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BlogTour Championship Preview and Picks

Tour Championship

August 22nd – 25th, 2019

East Lake G.C.

Atlanta, GA

Par: 70 / Yardage: 7,346

Purse: No Purse

Defending Champion:
Tiger Woods

by Sal Johnson

Founder, Chief Data Officer, GOLFstats

E-mail me at:
sal@golfstats.com

This week’s field includes:

The field has all 30 players in the top-75 with the highest rank being 74th by Corey Conners. There are 25 of the top 50 in the latest Official World Rankings, with eight of top-ten players in the field (#8 Tiger Woods and #10 Francesco Molinari didn’t make it): #1 Brooks Koepka, #2 Dustin Johnson, #3 Rory McIlroy, #4 Justin Rose, #5 Justin Thomas, #6 Jon Rahm, #7 Patrick Cantlay, #9 Bryson DeChambeau, #11 Xander Schauffele, #12 Tony Finau, #13 Tommy Fleetwood, #14 Webb Simpson, #15 Adam Scott, #16 Patrick Reed, #17 Gary Woodland, #18 Rickie Fowler, #19 Matt Kuchar, #21 Paul Casey, #22 Louis Oosthuizen, #24 Marc Leishman, #26 Hideki Matsuyama, #28 Kevin Kisner, #29 Chez Reavie, #37 Abraham Ancer and #40 Brandt Snedeker

Those missing from the top-50 include: #54 Sungjae Im, #58 Jason Kokrak, #59 Charles Howell III, #63 Lucas Glover, and #74 Corey Conners

Last year there were 28 players from the top-50.

The field includes all 30 of the top-30 from the FedEx Cup rankings.

The field includes only four past champions: Xander Schauffele (2017), Rory McIlroy (2016), Brandt Snedeker (2012) and Adam Scott (2006)

A perfect way for fantasy golfers to check on the past performance of all the players in the Tour Championship field is our performance chart listed by the average finish.  Another way to check who is the best is through a special formula worked out in Golfstats that gives us the best average performances at the Tour Championship field in the last five years or check out our sortable 8-year glance at the Tour Championship field.

A good cheat sheet is this list of odds from the top bookmakers in England.

Another cheat sheet is this list of odds from the top bookmaker in Las Vegas.

Time to look at our who’s hot and who isn’t:

Who’s Hot in the field for the Tour Championship

Player BMW Champ. The Northern Trust Wyndham Champ. WGC FedEx St. Jude British Open John Deere Classic Scottish Open 3M Open Irish Open Rocket Mortgage Travelers Champ. U.S. Open RBC Canadian Open
Jon Rahm
(451 pts)
T5
(105)
T3
(135)
DNP 7
(55)
T11
(52)
DNP DNP DNP Win
(44)
DNP DNP T3
(60)
DNP
Patrick Reed
(414.83 pts)
T19
(46.5)
Win
(198)
T22
(28)
T12
(38)
10
(53.33)
DNP DNP T23
(9)
DNP T5
(23.33)
T30
(6.67)
T32
(12)
DNP
Justin Thomas
(383 pts)
Win
(198)
T12
(57)
DNP T12
(38)
T11
(52)
DNP T9
(30)
DNP DNP DNP T36
(4.67)
CUT
(-6.67)
T20
(10)
Brooks Koepka
(374.67 pts)
T24
(39)
T30
(30)
DNP Win
(132)
T4
(106.67)
DNP DNP 65
(0)
DNP DNP T57
(0)
2
(66.67)
T50
(0.33)
Webb Simpson
(369.67 pts)
T24
(39)
T18
(48)
2
(100)
2
(100)
T30
(26.67)
DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP T16
(22.67)
T2
(33.33)
Tommy Fleetwood
(303.67 pts)
T11
(58.5)
T43
(10.5)
DNP T4
(80)
2
(133.33)
DNP DNP DNP T23
(9)
DNP T13
(12.33)
T65
(0)
DNP
Tony Finau
(292 pts)
4
(120)
T30
(30)
DNP T27
(23)
3
(120)
DNP DNP T23
(9)
DNP DNP CUT
(-3.33)
CUT
(-6.67)
DNP
Patrick Cantlay
(288 pts)
2
(150)
T12
(57)
DNP T12
(38)
T41
(12)
DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP T15
(11.67)
T21
(19.33)
DNP
Rory McIlroy
(287.83 pts)
T19
(46.5)
T6
(90)
DNP T4
(80)
CUT
(-13.33)
DNP T34
(10.67)
DNP DNP DNP DNP T9
(30)
Win
(44)
Brandt Snedeker
(268 pts)
T5
(105)
T6
(90)
T39
(11)
T27
(23)
CUT
(-13.33)
DNP DNP DNP DNP T5
(23.33)
T43
(2.33)
77
(0)
T4
(26.67)
Louis Oosthuizen
(261.17 pts)
T11
(58.5)
T6
(90)
DNP T20
(30)
T20
(40)
DNP DNP DNP T46
(1.33)
DNP T36
(4.67)
T7
(36.67)
DNP
Adam Scott
(205.83 pts)
T9
(67.5)
5
(105)
DNP T40
(10)
CUT
(-13.33)
DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP T7
(36.67)
DNP
Justin Rose
(199 pts)
T52
(0)
T10
(60)
DNP 11
(39)
T20
(40)
DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP T3
(60)
DNP
Hideki Matsuyama
(198.67 pts)
3
(135)
T30
(30)
CUT
(-10)
T43
(7)
CUT
(-13.33)
DNP DNP T7
(18.33)
DNP T13
(12.33)
DNP T21
(19.33)
DNP
Jason Kokrak
(191.17 pts)
T19
(46.5)
T12
(57)
T6
(60)
DNP T32
(24)
DNP DNP DNP DNP T29
(7)
CUT
(-3.33)
DNP DNP
Sungjae Im
(188.5 pts)
T11
(58.5)
T38
(18)
T6
(60)
DNP CUT
(-13.33)
T26
(16)
DNP T15
(11.67)
DNP T21
(9.67)
T21
(9.67)
DNP 7
(18.33)
Abraham Ancer
(187.33 pts)
T28
(33)
2
(150)
CUT
(-10)
DNP CUT
(-13.33)
DNP DNP DNP T19
(10.33)
DNP T8
(16.67)
T49
(0.67)
DNP
Kevin Kisner
(181.17 pts)
T9
(67.5)
T12
(57)
DNP T27
(23)
T30
(26.67)
DNP CUT
(-6.67)
DNP DNP T46
(1.33)
T15
(11.67)
T49
(0.67)
DNP
Lucas Glover
(168 pts)
T7
(82.5)
T43
(10.5)
T72
(0)
DNP T20
(40)
T10
(26.67)
DNP T7
(18.33)
DNP DNP CUT
(-3.33)
CUT
(-6.67)
DNP
Corey Conners
(158.33 pts)
T7
(82.5)
T21
(43.5)
T22
(28)
T27
(23)
CUT
(-13.33)
DNP DNP T46
(1.33)
DNP CUT
(-3.33)
DNP DNP CUT
(-3.33)

How Player Rankings are Computed

Who’s Not Hot in the field for the Tour Championship

Player BMW Champ. The Northern Trust Wyndham Champ. WGC FedEx St. Jude British Open John Deere Classic Scottish Open 3M Open Irish Open Rocket Mortgage Travelers Champ. U.S. Open RBC Canadian Open
Matt Kuchar
(73.33 pts)
T52
(0)
CUT
(-15)
DNP T43
(7)
T41
(12)
DNP T20
(20)
DNP DNP DNP DNP T16
(22.67)
T4
(26.67)
Dustin Johnson
(85.67 pts)
T57
(0)
T24
(39)
DNP T20
(30)
T51
(0)
DNP DNP DNP DNP CUT
(-3.33)
DNP T35
(10)
T20
(10)
Charles Howell III
(86.5 pts)
T37
(19.5)
CUT
(-15)
T22
(28)
DNP DNP T6
(40)
DNP T23
(9)
DNP T35
(5)
DNP T52
(0)
DNP
Bryson DeChambeau
(90.67 pts)
T48
(3)
T24
(39)
DNP T48
(2)
CUT
(-13.33)
DNP DNP T2
(33.33)
DNP DNP T8
(16.67)
T35
(10)
DNP
Gary Woodland
(99.83 pts)
T31
(28.5)
T52
(0)
DNP T55
(0)
CUT
(-13.33)
DNP DNP DNP DNP CUT
(-3.33)
DNP Win
(88)
DNP
Rickie Fowler
(122.83 pts)
T11
(58.5)
CUT
(-15)
DNP DNP T6
(80)
DNP CUT
(-6.67)
DNP DNP T46
(1.33)
DNP T43
(4.67)
DNP
Xander Schauffele
(126.5 pts)
T19
(46.5)
CUT
(-15)
DNP T27
(23)
T41
(12)
DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP T3
(60)
DNP
Marc Leishman
(127.83 pts)
T19
(46.5)
CUT
(-15)
DNP 3
(90)
CUT
(-13.33)
DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP T21
(9.67)
T35
(10)
DNP
Chez Reavie
(130.33 pts)
T57
(0)
T38
(18)
T48
(2)
T27
(23)
CUT
(-13.33)
DNP DNP DNP DNP CUT
(-3.33)
Win
(44)
T3
(60)
DNP
Paul Casey
(141.67 pts)
T24
(39)
DNP T13
(37)
T27
(23)
T57
(0)
DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP T5
(23.33)
T21
(19.33)
DNP

How Player Rankings are Computed

The Buzz:

So we have gotten to the last event of the 2018-19 season.  Hard to believe the year has gone by so fast, it did help that the Tour Championship will be a month earlier than last year.  Along with the shortened schedule, the PGA Tour has embarked on making major changes to not only the FedExCup playoffs but the Tour Championship.  Since it became the last leg of the FedExCup playoffs in 2007, there was never a great way in having a tournament that would produce a winner and at the same time the necessary points to determine the winner of the season-long FedExCup race.  In past years it seemed as if there were two events in one which created a little confusion.  In the 12 years of the FedExCup, there were only 8 times that the FedExCup winner and the Tour Championship winner were the same. The last time that happened was in 2016 when Rory McIlroy captured both titles.  In the last two years, it seemed awkward as two players celebrated winning the Tour Championship and the FedExCup race, which in a way created confusion on who the true winner was.  So the PGA Tour decided to try a new format for this year, one in which the Tour Championship will represent the final FedExCup standings.  In order to do that, points for the year ended at last weeks’ BMW Championship and to recognize those that did well in the year-long point race there will be a staggered start to the Tour Championship.  The leaders in the FedExCup race will get a head start at the Tour Championship.  So the FedExCup leader, which is Justin Thomas will start on Thursday 10 under par.  Patrick Cantlay, who finished 2nd will start at 8 under.  Brooks Koepka who finished 3rd will start the Tour Championship 7 under.  Going down the list, the start goes down so that those that finished between 26th and 30th in the FedExCup will start at even par on Thursday.

So at the start, Justin Thomas will be at the top of the leaderboard and 72 holes will be played.  At the end, the player who finishes the four rounds at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club with the lowest score in relation to par (included their staggered start) will win the FedExCup and be credited with a win at the Tour Championship.  There will be no purse involved in the Tour Championship since the money for the FedExCup race will be in place.  For the winner they will get $15 million, 2nd gets $5 million and 3rd gets $4 million.  The player in 30th spot will get $395,000 so there is going to be a lot of money on the table.  Once we get over the fact of the staggered start and get to the final round, it will seem like a regular tournament, but with the difference of $10 million between first and second, we could see one of the most expensive putts on the 72nd green ever.  Since this is the first year of this venture, the excitement will be if a man that starts with a lead can hold on.  But the bigger question is if someone could make up 10 shots over four rounds and steal the championship.

What’s great about this format

It will add a lot of excitement and get rid of the confusion of trying to see who was going to win the FedExCup.  Of course for Federal Express who foots the bill, they will get top billing and get more for their buck with this format.  The hope is to elevate the FedExCup playoffs and standings, along with crowning just one champion on Sunday.  More important, the PGA Tour has given the leading players a better chance at winning, but at the same time don’t forget that player who starts on Thursday ten shots back of Justin Thomas, if they put on a record four days of golf there is a possibility of winning the FedExCup playoffs.  So it’s just what the PGA Tour and Federal Express want, just one World Series or Super Bowl for golf to end the year and crown a FedExCup champion.

What I dislike about these changes

You have taken an established tournament in the Tour Championship with some great sponsors (Coca-Cola and Southern Company) and basically devalued their event.  The Tour Championship will become a quiet vehicle to highlight the FedExCup playoffs and the season year-long race.  But is it really a season-long race?  Come next month at Greenbrier you will hear the propaganda on the importance of winning “valuable” FedExCup points and who knows how many thousands of times this cliché will be said by announcers.  The biggest problem I have with the revamped FedEx point list is that the winners of the Northern Trust and BMW Championship get 2,000 points while the runner-up got 1,200 points.  These were drastic levels that drastically changed the top of the list and frankly hurt players like Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Matt Kuchar who played great all year long and lost ground.  At the Northern Trust Patrick Reed won, he was in a terrible slump in the middle of the year and going into the Northern Trust was 50th in the rankings and will start at the Tour Championship 4th in the rankings.  Runner-up Abraham Ancher was 67th and will start the Tour Championship in 10th spot.  For both players, they really didn’t have great years other than their late-season form at the right time.  At the BMW Championship, Justin Thomas won for the first time and went from 15th in the FedExCup race to 1st.  Runner-up Patrick Cantlay went from 6th to 2nd.  I have no idea why so many points have to be awarded and in my opinion, takes away from the importance of this being a season-long contest.

The second thing I don’t like is the winner of the Tour Championship could be the player that got a great staggered start and the player who had the best 72 hole score won’t receive the win for the Tour Championship.  If someone like a Webb Simpson or Tony Finau who hasn’t won this year it could mean they won’t get to play at Kapalua for the Sentry Tournament of Champions.  How about Sungjae Im and Jason Kokrak who have not won on the PGA Tour, there timing would be wasted in having the low 72 hole score but not getting a victory.  I find it very interesting that the folks at the Official World Rankings are not using the standings for the Tour Championship, but will look at the 72 hole score and give them points based on who plays the best for the week.

Again, the new format will create excitement for the FedExCup but probably will have to be worked on.

So what do you all think of the new format???

Drop me an email or post your thoughts on the bottom of this page

The PGA Tour will take the next couple of weeks off but we will preview the Omega European Masters next week and then the Porsche European Open.  These will be short but with Draftkings having games think people will be interested.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be looking to improve the previews for 2020 and it’s your time to tell us what you think needs to be added and what should go away.  You can get me at Sal@golfstats.com or post your thoughts at the bottom.

Course information:
  • East Lake Golf Club
  • Atlanta, Ga.
  • 7,346 yards     Par 35-35–70

Tom Bendelow around 1905 designed East Lake and in 1913 Donald Ross completely reworked the course, and even though the layout is the same today, it was altered by George Cobb before the 1963 Ryder Cup matches.

East Lake has had a somewhat tumultuous existence. From its inception until the early 1960s, East Lake was one of the top courses in the entire country. It was Bobby Jones’s home golf course, he learned to play the game on this course. The Ryder Cup was held at East Lake in 1963. However, problems began to arise at the Atlanta Country Club as the area got seedy, and higher-income people began emigrating to the suburbs, leaving only lower-income households to inhabit the area surrounding the once storied Country Club. In the ’60s, the membership decided to abandon the site and move to what is presently Atlanta Athletic Club, with East Lake becoming a public course.

For the next 30 years, the golf course, along with the community itself, floundered, as the area became the most dangerous part of Atlanta. Police often referred to the area in the 70s & 80s surrounding East Lake as “Little Vietnam.”

In 1993, Tom Cousins, an esteemed real-estate developer, and East Lake resident joined with a charitable foundation to restore the East Lake Golf Club and the surrounding community to its previously leviathan stature. The two-phase plan included restoration on all housing and an overhaul of the old golf course. Rees Jones was hired to do the restoration in 1994.

Jones revamped the grass, changed many tees, and completely changed the landscaping. Unfortunately, when Jones did all of the work, it wasn’t thought that the event would be played in September, weeks after the hot summer season.  Everyone was caught by surprise in 2007 when the greens were stressed by a combination of drought and 28 days in August of heat over 90 degrees.  With these conditions, there was not enough time for the bentgrass greens to adequately recover from Atlanta’s hottest summer on record in the midst of a drought. And it was determined that in the best interest that the Crenshaw creep bentgrass would be replaced with Bermudagrass.  In making the changes to the greens, Jones also changed some of the contours of the greens and created some roll-off areas on greens.

Also, the green on No. 7 was changed and pushed back 43 yards, extending the par-4 hole to 394 yards. The fairway and green on No. 17 were repositioned left, closer to East Lake’s shoreline, and new tees were added on No. 13, 15 and 16. New fairways bunkers were added on the left side of No. 3, 7 and 16, and to the right side of No. 15. Bunkers were reconfigured on the green at No. 16 and expanded on the right side of the green on No. 14, as well as the left side of No. 4 green. New hole locations were created on various greens and low-cut, roll-off areas were installed off of greens on No. 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10 and 17.

Today, the course plays as a 7,346 yard, par 70. It features Meyer Zoysia grass on both the tees and fairways while the rough is 419 Bermuda Grass.  The greens are also Bermudagrass. Thus it can tolerate the hot days of August and be in great shape for this week.

The signature hole at East Lake is the Par 3, 15th. The hole plays at around 211 yards, but the downhill shot eliminates some of the distance. The tee was expanded, and if officials want, they can stretch the hole to 225 yards.  The green itself provides the challenge of the hole. Golfers must attack a peninsula green with water left, right and in front of the green, as well as part of the backside. Adding to the difficulty, is a small bunker on the front left and the green, effectively making this an island green.  One other change, the tee at 8 was expanded, and the hole can play to 470 yards even though the “official” yardage on the hole is 455.

In 2015 the course played to a 70.38 average and was the 17th hardest course on tour.  For years the course played it with a par 3 finish.  The hole was very hard, and this created terrible finishes.  So for 2016, the nines at East Lake was reversed as the PGA Tour was hoping to create a more exciting finish.  They got that as the new par 5 18th hole created a lot more drama as the par 3, ninth hole was, who in previous 15 years was the final hole.  in 2016 Rory McIlroy birdied the 72nd hole to get into the playoff, it was the first time in the history of East Lake at the Tour Championship that the winner birdied the 72nd hole.  That year the course played a lot easier, to a 69.61 average and was the 27th hardest course on Tour.  In 2017 the course played to a 69.38 average and was the 31st hardest course on tour.  Last year it played to a 69.62 average and was the 24th hardest course on tour for 2018.

Let’s take a look at vital stats that are important for those playing at East Lake this week

This is based on the most vital stats from East Lake G.C., based on data from last year’s Tour Championship and using data from all the players in the field with stats from 2018.

This is a classic Tom Bendelow design that Donald Ross completely reworked, a course that favors the shot maker and one that hits lots of greens. The course was considered one of the best in America in the 20s and 30s, but with changes to the community in the 50s and 60s, things changed. The course held the 1963 Ryder Cup on it and George Cobb did some changes. The club fell into some really hard times in the 70s and 80s and it took Tom Cousin, an important real estate developer in Atlanta to bring the course back from its low point. Ress Jones did the restoration in 1994 but the goal was to bring it back to the changes that Donald Ross made, which he did perfectly.
What makes the course a gem is that each hole is tree-lined so you have to drive it fairly straight. The most important aspect is hitting greens, in the 18 times the course has held the Tour Championship, only two champions has been out of the top-ten in greens hit (Bill Haas in 2011 and Tiger Woods in 2018) and seven of the champions led that stat. The greens are also hard to putt and since most of the greens are built up, you miss a green so scrambling becomes key. The bottom line this isn’t a course for the power hitter, short hitters have as much chance of doing well as long hitters.

So in looking at our four categories, we see how much driving and getting the ball on the green makes a difference. So we pick Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green because at East Lake putting the ball in play off the tee is very important, probably one of the most important items on this Donald Ross course. Then getting the ball on the greens is important and we all know how hard it is to hit a Donald Ross green. That is why next up is scrambling because the greens are hard to hit when you miss the green you have to get it up and down to win. After that putting average is important, last year East Lake was T-43rd in putting average so it’s important to putt well on this course to play well. This stat shows how easy the greens are, in 2017 only six other courses had easier greens to putt. Also, Tiger putted the best of anyone at East Lake showing that putting is very important. Last we have birdies, last year each of the 30 pro’s averaged 3.53 birdies a round, so look for the player with the best birdie average to continue that at East Lake.
One last thing that, since coming back from the British Open six weeks ago, every PGA Tour event has experienced rain and wet conditions. When the course is wet it changes the character of the course and makes it easier. I can just about guarantee that every result has been because of the rain and easier conditions. Rain is the biggest friend of professional golfers, it makes any golf course easier so that is one of the reasons we have seen lower scores. Will that trend continue this week? Atlanta has had a good amount of rain in the last couple of weeks so yes East Lake will be soft. The good news, for the first week in a while it looks like there won’t be any rain during the week of the Tour Championship.
https://weather.com/weather/tenday/l/USGA0028:1:US
One thing that will be important is the weather, it’s been hot in the southeast and the Atlanta area. It’s also going to be hot and muggy this week, with each week having scattered thunderstorms.  Look for the weather to play a part in all this.

*Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green: Looks at the combination of length off the tee and accuracy, then getting the ball on the green so it determines who is best at all of these items.

*Scrambler: Who gets it up and down after missing a green.

*Strokes Gained Putting: The number of putts a player takes from a specific distance is measured against a statistical baseline to determine the player’s strokes gained or lost on a hole.

*Birdie Average: Players that make the most birdies per round

Of the 30 players in the field, 30 have stats on the PGA Tour for 2019:

Click any column title in the table header to sort columns.

DraftKings tips

*Here are the guys that cost the most on DraftKings this week:
  • Justin Thomas – $15,500
  • Patrick Cantlay – $12,400
  • Brooks Koepka – $12,200
  • Rory McIlroy – $10,600
  • Patrick Reed – $10,200
  • Jon Rahm – $9,900
  • Webb Simpson – $9,700
  • Xander Schauffele – $9,500
  • Hideki Matsuyama – $9,300
  • Matt Kuchar – $9,100

So with the staggered start, the thinking for this week’s Tour Championship will be drastically different.  There is three players over $12,200 which is a staggering figure, yes there are seven players under $5,900 so it does work out.  But there has to be some strategy put in place.  The importance of picking players is not only getting the winner and those in the top-five, but the players that make the most eagles and birdies, plus not making many bogeys or double bogeys.  So a decision has to be made, do you think the staggered starts of Justin Thomas at 10 under, Patrick Cantlay at 8 under, Brooks Koepka at 7 under, Patrick Reed at 6 under and Rory McIlroy at 5 under has a big advantage?  Of course, they do, but as we see week in and week outgoing wire to wire is very tough.  I feel that Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay will have a lot of pressure on them, they have held the lead since Sunday night.  This is new ground for them, of course, Justin Thomas had a lead going into the BMW Championship and was able to hold on to it in the final round, but holding a lead that you got before the start of the tournament is new ground.  I just wondered on Justin Thomas did in the same events that Brooks Koepka played in and I went back to 2017, so in three years the two played in the same events 43 times.  Thomas beat Koepka 23 to 20 times so he does have a bit of an advantage, but still to be able to keep a lead for 72 holes is hard.  Example of that, of the 43 events played this year only 3 players won wire-to-wire, in 2018 there was only 1 so you can see where I am coming.  Now I know that Thomas and Cantlay played well last week, but can they keep it going for another 72 holes?  I don’t think so.

So back to some things that you should know that is important.  Making eagles and birdies.

First of all, let’s look at who has made the most birdies (and eagles) at East Lake since 2016, and this may change your mind on Justin Thomas.
  • Justin Thomas has played the last three Tour Championships at 21 under making 1 eagle, 51 birdies
  • Dustin Johnson has played the last three Tour Championships at 14 under making 1 eagle, 47 birdies
  • Paul Casey has played the last three Tour Championships at 22 under making 3 eagles, 47 birdies
  • Hideki Matsuyama has played the last three Tour Championships at 6 under making 1 eagle, 40 birdies
  • Patrick Reed has played the last three Tour Championships at 7 over making 0 eagles, 40 birdies
  • Gary Woodland has played the last three Tour Championships at 7 under making 1 eagle, 36 birdies
  • Rory McIlroy has played in two of the last three Tour Championships at 17 under making 1 eagle, 39 birdies
  • Jon Rahm has played in two of the last three Tour Championships at 11 under making 1 eagle, 34 birdies
  • Justin Rose has played in two of the last three Tour Championships at 12 under making no eagles, 34 birdies
  • Xander Schauffele has played in two of the last three Tour Championships at 17 under making 1 eagle, 33 birdies
  • Kevin Kisner has played in two of the last three Tour Championships at 6 under making no eagles, 32 birdies
  • Webb Simpson has played in two of the last three Tour Championships at 11 under making 1 eagle, 31 birdies
  • Tony Finau has played in two of the last three Tour Championships at 10 under making 1 eagle, 30 birdies
  • Rickie Fowler has played in two of the last three Tour Championships at 1 over making no eagles, 29 birdies
  • Brooks Koepka has played in two of the last three Tour Championships at 4 under making 2 eagles, 27 birdies
  • Matt Kuchar has played in two of the last three Tour Championships at 7 under making no eagles, 27 birdies
  • Marc Leishman has played in two of the last three Tour Championships at 4 over making no eagles, 23 birdies
  • Patrick Cantlay has played in two of the last three Tour Championships at 1 over making no eagles, 23 birdies

So it’s time to make up our minds.  Justin Thomas has everything on his side, he has played well at East Lake, makes the most birdies and has two-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay and 3 over Brooks Koepka.  But boy it’s hard to lead so much.  So here are my thoughts on each player, one last thing be sure to look at the chart above to show a players rankings in birdie average, it will be important in picking players under $9,500

First off is Justin Thomas at $15,500, he has everything on his side, he leads the PGA Tour in birdie average, he is 2nd in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and was runner-up at East Lake in 2017 and has made more birdies than anyone else at East Lake in the last three Tour Championships.  But I just don’t think he will be able to survive the pressure, after playing well last week he needs to carry it over this week and I just don’t think it can happen.  Is he worth the money, sorry I will leave it up to you to decide but I say no.  Patrick Cantlay at $12,400 has a lot going for him, he hits it straight, scrambles well and is 2nd on tour in birdie average.  But I just don’t think he can survive the pressure brought on by his runner-up finish last week.  Sorry know he will start at 8 under, but he will be in dark waters that he has never experienced before.  Now Brooks Koepka at $12,200 has things working against him.  He isn’t playing well that last two week, has struggled at East Lake and starts 3 back of Justin Thomas.  But look at it this way, he has a lead over 27 of the other 29 players, who want to give him that kind of an advantage.  He has very little pressure on him and thinks that he will be ready to pounce on this.  Rory McIlroy at $10,600 I also like, he has a great record at East Lake, is 1st on the PGA Tour in strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and is 3rd in birdie average.  I think he could be your winner, yes didn’t play well at Medinah but he has the game to win this.  Patrick Reed at $10,200 has a big advantage over most of the field starting at 6 under, but just don’t think he will play well this week, has never played well at East Lake and doesn’t have the stats to play well on this course.  Jon Rahm is $9,900 and I like him a lot, he is a type of player that can make up a lot of shots and he has to make up 6 which seems like a lot.  One of the reasons you take him, he makes a lot of birdies, yes the price is high but worth the money.  Webb Simpson at $9,700 I am not as high on, he is 6 shots back but doesn’t have the firepower of making a lot of birdies to make up a lot of shots.  Yes, he has played well at East Lake, I just don’t think he will produce the numbers you need in eagles and birdies.  Xander Schauffele at $9,500 is a good choice.  Plays well at East Lake, he makes a lot of birdies and hits it straight.  Despite being 6 back of Thomas, I can see him making up some ground and probably finishing in the top three.  Hideki Matsuyama at $9,300 is an interesting player to look at.  Has played well at East Lake, played well last week at the BMW Championship, he hits it straight and makes a lot of birdies, but still is a question mark on consistency for the year.  I am taking a pass on him.  Last is Matt Kuchar at $9,100, he is an easy no, not playing well and has a terrible record at East Lake.

*Players in that $7,000 to $8,900 price range, which ones are worth the money?:
  • Tony Finau – $8,800
  • Rickie Fowler – $8,600
  • Dustin Johnson – $8,400
  • Adam Scott – $8,200
  • Gary Woodland – $8,000
  • Tommy Fleetwood – $7,700
  • Paul Casey – $7,500
  • Brandt Snedeker – $7,300
  • Abraham Ancer – $7,100

Tony Finau at $8,800 is a not, just not enough firepower and other than the British Open and BMW hasn’t played well this summer.  I am very surprised at Rickie Fowler who is $8,600.  The year started good with his Phoenix win, but he has been very inconsistent for most of the year.  Dustin Johnson at $8,400 is cheap for Johnson but he is not hitting it straight and putting worst.  But he plays well at East Lake and does make a lot of birdies which is important so maybe he is a good pick.  Adam Scott at $8,200 could be a good pick, just like Johnson he makes a lot of birdies and plays well at East Lake.  Gary Woodland at $8,000 is easy no, just not that good at East Lake.  Tommy Fleetwood at $7,700 just doesn’t make enough birdies to make him worth the pick.  Paul Casey at $7,500 could be a good pick, he plays well at East Lake and has made a lot of birdies at East Lake.  Brandt Snedeker at $7,300 seems good since he won at East Lake, but he hasn’t played well on the course since and doesn’t make a lot of birdies.  Abraham Ancer at $7,100 will start at 4 under and I think will be in the top-ten, but he is not a birdie machine so take a pass on him.

*Some of the “bargains” this week at the Tour Championship, those under $7,000
  • Justin Rose – $6,900
  • Kevin Kisner – $6,600
  • Marc Leishman – $6,300
  • Corey Conners – $6,100
  • SungJae Im – $5,900
  • Louis Oosthuizen – $5,700
  • Bryce DeChambeau – $5,500
  • Jason Kokrak – $5,300
  • Lucas Glover – $5,200
  • Chez Reavie – $5,100
  • Charles Howell III – $5,000

Off the bat, the best buy is Justin Rose at $6,900.  A great record at East Lake, he hasn’t played badly on the course since 2011 so you know he will give a great performance with 15 to 17 birdies.  Yes, Kevin Kisner at $6,600 played well last year at East Lake, but he won’t make the birdies you need.  Marc Leishman is $6,300 but a no for me doesn’t play well at East Lake.  Of the remaining players, the only players I like is SungJae Im at $5,900, Bryce DeChambeau at $5,500 and Jason Kokrak at $5,300, I take them because they make a lot of birdies.

Here are some of the secrets to playing well at East Lake:

The key stat for the winner:
  • As was proven in past Tour Championships played at East Lake it favors those that hit lots of greens.  Just look at the 18 winners of previous Tour Championships at East Lake. Hal Sutton in 1998 was 1st while in 2000 Phil Mickelson was T4th in greens hit, Vijay Singh was T8th in 2002, Retief Goosen was first in 2004 and Bart Bryant first in 2005, Adam Scott was T6th in 2006 while in 2007 Tiger Woods led, in 2008 Camilo Villegas was T3rd while in 2009 Phil Mickelson was T8th.  in 2010 Jim Furyk led the greens hit, but Bill Haas slacked off to T-11th in ’11, Brandt Snedeker was T-7th in 2012. In 2013 Henrik Stenson proved the importance of hitting greens as he led that stat, the same in 2014 with Billy Horschel.  In 2015 Jordan Speith was T-9th in greens hit, while 2016 Rory McIlroy was 2nd in greens hit.  In 2017 Xander Schauffele was 2nd hitting 56 of the 72 greens.  Now Tiger Woods last year went against the grain when he hit only 48 greens and ranked T-4th. But as you can see hitting greens are essential because if you miss a green at East Lake, it will be challenging to get up and down for par.
  • Another key is holding the lead going into the final round.  Since 1987, the player who either led or had a share of the lead through 54 holes has gone on to win 18 out of 19 times – Tom Watson (1987), Curtis Strange (’88), Jodie Mudd (’90), Craig Stadler (’91), Paul Azinger (’92), Billy Mayfair (’95), Tom Lehman (’96), David Duval (’97), Tiger Woods (’99), Vijay Singh (2002), Chad Campbell in 2003, Bart Bryant in 2005, Adam Scott in 2006, Tiger Woods in 2007, Jim Furyk in 2010, Brandt Snedeker in 2012, Henrik Stenson in 2013, Billy Horschel in 2014 and Jordan Spieth in 2015.  So check it out at GolfStats.Com.  2016 winner Rory McIlroy broke the streak as he was T-3rd, 4 shots back and shot a final round 64 to tie for the lead before winning in a playoff.  In 2017 Xander Schauffele was T-2nd, 2 shots back and shot a final round 68 to win by a shot, while Tiger was co-leader in 2018.
  • Experience and having a good year especially coming into the event is also a factor. Just look at the winners over the years.  Tiger Woods last year, Rory McIlroy in 2016, Jordan Spieth in 2015, Henrik Stenson in 2013, Brandt Snedeker in 2012, Jim Furyk in 2010, Phil Mickelson the year before, Tiger Woods in 2007, Adam Scott the year before that.  Bart Bryant in 2005 and Retief Goosen in 2004 were examples of this. Scott finished either 2nd or 3rd six times going into the event, Bryant had won the Memorial early in the year while Goosen won the U.S. Open and then capped off with the Tour Championship.  All of them won capping off great years, so I feel that this year’s victor will be one of top-five, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed or Rory McIlroy.  Now Xander Schauffele broke this up a bit in 2017, but still, the experience is essential.
  • One last thing to look for. Yes, the course is demanding, but as it goes into the year being played for the 19th time and the 16th year in a row as the host course, the pros are starting to learn it better and shoot lower scores.  Yes, it’s going to take four rounds in the 60s to win, but other than Bart Bryant’s brilliant 17 under par performance in 2005 and Tiger Woods 23 underperformance in 2007 it’s rarely been taken apart.  Look for that trend to get broken this year because those players way behind will have to go low and will be looking to go low.
  • Lastly, the weather in Atlanta.  It’s going to be played a month early and you will get the hot, muggy conditions that Atlanta sees in mid-August.  On top of that look for afternoon thunderstorms which is the norm this time of year.

Who to watch for at the Tour Championship

Best Bets:

Brooks Koepka

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
T26 6 T18

Three shots over 72 holes is nothing, for all we know he could be in the lead early on Thursday. One thing to think about, Brooks will have a lead over 27 other players, I wouldn’t want to be handicapped like that so Brooks could be in the driver’s seat.

Rory McIlroy

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
T7 Win T16 T2 T10

The same with Rory, he is 5 shots back but he has the firepower to make that up. One thing working for him over Brooks, Rory plays East Lake better than Brooks does. He could surprise a lot of folks.

Xander Schauffele

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
T7 Win

I know he is six back for Thomas and 3 back of Brooks, but he plays well at East Lake and could get hot.

Best of the rest:

Jon Rahm

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
T11 T7

He too makes a lot of birdies and no lead is safe when Rahm is playing well.

Justin Rose

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
T4 T10 T2 T4 6 2 T20 T15 T11

He plays well at East Lake and makes a lot of birdies, if he gets hot early and post a good first and second round, he could make up the 8 shots.

Adam Scott

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
T8 T9 T14 19 T6 27 T26

He is good at East Lake and makes birdies, if the putter gets hot he can do anything.

 

Solid contenders

Dustin Johnson

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
3 T17 T6 T5 5 T10 T23 T22 27

He has played so bad over the summer but you never know if he gets hot, plays well at East Lake and makes a lot of birdies

Paul Casey

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
T11 5 4 T5 T4

He is good at East Lake but making up 8 shots is a tall order.

Hideki Matsuyama

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
T4 T26 5 T12 22

Played well last week, he also has played well at East Lake.

Long shots that could come through:

Bryson DeChambeau

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
19

Ten shots is a lot to ask, but he has the firepower and you never know what could happen.

Tony Finau

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
T15 T7

He is seven back and needs a lot of birdies.

Jason Kokrak

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
First time playing in this event

He is playing with house money so I expect for him to fire at the pins, does make his fair share of birdies.

Having the lead will work against them:

Justin Thomas

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
T7 2 T6

Sorry but he is the favorite but I really don’t think he can withstand the pressure. It’s like having the final round lead for seven days, a lot could happen. On the other end of the spectrum, he has all the stats, is playing well and has a great record at East Lake so this is the perfect scenario for Justin.

Patrick Cantlay

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
T21 T20

I also think that the pressure will affect Patrick, it’s a lot to ask to be with such a big lead over the field for seven days.

Patrick Reed

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
28 T13 T24 27 T19

Sorry I see him having very little chance of doing well doesn’t play well at East Lake mostly the cause.

Matt Kuchar

2019 ’18 ’17 ’16 ’15 ’14 ’13 ’12 ’11 ’10 ’09 ’08 ’07
T10 T15 T10 13 T26 T10 T20 T25

After a great start to the year he has gone downhill and I don’t think he can break the trend this week.

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