The Tour Championship
It was a frustrating week for us at the BMW Championship as after one of our selections Will Zalatoris withdrew early on day three with an injury it was left to Jon Rahm and Trey Mullinax to fly our fag with both in the end coming up one and two shots respectively shy of the places.
While a return for 150/1 pick Mullinax would naturally have been more fruitful it was Rahm’s display, which frustrated far more. The Spaniard was inexplicably all at sea for the first 27 holes at +5 before something clicked on his back nine on Friday. From there on in he played as well as anyone to climb the leaderboard and finish the week on 9- under and it was very much a case of what might have been.
The event itself was won by Patrick Cantlay who saw off a spirited performance from Scott Stallings to become the first man to successfully defend the BMW title since it has been a Fedex Play off event and to bag his first solo tour title of the season. The Californian now has a great chance of also becoming the first man to defent the Fedex Cup trophy.
So onwards we go to the last week of the PGA Season at the Tour Championship.
Before getting stuck in to the event though just a quick thank you to all who have followed through the PGA Season. After the heroics of the 20/21 season It has undeniably been a much tougher campaign for us with all the little breaks, which went our way last year going against us this time round. The winners have been far less frequent and the Sundays we more frustrating with Sahith Theegala’s defeat at the Travelers undoubtedly the toughest one to swallow.
In the end then regardless as to how this week plays out I am relieved that no damage has been done long terms with the season, al be it marginally, still a profitable one. Hopefully the breaks will go our way once more in 22/23!
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.
So, where to begin with this year’s Tour Championship? Well, firstly let’s have a quick recap of new scoring system that the PGA Tour chose in their wisdom chosen to implement three years ago.
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 Dustin Johnson sat helplessly in the clubhouse wondering if his lacklustre performance over the week would be enough to hang on to the Fedex Cup, or whether Rory would 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 am not a huge fan of the new system and while we got a pretty exciting conclusion in its first year with Rory McIlroy taking home the spoils for the second time having started the week on 5- under in fifth place and five shots back, the 2020 winner Dustin Johnson had started the week in first place on 10- under as had last years winner Patrick Cantlay, re-enforcing the point of view that basically 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….
S Scheffler -10
P Cantlay -8
W Zalatoris -7
X Schauffele -6
S Burns -5
C Smith, R McIlroy, T Finau, S Straka, S Im -4
J Rahm, S Stallings, J Thomas, C Young, M Fitzpatrick -3
M Homa, H Matsuyama, J Spieth, J Niemann, V Hovland -2
C Morikawa, B Horschel, T Hoge, C Conners, B Harman -1
KH Lee, JT Poston, S Theegala, A Scott, A Wise Level Par.
At the time of writing all 30 of the players who have qualified are teeing it up with no withdrawals although with Cameron Smith withdrawing before the off last week and Zalatoris during the event there must be slight doubts about this duo’s fitness. Ultimately though I very much expect both to be teeing it up come Thursday.
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 number one in the standings heading in to the week Scottie Scheffler heads up the first market while the ‘lowest 72 hole score’ market is headed up by 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 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.
As discussed earlier 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 let’s take a look at how the last three years events have played out under the new system.
Below I have listed the top five finishers from 2019, 2020 & 2021 along with their ‘starting scores’ going in to the week.
1 R McIlroy -18 [-5]
2 X Schauffele - 14 [-4]
T3 B Koepka -13 [-7]
T3 J Thomas -13 [-10]
5 P Casey -9 [-2]
1 D Johnson -21 [-10]
T2 X Schauffele -18 [-3]
T2 J Thomas -18 [-7]
4 J Rahm -17 [-8]
5 S Scheffler -14 [-2]
1 P Cantlay -21 [–10]
2 J Rahm - 20 [-6]
3 K Na -16 [-2]
4 J Thomas -15 [-4]
T5 X Schauffele -14 [-2]
T 5 V Hovland -14 [-3]
As we can see from these tables in the first two years only one player in each year who started the week outside of the top five was able to breach the top four finishing places and that man was the same player on each occasion, Xander Schauffele, who is undoubtedly something of a course specialist. Last year though two further players who started outside of the top five Justin Thomas and Kevin Na who started on -4 and -2 respectively were able to breach the final top five.
Ultimately though if you are looking to back the winner of the event/Fedex Cup the message under the new format is simple, focus on the top five players heading in.
We look set for a week of disruption at East Lake with storms showing as a possibility literally every single day. Temperatures meanwhile look set to sit in the mid to high 80s all week.
Wind does not look to be an issue with nothing more than 10mph forecast across the week so with soft conditions likely lower scoring than normal could well prevail..
As I always say though…this could all change!
As has been my preference over the past three years I have chosen to stick with the ‘winner without starting strokes’ market and as such I have gone with two players this week as follows;
WINNER WITHOUT STARTING STROKES – JON RAHM –10/1 - 2.5pts E/W – ¼ odds 1st 4. - FINISHED 16th
It has been an undeniably frustrating season for Jon Rahm with just the one trophy to show for his efforts in Mexico.
As we have seen from the Spaniard over the recent years though he does have a propensity to turn up in the play offs and last week at the BMW Championship he extended his run of top ten finishes in the season ending events to eight.
At the Wilmington CC Rahm started incredibly slowly and through 27 holes he sat at +5 languishing near the bottom of the leaderboard. From there on in however something clicked and Rahm played the remaining 45 holes as well as anyone to finish on a 9- under total in eighth place.
While the week then was no doubt another frustrating one for Jon his efforts did propel him to a 3- under starting total this week which, if he can produce something really spectacular gives him just a glimmer of hope on landing the big fish in East Lake.
From that point of view then Rahm should come in to the week in an aggressive mood knowing he has to ‘go low’ and with the course potentially playing soft after anticipated rain this might just play in to the Spaniards hands.
Looking at Rahm’s record at East Lake and last year he pushed eventual winner Cantlay all the way with his ‘real’ score for the week of 14- under the joint best total while the previous year he again produced a solid 9- under number over the four days.
Returning to last week and a look at Rahm’s stats over the weekend show that he gained nearly five shots from tee to green while his putter also cooperated strongly from Friday onwards. Clearly then Rahm is on the verge of a big performance and I am happy to jump on board this week.
WINNER WITHOUT STARTING STROKES – XANDER SCHAUFFELE – 12/1 – 2.5pts E/W – ¼ odds 1st 4. - FINISHED 6th
My second selection in this market is Xander Schauffele.
Schauffele finally ended his solo winless run on the PGA Tour in June at the Travelers Championship and shortly afterwards he added the Genesis Scottish Open title to his trophy cabinet to dispel any lingering doubts about his credentials to close out an event.
Understandably Xander then ran out of steam at the Open Championship however after dusting off the cobwebs at the Fedex St Jude he was back in the saddle at the BMW Championship last week posting a tie for third place.
As a result of that performance Schauffele now heads in to this week in fourth place in the standings starting on 6- under and four shots behind the leader Scottie Scheffler.
Arriving in fine fettle then and with confidence surely high Schauffele could not choose a track better suited to him this week than East Lake for his tilt to win the Fedex Cup for the first time.
To validate this further we only need to take a look at Xander’s record here over the years since he first teed it up in the event in 2017. Firstly on that debut appearance when the event was still a good old fashioned stroke play tournament Xander posted a win then the following year under the same format he finished seventh.
Move on then to 2019 and 2020 and on both occasions under the new format he improved his starting position to eventually finish second with the 2020 effort seeing him post the lowest 72 hole score.
In 2021 meanwhile he was at it again working his way up the leaderboard to finish fifth notching the third best ‘actual’ score across the week. To sum up then and in five visits here Schauffele has twice posted the best 72 hole aggregate score and in his other three appearances has finished second, third and seventh in this market. Clearly Xander loves East Lake.
The one slight danger this week is that Schauffele is in the best position he has been over the recent years coming in to the week with regards to winning the Fedex Cup and this could add some extra pressure to his performance, ultimately though the reason he is in the position he is, is down to the quality of golf he has produced of late and I am happy to wrap up our season by taking the inform Californian to thrive at East Lake once again.