgia. But that schedule put it in the teeth of the NFL and college football, so the Tour rolled it back to Labor Day weekend, and then rolled it back again to mid-August. The Tour Championship now has much less major sports competition — but it also takes place in sweltering, wet-blanket humidity. Temperatures are scheduled to be in the high 90s for most of the tournament, which will have a significant impact on both the players and the tournament itself.

The small field at the Tour Championship means that even the first players tee off late in the morning; Spieth and Sepp Straka start the tournament at 11:26 a.m. ET Thursday, with Scheffler and Hovland teeing off in the final pairing at 2 p.m. The tournament will be broadcast on Golf Channel and CBS and streamed on ESPN+.