The Tour Championship
After a few frustrating weeks it was a great week for us at the BMW Championship with Justin Thomas producing a stellar performance to deliver on the promise of his recent showings.
After a great opening round on Thursday JT stalled slightly on Friday, however Saturday’s new course record of 61 saw him take the tournament by the scruff of its neck to open up a six shot lead after 54 holes, and despite some nervy moments on Sunday, which saw his lead reduced to two shots around the turn he was able to see things through reasonably comfortably in the end.
So onwards we go to the last week of the PGA Season 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 second play-off event, The BMW Championship.
For those who have been with me since the outset of this season thank you for following and putting your faith in my selections.
In all truthfulness it’s been a tough season for us and the changes to the schedule and the new tournaments added have naturally made things trickier at times as well, however we’ve hung in there and Justin Thomas’ win at the BMW Championship leaves us in a position where a winner this week at East Lake will put us in to profit for the season.
So, where do we begin with this year’s Tour Championship? Well, where we must begin of course is with the new scoring system that the PGA Tour have in their almighty wisdom chosen to implement….
For those that have just got back from a 12 month round the world trip without internet access, or indeed for those who are picking up on the PGA Tour for the first time this week I shall briefly explain….
As we know the PGA Tour felt that the scoring system that was previously in play for the Tour Championship was too confusing as there were two winners to be found on the week, the winner of The Fedex Cup and the winner of The Tour Championship golf tournament itself.
What it appears they didn’t like was that, if we take last year’s tournament as an example, Tiger Woods recording a memorable ‘comeback win’, a culmination of some really strong play through the second half the season in particular, while Justin Rose did enough to deservedly win the Fedex Cup based on his year long effort. This apparently wasn’t exciting enough for them…
Equally it seems they no longer wanted a situation like we had in 2016 whereby DJ is sat helplessly in the clubhouse wondering if his lacklustre performance over the week will be enough to hang on to the Fedex Cup, or whether Rory will pinch the event and the whole Fedex Cup title in a three way play off with Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell….
No again not exciting enough for them it would appear…Or, if we are to believe what we read it would appear, that they felt your average US viewer couldn’t follow a commentator saying “If Rory wins this play off he also wins the Fedex Cup, but if he doesn’t DJ does”….Not something I accept to be honest…
So, away they went and after consulting the greatest minds they could they came up with a handicap system for this week whereby the leader of the Fedex Cup going in to East Lake would start on a score of -10 and would be given a two shot lead over the guy in second who would start on -8, three shots over the guy in third, four over the guy in fourth and so on, down to a ten shot lead over the players starting from 26th – 30th who would start on Level Par.
It would then be a case that the player who finishes the tournament with the lowest aggregate score including their handicapped start would win the golf tournament and with it the Fedex Cup.
So in a nutshell in their quest to make things more exciting the PGA Tour have devised a system where in principal the best player in the field gets a start over everyone else…
What next, perhaps the organisers at Roland Garros will try to liven up the French Open by giving Nadal a one game lead in each set, or maybe if Man City and Liverpool prove to be way too good for everyone else again this season in the Premier League, next season they’ll give them each a five point start to be going on with….
Joking aside the truth of it is of course we could easily get a fantastic tournament this week as Justin Thomas, the beneficiary of the two shot lead may struggle and his lead could be gone after the first hole or two, while someone way back could make a charge, however even if this happens, and the PGA Tour will desperately be hoping it does, the fact will not change that they have chosen to make things more interesting/exciting by giving the best player in principal a lead!!
Anyway, enough of my griping…lets have a look at the Tour Championship Leaderboard as it stands on Monday afternoon through zero holes….
J Thomas -10
P Cantlay -8
B Koepka -7
P Reed -6
R McIlroy -5
J Rahm, M Kuchar, X Schauffele, W Simpson, A Ancer -4
G Woodland, T Finau, A Scott, D Johnson, H Matsuyama -3
P Casey, J Rose, K Kisner, B Snedeker, R Fowler -2
M Leishman, S Im, C Conners, C Reavie, T Fleetwood -1
B Dechambeau, L Oosthuizen, C Howell III, L Glover, J Kokrak Level Par.
At the time of writing all 30 of the players who have qualified are teeing it up with no withdrawals through injury or illness.
There are two markets being priced up by most firms this week, ‘To Win The Fedex Cup’ and ‘To Shoot The Lowest 72 hole’ score, not unsurprisingly Justin Thomas who was victorious last week and therefore enters this week with a two shot lead heads up the first of these markets, while the 72 hole scoring market is headed up by former East Lake winner 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.
Other Donald Ross designs used on tour include Sedgefield Country Club, the annual home of the Wyndham Championship, Detroit GC the host of this year’s inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic, and Aronimink, which hosted last year’s BMW Championship and the 2010 & 2011 AT&T Nationals.
East Lake is a tough test with finding fairways and even more so the right areas on the greens being the key to success here.
The main reasons for this is that it is important to leave yourself with the right uphill putts on the fast running surfaces 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.
Historically of course the most important thing to address this week was how the event ties in with the conclusion of the Fedex Cup as in essence we had two tournaments going on at once, The Tour Championship and The Fedex Cup Race.
This year though this has all changed as winning one means winning the other.
Having said that though with the ‘who will shoot the lowest 72 hole score’ market being available this week it is still I believe important to give some attention to how the pressure of winning the Fedex Cup has effected peoples performances here over the years and 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 2009.
The winners of these events have been as follows;
2018 T Woods
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
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 went on to win the Tour Championship.
Furthermore 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.
Now of course with Thomas entering this week with a two shot lead this might well be the year that hoodoo breaks, however my suspicion is that JT may well suffer the same fate this week as the other No 1 ranked players have done over the years and I certainly wouldn’t be rushing to back him in the ‘To win The Fedex Cup/Tour Championship’ market at the prices on offer.
Over the past ten years we have seen winning scores as high as -8 from Furyk back in 2008 and as low as -13 from Henrik Stenson.
On though whole the winning score tends to be between -10 to -12 with Tiger winning with -11 last year.
Similarly to the last couple of weeks we have the potential for some thunderstorms in the earlier part of the week meaning a softer course may well face the players come Thursday.
Moving on to the tournament days at not surprisingly for Georgia at this time of year all four days show the potential for further storms.
Temperatures for the week look set to range from the high 80s to the low 90s.
Wind does not appear to be an issue either with nothing more than 6 or 8mph in the forecast.
As I always say though…this could all change!
With so much uncertainty around how this week’s new format will affect the mindset of the players who are right in the thick of the hunt for the Fedex Cup riches I am choosing to focus purely on the ‘Who Will Shoot The Lowest 72 Hole Score’ market.
Furthermore my thoughts are that the players who are starting far enough of the pace to in principal be ‘freed up’ by the fact that they are not really in with a serious shout of winning the big prize are the guys to follow in this market and on this basis I have gone with two players this week as follows;
TO SHOOT THE LOWEST 72 HOLE SCORE - HIDEKI MATSUYAMA – 18 -1 – 2.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 5
FINISHED 9th - NOT IN TOP 5 LOW 72 HOLE SCORES
First up for me this week is someone who has graced these pages a fair bit over the past season, Hideki Matsuyama.
Prior to a recent blip, which saw Hideki miss cuts at the Open Championship and Wyndham Championship he had been a model of absolute consistency this season making all his cuts since the 2018 Open Championship and posting five top ten finishes in his 18/19 campaign.
After these two recent missed cuts Hideki settled things back down with a 30th place at the Northern Trust before springing to life at the BMW Championship last week.
After opening up with a solid 69 at Medinah the Japanese star shot a new course record of 63 [which lasted all of a day!] in his second round on Friday, a score, which after a blip on Saturday, he reproduced on Sunday to finish third.
At Medinah all parts of Hideki’s game were in good working order and he finished the week ninth in both SGOTT and SGATTG. Importantly though, and one area that really caught my eye, the putter which has held Hideki back hugely this season also clicked in his two rounds of 63 and he finished the week tenth in SGP.
Aside from Hideki’s form last week and the improvement he showed with the putter, the main thing that appeals to me about him this week is his form over the years on Donald Ross courses as prior to his missed cut at Sedgefield CC recently he had finishes of [most recent first] 13 4 15 11 5 3 12 13 over the last 4yrs on Ross designs, this includes a fourth and fifth place at East Lake in four previous starts.
Obviously this week we are very much venturing in to the unknown with this new Tour Championship format with the big question mark being how players will adapt there mindset to this new handicap system. All in all though I am happy to side with Matsuyama who starts the week far enough behind to hopefully produce an uninhibited performance on the back of last weeks strong showing.
TO SHOOT THE LOWEST 72 HOLE SCORE – BRANDT SNEDEKER – 40 -1 – 2.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 5
FINISHED 24th - NOT INSIDE TOP 5 LOW 72 HOLE SCORES
My second selection to produce the goods from off the pace this week is former Fedex Cup Champion and East Lake winner Brandt Snedeker.
Sneds returns to East Lake this year despite being winless courtesy of a consistent season which has peaked at just the right time with finishes of sixth and fifth in the first two Fedex Cup Play Off events.
Coming in to the week on a score of -2, eight shots behind JT Brandt should have fairly few aspirations about winning the Fedex Cup for the second time, and like Matsuyama my hope is that with the shackles off he will continue on the roll he is on from the last two weeks.
At Medinah Brandt played the final 36 holes bogey free and he finished the week fourth in driving accuracy and of course right near the top of the putting stats.
What particularly draws me to the Tennessee native this week is the fact that most of his victories over the years have been telegraphed with really strong form proceeding it.
This can be seen from the following table that shows Sneds’ previous four starts prior to each of his tour wins [most recent start first and where less than four starts shown denotes they were his only previous starts of the calendar year];
2018 Wyndham 42 8 MC 3
2016 Farmers 2 3
2015 AT&T Pebble 19 10 MC 10
2013 Canadian 11 8 17 MC
2013 AT&T Pebble 2 2 23 3
2012 Tour Champ 37 6 2 28
2012 Farmers 8
2011 Heritage 4 15 MC 4
2007 Wyndham 18 7 32 8
As we can see from this prior to each of his wins Brandt had posted at least two top tens in his previous four starts apart from when he won at the Farmers in 2012 on a back of an eighth place finish in his first start of the year.
The message here is clear, basically when Brandt gets hot a win tends to follow;
Now obviously this week the waters are murkier with all the different factors in play, however I am happy to finish our 18/19 campaign by siding with Sneds to stay true to his own past history and be the low man this week on a course that he clearly has great memories of.