FedExCup leader Patrick Cantlay not keen on the TOUR Championship format

The American is not alone, with the staggered starting strokes being roundly criticised by the field.

Less staggered, maybe, than staggering.

The PGA Tour's seasonal finale was transformed two years ago when performance through the year, but mostly in the Playoffs, determined how the players started the TOUR Championship.

The leader in the rankings began on 10-under, second was 8-under, third 7-under and so on - a format described as staggered starting strokes.

But even as Jon Rahm was competing in the first of this year's Playoffs he was grumbling about the system's integrity. "I don't like it," he said. "I don't think it's fair."

And the man in pole position this week agrees with him.

"I think, frankly, it's not a good format," Patrick Cantlay said. "The previous format was confusing, this is less confusing, but I don't think it's a good format.

"I dislike the fact that we no longer have a TOUR Champion. I dislike that no one knows, when they look at the leaderboard, who shot the lowest round this week.

"The fact that Xander (Schauffele) didn't get a tournament win for beating the field by two or three shots (last year) is absolutely criminal. I am not a mastermind on golf formats, but I guarantee you there must be an option for a better format."

As PGA Tour officials withdrew to tear their hair out, Justin Thomas jumped with some delicious backhand compliments.

"I like it more now than I did when I first heard it," he said. "It's easier for people to understand at home, which I think was the main reason that it's happened.

"I do like the fact that everybody here this week knows exactly where they stand and they know what they have to do and they just have to go out and get it.

"But then you get into the fact of, I could have the greatest season of all time on the PGA TOUR, I could win 15 times in a season and then I could come here, something detrimental might happen where I either can't play, and then I finish 30th in the FedExCup.

"I don't think that's fair. That's something that could somehow be tweaked."

Stewart Cink, as befitting his nice-guy-veteran status, was able to joke about it.

"Well, I made up nine shots in one round in 2004," he said. "I don't see why I can't do it in four rounds. It seems real easy, doesn't it?!

"It's a little daunting to know that you're playing against the best players of the year and you have a nine-shot deficit before you even tee the ball up. But, to be honest, I think if I was a thousand over I would still be happy to play here."

And then Rory McIlroy added a bit of grey to the black and white.

"The first year it was in this format I started five back and won the tournament by three," he said. "It's not an insurmountable advantage.

"There's been a few iterations and I think this is definitely the best format so far. There's clarity for the players. There's clarity for the fans.

"And, look, I went into two Playoffs being No. 1 in 2012 and 2014 and didn't win either of them. So I've seen both sides of the coin here."

In many ways this week's third effort with the starting strokes might be one of the most interesting because the top five all have ordinary records at the host club East Lake. Therefore, as our preview highlights, there's plenty of reason to oppose them.

Our report on Justin Thomas also pointed out that he really likes his chances of hunting down the leaders.

Was there anything else to be gleaned from the press conferences ahead of Thursday's first round? Yes, plenty.

On East Lake

Cantlay: "Controlling your golf ball out here is really important. Hitting the ball in the fairway is really important out here because the rough is Bermuda and tough. Then leaving the ball below the hole because the greens are very fast and undulated, so that gives you a chance to be aggressive with some of your looks."

Viktor Hovland: "You got to really put the ball in the fairway here. The fairways are pretty narrow and the rough is pretty thick. It's all about making par from the rough and when you hit the fairways you can really be aggressive. The greens are really pure. They're firm and fast, so you're really going to have to hit the ball well to get close. But once you're on the green you can really make some putts."

Thomas: "I'm excited to be here. I absolutely love this golf course, very similar to how I feel about Sawgrass. It's a place that I get comfortable every time I come to and I feel like it's a place I am going to win at some point in my career. It's obviously a little different now with the staggered start. But if you drive the ball well, you really, really can tear this place up. That's the game plan this week, see if we can do some damage."

On FedExCup leader Cantlay

Collin Morikawa: "He's like a silent killer, he just kind of does everything well."

Cink: "He doesn't have any one particular thing that you drool over, like Rory and Dustin have the driving. Patrick doesn't have any one thing that stands out, but what makes him such a great player is that he doesn't have any weakness. He's plenty long. He hits plenty of fairways. He's got a massive short game. He's tough under the gun. And he's a great putter. Certainly in the locker room he's not underrated."

On favourite Jon Rahm

Cink: "We don't see the complaining any more. I think that's a huge sign of maturity. Seems like now that when something bad happens, he might grumble for two or three seconds but he gets over it quickly. The guy doesn't have many weaknesses, so when you do have something that can be improved it's easy to identify and he's done a good job of it."

On Bryson DeChambeau

Cink: "This year has been defined by Bryson, he's played awesome at times. He's been like a magnet for the world of golf to come and watch. The feud, make of that whatever you want, but he's fun to watch. He's revolutionized the game."

McIlroy: "I certainly feel some sympathy for him because I don't think you should be ostracized or criticized for being different. He is his own person. He thinks his own thoughts and everyone has a right to do that. He's brought some of this stuff on himself, I'm not saying that he's completely blameless. But, deep down, I think he's a nice person and all he wants to do is try to be the best golfer he can be."

Cantlay on his putting and playing under pressure

"If I could bottle up how I felt with the putter, that would be very, very good for me. I think the more times you put yourself in a pressure situation and come through it, the more you're going to feel like you can reproduce that. The confidence to come through last week, when the chips were down, I'll carry that with me and really draw on that when I find myself in a similar scenario."

READ MORE: TOUR Championship: Justin Thomas feeling the Sawgrass vibe

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