The Tour Championship
After a weeks break the BMW Championship, weather problems and all, seems a long time ago now.
Having said that the memory of another hard to swallow defeat for us with Justin Rose’s Play Off loss still lingers.
With play having been completely washed out on the Sunday and with the deluge continuing to fall overnight a 54 hole event looked a distinct possibility going in to Monday and with Rose holding the third round lead and one of our other picks sitting in the places this would have suited us down to the ground!
Unfortunately Mother Nature decided to cooperate, the grounds crew worked wonders and we got uninterrupted play on Monday to complete the event.
After a nervy bogey at the 1st was righted by a chip in at the 2nd Justin played a really solid, professional round and after Bradley bogeyed 18 all Justin had to do was par the 18th and the trophy was his to go with the world No 1 spot he had already guaranteed himself.
Having found the fairway of 18 tee Justin made a mess of the hole from there on in before making an even bigger hash of the play off to gift the trophy to Bradley, meaning that instead of a nice profitable week we unfortunately came out with a small loss.
So onwards we go to the last week of the PGA Season at the Tour Championship.
For those who have been with me since the outset thank you for following and putting your faith in my selections.
It’s been a season of ups and a few downs and a couple of very tough to swallow defeats [Yes, one last chance to mention Hossler & Si Woo Kim!].
In fact, in essence the whole season was basically shaped on 3 or 4 putts in a 3 week stretch in April. One that Poulter managed to hole on the 18th in Houston and two or three shockers that Si Woo couldn’t hole on the closing holes a couple of weeks later at Hilton Head.
Still, despite these big disappointments there have been enough good weeks and winners to mean that regardless of what the coming week brings us at East Lake we will finish the season with a healthy profit and that’s all you can ever ask for.
Anyway enough of the looking back, the season isn’t yet done, meaning we still have time to add to the seasons coffers and lets hope we can do that at the Tour Championship.
The Tour Championship first debuted on the PGA Tour in 1987 before becoming the finale to the Fedex Cup Play Offs in 2007.
In its early years the event rotated through several different courses, however since 2004 it has been played continuously at East Lake GC in Atlanta, Georgia.
The event is contested by the Top 30 players in the Fedex Cup rankings after the completion of the third play off event, The BMW Championship.
At the time of writing all 30 of the players who have qualified are teeing it up with no withdrawals through injury or illness.
The top of the market is tough to separate this week as newly crowned world No 1 Justin Rose currently holds marginal favouritism over the man he deposed, Dustin Johnson, and Rory McIlroy.
East Lake is a par 70 measuring around 7400yds.
The greens are MiniVerde Bermuda.
The course was originally opened in 1907 however it was then completely redesigned by Donald Ross in 1913.
As I am sure most readers will have noticed we have seen a fair bit of Ross’ designs on the PGA Tour over recent weeks, with Sedgefield Country Club, the annual home of the Wyndham Championship, and the most recent venue, Aronimink, host of the BMW Championship both being his handywork.
East Lake course is a tough test with finding the fairways and even more so the greens being of key significance here.
One of the main reasons for this is that the greens run fast and it seen as important to leave yourself with the right uphill putts to be able to be aggressive when putting.
If you do miss the greens here you find yourself in the tightly mown, run off areas and struggling to make par.
The first and most important thing we should address this week is how the event ties in with the conclusion of the Fedex Cup.
In essence we have two tournaments going on at once this week, The Tour Championship and The Fedex Cup Race.
After some initial tinkering with the points allocation in it’s early years the Fedex Cup has settled on a system whereby any player in the top 5 of the rankings going in to the week at East Lake controls their own destiny, meaning that if they lift the trophy in Atlanta they will also win the Fedex Cup.
The current top 5 in the Fedex Standings are;
1 Bryson Dechambeau
2 Justin Rose
3 Tony Finau
4 Dustin Johnson
5 Justin Thomas
In principal therefore you’d think that you would be pretty safe backing any of these five players going in to the week, knowing that they would be 100% focused on winning the event.
Unfortunately though it’s never as straightforward as this because once you get in to the weekend and certainly by Sunday, it will have become clear based on how these five players have performed over the first three days, what they each will need to do to secure the $10 Million windfall.
In fact anyone of the Top 5 going in to the week in the Fedex Cup standings could win the pot without winning the event if the other players in the hunt don’t produce the goods. [one of the players in top 5 Tony Finau could actually win the Fedex Cup without winning an event all season if the cards fell his way this week!]
This means that it’s quite possible we could have a situation come Sunday where Bryson goes in to the final round one shot of the lead but knows that a 2nd or 3rd place finish would be good enough to with him the Fedex Cup, and if that were the case would you really want to be on him to win outright?!
With this in mind I thought it would be good to look at the last ten winners of the Tour Championship and see how many of them won the Fedex Cup as well.
You will see these players listed below and I have * those who also won the Fedex Cup.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners of the Tour Championship since 2008.
The winners of these events have been as follows;
2017 X Schauffele
2016 R McIlroy*
2015 J Spieth*
2014 B Horschel*
2013 H Stenson*
2012 B Snedeker*
2011 B Haas*
2010 J Furyk*
2009 P Mickelson
2008 C Villegas
As you can see the answer to this is actually that quite a resounding number of the TC winners did also win the Fedex Cup, 7 out of the last 10 in fact.
This however doesn’t quite give us the full picture as if you drill down a bit further only 4 of these 7 players ranked inside the top 5 in the Fedex Cup standings going in to the week and therefore you would say were genuinely focused on winning both the Fedex Cup and the TC, rather than just trying to win a golf tournament with anything else being a bonus.
These 4 were Spieth, Horschel, Stenson & Snedeker. The first three all ranked 2nd in the Fedex Cup standings going in to the week at East Lake, whilst Sneds entered the week in 5th place.
In other words over the past ten years only 4 players ranked in the top 5 in the Fedex Cup standings going in to the week have won the Tour Championship. Further more rather ominously for Bryson backers not one single player ranked 1st in the Fedex Cup standings going in to the week has won the Tour Championship over the past ten years.
To me this tells me one main thing, that whilst it is quite possible that a player ranked in the top 5 in the Fedex Cup standings coming in this week will win the golf tournament, on balance, allowing for all the different permutations that could effect one of these players mindsets coming in to Sunday, we are better focusing this week on the players ranked outside of the top 5 in the standings coming in, and who therefore are purely focused on the event itself.
Over the past ten years we have seen winning scores as high as -7 from Villegas back in 2008 and as low as -13 from Henrik Stenson.
On the whole though the winning score tends to be between -10 to -12 with -12 being the number for both of the past two years.
After several weeks of rain and soft conditions we seem, touch wood, to be in for a dry week with at the time of writing only Saturday of either the lead up days or the event days showing the possibility of ‘isolated storms’.
Firm, fast conditions should be the order of the day therefore for the first couple of days at least.
Wind does not appear to be an issue either with nothing more than 6 or 7mph in the forecast.
As I always say though…this could all change!
Based on my thoughts above I have gone with four players this week as follows;
BILLY HORSCHEL – 33 -1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 5 FINISHED 2nd
First up this week is a familiar face from our teams of late, Billy Horschel.
Billy has proved to be somewhat frustrating to me this season but I am optimistic that things can fall in to place this week.
Regular readers will know that I have repeated the mantra on a few occasions this year that when Billy finds his form and his tail is up, he is a man to follow.
Unfortunately I chose not to follow my own logic back in the spring in the Zurich pairs event when he had found his form the previous week, only for him to lift the trophy alongside Scott Piercy.
Move forward a few months and I then had Billy in our team at the Dell Technologies Championship after his strong play at the Northern Trust only for him to withdraw with illness after nine holes.
The following week at the BMW I then foolishly took a view that the illness may have broken Billy’s momentum, only for him to jump straight back on the horse and finish 3rd!
So we now arrive at East Lake, a venue, which of course Horschel won at when he lifted the Fedex Cup trophy in 2014 with the Florida Gator primed and ready to win again.
In his last 12 completed rounds on tour Horschel has not shot worse than 69 and he is a collective -46 under par over these three events.
At Aronimink Billy ranked 3rd in Strokes Gained Approach to the Green, 6th in GIR and 2nd in SGP, the area of his game, which normally gives him the most problems.
As stated already GIR is of particular importance this week and Billy ranks 5th in this stat on tour this season, which is the highest of any player in this week’s field.
As well as winning at East Lake in 2014 Billy finished 7th here on his debut at the venue in 2013, so it is clearly a course which suits his accurate tee to green game.
We also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that two of Billy’s strong performances of late have come on Donald Ross tracks.
Finally as a Florida native a return to Bermuda greens should be of benefit to Billy.
Obviously we have a stellar field on show this week and anyone of the games top names could have one of those weeks where everything clicks and they run away from the field, and if this did happen there wouldn’t be too much that Billy, or any of the other players on show could do about it.
However, I can’t help feeling that even in a field of this strength that at 33-1, with 5 e/w places on offer in a field of 30 runners, that we have one of the best value bets we have had all season with Billy this week.
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA –20-1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 6 FINISHED T4th
Next up for us this week is another familiar to the column of late, Hideki Matsuyama.
As with Horschel the signs are staring us in the face at the moment that another win for the Japanese star is not too far away and we would be foolish to ignore them.
Since his closing round 66 at the PGA Championship Hideki has been on a roll and in a similar vein to Horschel, Hideki only has two rounds over 70 in his last 17 rounds on tour, and this has seen him notch finishes of 15 4 15 11 in his last four starts.
At Aronimink Hideki lead the field for the week in GIR and it was only his putter which prevented him from notching a far higher finish.
Whilst Hideki has not yet set East Lake alight on his previous visits he has finished 5th and 12th in two of the past three years so he is obviously reasonably comfortable on the course.
It is also worth noting that prior to his win at Firestone last year Hideki had a fairly poor record at that venue so he is obviously a player who if his game is ‘on’ can produce at courses that haven’t necessarily been great for him previously.
As I’ve already mentioned earlier my preference this week is to focus on players who do not have the distraction of the Fedex Cup to think about and in addition of course Hideki does not have the distraction of an impending Ryder Cup to think about.
Basically Hideki is here this week on a mission to salvage a poor, injury blighted season for him, and I am confident he will give us a good run for our money.
XANDER SCHAUFFELE –33-1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 5 FINISHED 7th
Another player I can see being on a bit of a mission this week for different reasons is defending champion Xander Schauffele.
Overlooked for the final Ryder Cup wild card pick in favour of Tony Finau, Xander will arrive in Atlanta purely focused on defending the title that he won in a most impressive fashion 12 months ago.
Xander’s ability to produce the goods in big events has been well documented and this season he has shown this by finishing 2nd at the Open Championship, 6th at the US Open and 2nd at TPC.
Last time out Schauffele added a 3rd place finish at the BMW Championship, which was a fantastic effort, considering he knew he probably had to win to sway Furyk’s mind away from picking the ultra- consistent Finau.
With all Ryder Cup thoughts now banished from his mind Xander will now be able to focus fully on the job at hand this week.
As well his ability to produce the goods in the big events one of the main things that I like about Xander is how he went about defending his other PGA Tour title to date this summer when he returned to the Greenbrier classic.
Granted the wheels came off in the final round for Xander that week however for the first three rounds he played superbly to put himself right where he needed to be going in to Sunday, and there were absolutely no signs that the focus that comes with being the defending champion, particularly the first time he was in that position, had any negative impact on him.
If anything Xander showed that returning to the scene of his first win was inspiring him to play great golf at the venue again until he basically just had ‘one of those days’ on the Sunday.
I am sure Xander will have learnt a lot from that experience and I am confident that he will use the disappointment of having been overlooked by Furyk for the Ryder Cup to deliver a really strong title defence this week.
WEBB SIMPSON – 28-1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 6 FINISHED T4th
The honour of being our final pick of the 2017/18 season goes to this years Players Champion Webb Simpson.
2018 has been quite a year for Webb to date and it certainly isn’t over yet as he has a return to the Ryder Cup fold to look forward to next week.
This week however I am hoping Webb’s focus will be on the job in hand at East Lake and if so there are sound reasons to think he can perform well.
After his tremendous win at TPC Webb has produced a summer of consistency with his two best results coming in the form of a 2nd place at the Donald Ross designed Sedgefield CC and a 6th place last time out at the Ross designed Aronimink.
Two starts ago Simpson also lead the field at the halfway stage at the Dell Technologies Championship before he had a disappointing weekend.
However, as has been the case for Webb most weeks this year all parts of his game were again in solid working order at Aronimink so he should come to East Lake in good spirits.
Webb’s East Lake record is pretty solid with two top 5 finishes in five visits so this is clearly another Ross design he is comfortable on.
Webb arrives at East Lake in 11th place in the Fedex Cup standings so he still has an outside chance of taking home the major spoils. To do this however he firstly needs to win in Atlanta before hoping the other chips fall his way.
Allowing for the form he has shown on his recent starts on Donald Ross tracks I can see him going close to doing what is needed from his end at least and I expect Webb to produce a strong performance this week.