The Tour Championship
After a tough stretch since the tours resumption in June we finally hit pay dirt at the BMW Championship last week as we bagged the winner at 10/1 with Jon Rahm and a full place with our 100/1 pick Jason Kokrak.
After a tough opening day which saw all of our four selections way off the pace any kimnd of return on the week looked unlikely, however Friday saw us edge back in to it and after Rahm shot 66 on Saturday [even with a penalty shot for forgetting to mark his ball on the green!] we were right in the hunt going in to Sunday.
Even so with Olympia Fields playing as tough as it was the event was very much in the hands of co leaders Dustin Johnson & Hideki Matsuyama heading in to day four. Unexpectedly though Sunday saw Olympia Fields play easier than over the three previous days and this opened the door to Rahm to shoot a brilliant best of the week 64, which looked good enough.
That though as they say was only half the story as DJ then rolled in an astonishing 45ft putt on the 18th to force a play off before Rahm bettered that with a 66ft sidewinder of a putt on the same hole to clinch the trophy in the first of extra time.
So onwards we go in great heart 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.
Finally don’t forget that unusually for the event this years tournament falls over Labor Day weekend in the US meaning we have a Friday to Monday tournament with a Monday finish.
So, where to begin with this year’s Tour Championship? Well, where we must do is recap the new scoring system that the PGA Tour chose in their wisdom chosen to implement last year.
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 2018’s tournament as an example, was 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 the 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…
As you probably don’t need me to tell you I wasn’t a huge fan of the new system going in to last year and while we got a pretty exciting conclusion last year with Rory McIlroy taking home the spoils for the second time, I’m still not convinced. Basically in my eyes there are only four or five players who can realistically win going in to the week and that to me isn’t how you should set up a golf tournament!
Anyway, enough of my griping…lets have a look at the Tour Championship Leaderboard as it stands on Monday afternoon through zero holes….
D Johnson -10
J Rahm -8
J Thomas -7
W Simpson -6
C Morikawa -5
D Berger, H English, B Dechambeau, S Im, H Matsuyama -4
B Todd, R McIlroy, P Reed, X Schauffele, S Munoz -3
L Griffin, S Scheffler, J Niemann, T Hatton, T Finau -2
K Kisner, R Palmer, K Na, A Ancer, M Leishman -1
C Smith, V Hovland, M Hughes, C Champ, B Horschel 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 although it is worth bearing in mind that Rory McIlroy has made it clear that if his wife Erica goes in to labour for the birth of their first child during the week he will be out of East Lake like a shot..
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 the in-form Dustin Johnson who enters this week with a two shot lead heads up both markets from last weeks winner Jon Rahm.
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 the Rocket Mortgage Classic, and Aronimink, which hosted the 2018 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.
Last year though this all changed as winning one now means winning the other.
Having said that 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 past 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 ten winners of the Tour Championship from 2009 through to 2018.
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 we can see then seven of the ten players who won the Tour Championship also won the Fedex Cup.
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 that ten year period 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 during this ten year period not one single player ranked 1st in the Fedex Cup standings going in to the week has won the Tour Championship.
Now and perhaps more pertinently lets take a look at how last years event played out under the new system.
Firstly, below I have listed the ‘starting scores’ going in to the week and then underneath these I have listed the final top ten players and their scores from the week, which include their starting totals.
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.
1 – R McIlroy – 18
2 – X Schauffele – 14
T3 - B Koepka & J Thomas -13
5 – P Casey -9
6 – A Scott – 8
7 – T Finau -7
8 – C Reavie -6
T9 – K Kisner, H Matsuyama & P Reed -5
As we can see from these tables last year the trend again continued of the number one player coming in to the week, in this case Justin Thomas, ‘with the target on their back’, unable to hold on to the top spot, with McIlroy coming through to bag the top prize.
Moving on and what struck me most clearly from last year is that it took a special effort from one of the games elite, McIlroy, who started five shots back, to take the top prize, and it rubber stamped to me the notion that it is huge ask for anyone out of these first few places to take home the trophy…hence my humble opinion that the new system does not add to the level of excitement!
The early part of the week shows the possibility of a storm or two, with Wednesday & Thursday then dry.
Moving on to the tournament days and while the first two days Friday and Saturday look dry not surprisingly for Georgia at this time of year Sunday & Monday show the potential for 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!
As noted earlier my view is it is difficult to look beyond the top five players with regards to winning the Fedex Cup under the new system. Last year it took a superlative effort for McIlroy to bag the spoils after starting five back however what we need to bear in mind is that in addition to his obvious quality he was a proven course specialist who had triumphed here before.
This year while the long term pedigree of the player who sits in fifth place, Collin Morikawa, is of course not in question he is making his course debut and it is hard to see him shooting the sort of numbers that McIlroy did last year.
In addition of course while the historical omens are not on his side DJ has been so impressive for the past three weeks it is hard to see him, or of course the equally impressive Rahm folding.
From that point of view while I will confess to having been tempted to simply back the front two ‘win only’ I will swerve the to win the Fedex Cup/Tour Championship market and instead turn my attention to bigger potential pickings in the ‘To shoot the lowest 72 hole score’ market and on this basis I have gone with three players this week as follows;
TO SHOOT THE LOWEST 72 HOLE SCORE – XANDER SCHAUFFELE – 12 -1 – 3pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 5
First up for me this week is a player who has taken to East Lake like a duck to water over the recent years, Xander Schauffele.
Schauffele made his debut on the Donald Ross layout in 2017 and actually bagged the trophy at the end of the week and after a seventh place finish in 2018 he was at it again last year finishing second both in the official results and in the ‘lowest 72 hole scoring’ to Rory McIlroy.
What’s particularly noticeable to me is that on the two years Xander performed his best here he was not in with a realistic chance of winning the Fedex Cup and arrived here in solid but unspectacular form.
This year the Californian finds himself in a similar situation again as he starts the week on -4, six shots back, exactly like last year, and he arrives here on the back of two 25th place finishes in the first two Play Off events.
Last week at Olympia Fields Schauffele struggled with his accuracy off the tee ranking 44th in this department and this, as was the case for many, was what held him back from getting seriously in the mix.
The previous week however at the Northern Trust he was strong off the tee ranking 12th in accuracy so it may just be that the Illinois lay out didn’t fit his eye.
Returning this week to a venue we know he loves and with no real pressure on his shoulders I expect this master of limited field events to step up once again and I am keen to have him on side.
TO SHOOT THE LOWEST 72 HOLE SCORE – BILLY HORSCHEL – 35 -1 – 2.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 5
My second selection to produce the goods from off the pace this week is former Fedex Cup Champion and East Lake winner Billy Horschel.
Horschel was absent from the end of season finale last year however in 2018 he finished second here meaning his form figures on his three visits read the same as Schauffele, 7 1 2
In 2018 Billy arrived here on the back of two third place finishes in the first three play off events and with that in mind and his known pedigree for ‘getting on a roll’ at this time of year I sided with him at 33/1 and actually stated I thought it was the best e/w bet of the season, a thought he rewarded by finishing second.
This week the Florida Gator doesn’t arrive here in quite the same vein of form however it is only three weeks since he finished second on another Donald Ross layout at the Wyndham Championship so he is clearly in decent nick.
What I suspect will also work in Billy’s favour this week is the fact that he very nearly wasn’t here at all as he squeaked in to 30th place in the standings on Sunday courtesy of a Corey Conners three putt from 4ft on the 18th hole at the BMW, which dropped the Canadian down a few spots on the leaderboard thus bumping Billy up. In essence Horschel arrives here with absolutely no pressure, starting ten shots back and playing on house money.
Finally whilst Horschel it is fair to say is usually a pretty upbeat character he talked very positively in his post round interview on Sunday in Illinois saying that felt he played a lot better than his score showed over the week. Looking then at his numbers at Olympia Fields it is clear to see that the main problem was the putter as he ranked 61st in this department. His long game numbers, although poorer over the weekend as he no doubt felt the pressure of making East Lake, were very strong over the first two days.
Returning this week to a track he loves and no doubt feeling fortunate to be there I expect Horschel to be in cruise control and produce another great week at this venue.
TO SHOOT THE LOWEST 72 HOLE SCORE – BRENDAN TODD – 55 -1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 5
Finally I shall finish what has been an undoubtedly challenging season for many different reasons with a roll of the dice on Brendan Todd.
With two wins and numerous other strong performances Todd has surely earned the honour of ‘Comeback Player Of The Year’ [if they still award it!] as his efforts to return to the higher echelons of the game have been nothing short of remarkable.
After a poorer showing at the Northern Trust Brendan bounced back last week to post another strong result at the BMW Championship, finishing in eighth place, with his putter once again doing the damage as he ranked first for the week in this department.
Looking at Brendan’s performances it is 100% clear that he is at his best on tracks which reward his accuracy off the tee and his strong putter and on that basis I would expect East Lake to be right up his alley.
It is also worth noting that Todd does have a previous appearance here on his resume having finished a solid 17th back in 2014.
A resident of Georgia Todd will no doubt of course be far more familiar with East Lake than just one Tour Championship appearance six years ago and he will be keen to finish his season in his home state on a high.
Starting on -3, seven shots back Brendan will have no realistic expectations of winning the Tour Championship/Fedex Cup however he does have plenty of incentive to put in a big week [other than prize money & ranking points of course!] as he is donating $200 for every birdie he makes this week to the ‘Birdies For East Lake’ a charity supporting the local community hit hard by the impact of Covid-19 – a cause which will of course be close to the Georgia man’s heart.
Todd has shown this season that on the right track he can get in a groove and I am optimistic he can go under the radar this week and like our other two picks free wheel to yet another really strong performance.