The Tour Championship
It was an incredible finish to the week in Baltimore for the BMW Championship and a great end to the week for us as our 25/1 selection Patrick Cantlay eventually triumphed in a six hole play-off with Bryson Dechambeau.
With the two having gone toe to toe for the bulk of the round the game looked up for Cantlay as already a shot behind on the 17th tee he found the water. Somehow however he salvaged a bogey four and with Bryson also bogeying the hole Cantlay needed to birdie 18 to have any chance.
Cantlay duly delivered a birdie from 20ft on the final hole leaving Bryson with 10ft or so to make a birdie of his own to take the title and it was from here on in the fun and games really started.
With Dechambeau’s putt on 18 slipping by we headed in to extra holes and the former US Open Champion proceeded to miss putt after putt to close things out while Cantlay holed putts to stay alive. Finally then Cantlay took his chance and holed a lengthy birdie putt before Bryson once more missed a much shorter opportunity, which this time cost him the title.
As any golf punter will tell you in any given season you get some good breaks and some bad ones, and there is no doubt that on this occasion we got plenty of our good breaks in one hit.
So onwards we go in great heart 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. It has been a memorable one no doubt with a tremendous profit secured courtesy of the likes of Martin Laird at the Shriners and Cameron Champ more recently at the 3M amongst others. Let’s hope the next season is just as good!
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, what we must do is recap the new scoring system that the PGA Tour chose in their wisdom chosen to implement a couple of 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 DJ is 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, last years win for Dustin Johnson who had started the week in first place on 10- under, re-enforced 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….
P Cantlay -10
T Finau -8
B Dechambeau -7
J Rahm -6
C Smith -5
J Thomas, H English, J Spieth, A Ancer, S Burns -4
C Morikawa, S Im, V Hovland, L Oosthuizen, D Johnson -3
R McIlroy, X Schauffele, J Kokrak, K Na, B Koepka -2
C Conners, H Matsuyama, S Cink, J Niemann, S Scheffler -1
D Berger, E Van Rooyen, B Horschel, S Garcia, P Reed Level Par.
At the time of writing all 30 of the players who have qualified are teeing it up with no withdrawals however with Patrick Reed only just having been discharged from hospital with double pneumonia it would seem unlikely that he well be well enough to tee 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. The former market see’s Cantlay who starts on 10- under and Rahm who starts four shots behind vying for favouritism, while Rahm is clear market leader in the latter.
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 lets take a look at how the last two years events have played out under the new system.
Below I have listed the top five finishers from 2019 & 2020 along with their ‘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.
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]
As we can see from these tables only one player in each year who started the week outside of the top five has been able to breach the top four finishing places and that man has been the same player on each occasion, Xander Schauffele, who is undoubtedly something of a course specialist.
Ultimately though if you are looking to back the winner of the event/Fedex Cup the message is simple, focus on the top five players heading in.
The early part of the week shows the possibility of a storm on Tuesday. After this though as long as the forecast stays true we are in for a dry week with temperatures sat in the high 80s.
Wind however could be an issue with Thursday showing gusts of 25mph + as a possibility while other days show gusts of 15-20mph in the forecast.
As I always say though…this could all change!
As I have done for the past two years I will swerve the ‘To Win The Fedex Cup Market and instead focus on the ‘To shoot the lowest 72 hole score’ market and on this basis I have gone with two players this week as follows;
TO SHOOT THE LOWEST 72 HOLE SCORE – RORY MCILROY – 14/1 – 3pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 5
- FINISHED 14th
It has been an undeniably great season for us with lots of fantastic highlights however one thing or player to be more precise I have failed to get right at all has been Rory McIlroy. To sum up the weeks I thought Rory would be ‘all systems go’ he disappointed and the weeks I left him alone, at Quail Hollow for example and then again at the BMW last week he came to life.
So, stubborn to the last I have one final opportunity to prosper with Rory in the 20/21 PGA season and I am not going to turn that down.
Other than my stubbornness of course there is strong logic to my madness starting with Rory’s affinity with Eastlake. Looking at his record here and it is clear that Rory really enjoys the track. First here in 2019 both in the ‘lowest score market’ and in the overall Fedex Cup standings the Northern Irishman became the first man to win the Fedex Cup twice that year having previously triumphed in 2016. Furthermore Rory also finished second here in 2014, has finished seventh on two occasions [looking at his seventh in the ‘low score market’ last year] and tenth. So basically six top tens in seven starts here.
This year McIlroy arrives on the back of a strong performance at the BMW Championship, which saw him finish fourth and he was once again in fine fettle off the tee ranking second for the week in this department.
With the putter co-operating well Rory’s problem at Caves Valley GC, was similar to what it has been of late in general, his approach play, however my hope is this week that back on a course he knows well and has had huge success on his iron play will go up a level.
After his final round in Baltimore McIlroy talked about how he was looking forward to getting back to East Lake and importantly how he was looking forward to being able to ‘free wheel it’ as in principal he has very little chance of winning the Fedex Cup from the position he starts in of eight back.
While I would agree that in theory this is the case it may just be that with two players in the top two spots in Cantlay and Finau who are new to this situation he can make some serious inroads however Rory will know that to do so he needs to ‘get hot’ and my suspicion is this mentality will help him.
To sum up with those in the top five potentially saddled by the pressure or simply looking to do just enough to take home the spoils a carefree McIlroy could be very dangerous and I am keen to be onboard in this market.
TO SHOOT THE LOWEST 72 HOLE SCORE – SUNGJAE IM – 33/1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 5
- FINISHED 23rd
My second selection in this market and final one for the 2020/21 PGA Tour season is Sungjae Im.
After a strong start to his season, which included a second place finish in the first edition of the Masters in the campaign Sungjae went off the boil in the spring missing four cuts in seven starts.
Whilst not really threatening a big win the summer has seen a return to the level of consistency we have come to expect from the Korean and after a run of six solid made cuts things appear to have clicked as we’ve entered the play offs.
Firstly at the Northern Trust Im put a strong week together to finish 16th and then at the BMW Championship he really stepped on the gas to notch rounds of 67 65 66 and 67 to post 23- under and a third place finish.
In Baltimore all parts of Sungjae’s game were in great working order and he finished the week ranked fifth from tee to green and fourth in putting.
Arriving one would think then in great spirits in Atlanta anyway then, Sungjae has even more reason to be comfortable this week as the player who was the PGA Tour’s biggest nomad has actually now taken up residency in the city. This then will be a home game for the 23yr old and with a large Korean community there, which was one of the things, which attracted him to the area, you would hope he will have plenty of support.
Im will be making his third start at East Lake this week and having finished 15th and 12th [the latter in actual scoring] on his first two appearances, and with a round of 64 in the books last year, there are signs the course could well be to his liking. I am also hoping that sincemoving to the area he has spent some more time on the track! In addition Sungjae has become known as a player who flourishes on Bermuda greens so a return to that surface is more than welcome this week.
Sungjae starts the week on a total of 3- under so similarly to McIlroy an overall win here is a tall order, however unlike the majority of the big names in attendance he has no Ryder Cup or other agenda on the horizon to focus on and he will simply have his eyes on shooting the lowest score he can and I expect a big showing from him this week.