ATLANTA – All 30 players who made it to the Tour Championship have a mathematical shot at the FedEx Cup and its $10 million prize.
That includes Pat Perez, the No. 11 seed, who calculated his own odds of winning.
“All the top guys would have to play bad, which they haven’t done all year,” Perez said Wednesday. “So for them to all do it at once, and me win, it’s about the same odds as the Powerball.”
These sobering words come from perhaps the happiest guy at East Lake.
Perez finished 40th on the money list in 2002, his rookie year. He never has come seriously close to losing his full PGA Tour card in 16 years. But it took him until now, at age 41, to reach the Tour Championship for the first time.
He is among eight players at East Lake for the first time. He also is the oldest in the field.
“I didn’t think it was going to take me 16 years to get here, but it has, and I’m just going to enjoy every minute of it,” Perez said. “It’s awesome to be here. That’s all I can, really.”
Well, not really. Perez, whose career has been filled with explosive moments with his game and his words, had plenty to say about the achievement of someone who stands out among the new generation of golfers. He is not a power player, ranked outside the top 100 in driving distance. Young players strut. Perez waddles. They are dedicated to the gym and tailored fitness routines.
“I like to sit,” he said.
But he managed to get it done when he least expected it.
This time a year ago, Perez was coming off shoulder surgery he feared might end his career earlier than he wanted. He had gone seven years since his lone PGA Tour victory. He was waiting to hear if he would get a sponsor’s exemption to Malaysia. All he had was motivation from being dropped by an equipment company, and a fresh perspective that good golf is nothing to take for granted.
The rest is a blur.
He won in Las Vegas, his third tournament back from his surgery. He tied for third at the Tournament of Champions, challenged at Torrey Pines with a tie for fourth and was one shot out of a playoff at the Wells Fargo Championship. And here he is among the elite on the PGA Tour for this season.
“Everything is just more enjoyable,” Perez said. “I know that’s easy to say because I’ve had a good year, but I’ve still had some bad days and some bad shots and I’ve just kind of let it go easier. It took me a lot longer to probably mature — if you can even use that word for me — than anybody. I’ve just learned to let things go. I still get mad, but I don’t channel it in the ways that I used to.”
His odds to win the FedEx Cup aren’t all that long.
The top five seeds going into the Tour Championship — Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Marc Leishman and Jon Rahm — only have to win the tournament to capture the FedEx Cup. After that, the odds get slightly longer the lower the seed. Rory McIlroy won last year at No. 6.
Jim Furyk was the No. 11 seed at East Lake when he won the FedEx Cup in 2010, so it can be done. Bill Haas is the lowest seed to win at No. 25 in 2011.
The attention figures to center most strongly on the top five.
Spieth will try to join Tiger Woods as the only two-time winners of the FedEx Cup, and the British Open champion probably would need to win to at least make players think about their vote for PGA Tour player of the year.
Right now, the obvious choice is Thomas, whose season-best five victories include his first major, the PGA Championship. Johnson is seeking redemption after last year, when he was the No. 1 seed and tied for the lead going into the last day at East Lake but shot a 73 and could only watch as McIlroy won in a playoff.
“I’m solely focused on this tournament,” Spieth said. “There are a lot of scenarios where I can still win the FedEx Cup and not win ... depending on how it spaces up. But the likelihood is the guys that have been playing really well, the guys that are hot, you’re likely to see toward the top of the leaderboard again.”
Rahm has finished in the top five at all three FedEx Cup playoff events heading to the finale at East Lake. It’s not hard to ignore the potential for a $10 million payoff.
“Especially for a 22-year-old who just left college,” Rahm said. “It wasn’t that long ago when I was counting the days and how much I could spend a day to be able to eat the last day of the month. It’s hard not to think about it for any of us. But I think more than that, we all play for the pride of being named FedEx Cup champions.”
And then there’s Perez, who is playing East Lake because he can. That’s something he could never say until now.