Victory for Tony Finau is great news, but history is against him in the Tour Championship

It maybe isn’t the conclusion you’d naturally draw – winners of the first Playoff event have a mixed record thereafter.

Have there ever been many more popular wins than Tony Finau's victory in The Northern Trust?

It was not only that this was his first win in over five years, but that in-between those successes he had finished second no less than nine times.

Not so much a case of banging his head against the door as taking repeated face-first running jumps at it.

"I feel like it's been a long time coming but I also feel like you have to earn everything out here," he said after defeating Cameron Smith on the first extra hole.

"This one took everything I had because I knew I had to get to 20-under. I was chasing down the best player in the world. Jon is a good friend but I know what type of game he has, and he's not going to let up on a lead.

"So I knew I was going to have to catch him and eventually pass him, and Cam was playing well. I gave it everything I had. I hit a great putt on 17 I thought was going to go in it would have been nice to have a little cushion on 18 tee.

"But this is cool. I've been thinking about that walk up 18 for a long time. It's been years. It's nice to finally have that and now put this second win behind me."

The relief of the past over, he started to look forward.

"Nothing's given to you and I was able to earn this win," he added. "Hopefully the future continues to be bright

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"I'm going to enjoy this one, but two big tournaments in front of me. I'm playing great golf. I feel like I can go on a run, so why not continue right on to next week?"

Ah.

At first it seems obvious that the winner of the first FedExCup Playoff event should ride a wave.

But a glance at the records of those initial champions make for interesting reading, revealing some unlikely trends.

Here are the key standouts from those 14 previous winners of the first Playoff:

- Four of the 14 did win again in the same Playoff series.

- But nine of the 14 didn't make the top 10 in their next start (and seven never made another top 10 in the entire series).

- Most striking is this: Dustin Johnson last year completely bucked a trend - he was not only the first winner of the initial Playoff event to win the Tour Championship, but he was the first to finish better than T10th in it.

- The caveat to this last point is that the new format massively helped.

Let's take a closer look at the records of those 14 players and then those three findings.

The individual records

(Year - first Playoff winner - subsequent Playoff results - Tour Championship)

2007 Steve Stricker: 9 - 3 - 17

2008 Vijay Singh: 1 - 44 - 22

2009 Heath Slocum: MC - 38 - 19

2010 Matt Kuchar: 11 - 3 - 25

2011 Dustin Johnson: 42 - 65 - 23

2012 Nick Watney: 20 - 45 - 28

2013 Adam Scott: 53 - 28 - 14

2014 Hunter Mahan: 64 - 59 - 23

2015 Jason Day: 12 - 1 - 10

2016 Patrick Reed: 5 - 13 - 24

2017 Dustin Johnson: 18 - 33 - 17

2018 Bryson DeChambeau: 1 - 19 - 19

2019 Patrick Reed: 19 - 15

2020: Dustin Johnson: 2 - 1* (he was third low-scorer, but won with the staggered strokes add system)

Performance in the rest of the regular Playoffs

So Vijay Singh, Jason Day and Bryson DeChambeau got on a roll and added another victory before they reached East Lake. Another four landed one top five before teeing it up in the Tour Championship.

The win ratio feels about right, but just the seven top fives seem low.

Nine of the 14 failed to make the top 10 in their next start and seven of them didn't do so at all before East Lake.

That's not so much tapering toward peak performance in the Tour Championship as just plain losing momentum - surely the last thing the PGA Tour wanted for its Playoff system? Which leads us to.

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Performance in the Tour Championship

Perhaps the Tour noted the state of these results.

Prior to last year the 13 winners of the first Playoff had a best finish at East Lake of T10th - in a field of 30!

Only two of them had finished in the top half (T15 or better).

It reiterates the notion that there was not a lot of rising-to-a-crescendo going on.

Johnson turned that on its head, helped by starting the week with his staggered shots advantage (that said, in being the third low-scorer of the week he was already out-performing those who went before him).

It will be interesting to see how Finau plays in two weeks time. He now leads the standings and is 4-for-4 at finishing top 15 at East Lake.

He's in A1 position to maintain Johnson's bucking of the trend/the PGA Tour's management of it.

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