TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW
This week players head to East Lake Country in Atlanta, Georgia for the final event of the 2018/19 season, the Tour Championship. In years past there were two winners crowned at this tournament: the actual winner over four rounds and also the overall FedEx Cup Standings winner. That is no more as this year the Tour has instituted the FedEx Starting Strokes Index for play at the Tour Championship. Here is how it works, the leader in points, starts at -10, FEC Number 2 at -8, FEC Number 3 at -7, FEC Number 4 at -6 and Number 5 at -5. This then cascades down to those ranked 26th to 30th starting at Even. The question is how will this affect Outright betting. My personal strategy will be to simply play it as an in game situation, no different than if I was going to place a bet after the 2nd or 3rd round. The course will undoubtedly play a factor into how this is handicapped, as East Lake is no piece of cake, but before we get there let’s recap last week’s action at the BMW.
BMW CHAMPIONSHIP RECAP
Another week, another outright winner as Justin Thomas maintained his 54-hole lead, buoyed by a course record 61 on Saturday, to best Cantlay by 3 at Medinah. That makes two in a row! This certainly wasn’t your older brother’s Medinah as the typically difficult course got absolutely mauled, giving up multiple course records and a pitch and putt winning score of -25. Wet conditions absolutely played a part but this kind of showing displays the difficulty in predicting play from courses only seen once every decade or so. Featured head to head matchups once again went 2-0 thanks to an awesome final round from Billy Horschel and the card (posted on Twitter Wednesday morning) once again cashed a First Round Leader win which makes three straight. It has been an awesome end to the season, but there is definitely still work to be done. Onto the Tour Championship!
First, here are 30 players who’ve advanced to the TOUR Championship here is the order that they will start in:
-10 Justin Thomas
-8 Patrick Cantlay
-7 Brooks Koepka
-6 Patrick Reed
-5 Rory McIlroy
-4 Jon Rahm, Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Abraham Ancer
-3 Gary Woodland, Tony Finau, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama
-2 Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Rickie Fowler, Kevin Kisner
-1 Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood, Corey Conners, Sungjae Im, Chez Reavie
Even Bryson DeChambeau, Louis Oosthuizen, Charles Howell III, Lucas Glover, Jason Kokrak
This will be important for our later analysis. East Lake Country Club is a traditional, Par-70 layout measuring 7346 (long!) with only two Par 5s. This is absolutely one of my favorite stops and it is unlikely scoring will get out of control like we saw last week at Medinah. East Lake has been the host since 2004 and winning scores since 2010 have ranged from -8 to -13. It is fair to say that while the winner this week will have a total score much higher due to their head start, that range for their 72-hole score will be what is needed to be victorious.
This Donald Ross designed course’s main defense is its lightening fast Bermuda greens which are pitched back to front with run-offs into collection areas in play for errant approaches. Bermuda putting specialists can be targeted as the grain of Bermuda has an effect on putts that is unlike its counterparts, Bent and Poa. While Approach is always a component of winners each week, East Lake absolutely demands accuracy off the tee as well. Fairways are surrounded by trees and thick Bermuda, making errant drives extremely penal. This isn’t to say Approach isn’t important. Only Bill Haas in 2011 has won at East Lake without being in the top 9 in Greens in Regulation. Simply states, the winner here will likely be the guy striking it the best who makes a few putts.
East Lake is a rare course where winners have actually gained more strokes on average per round Off the Tee than they have on Approach. Therefore, this week I will be equally weighing SG: OTT and SG:APP in my model. Fairways Gained and Greens Gained will be added to round out the importance of striking.
NOT Justin Thomas -270 (2.7u to win 1u) – This is a field vs JT bet at a number that is incorrect. The implied odds on a -270 line equals out to roughly 73% meaning this bet is saying JT has a 27% chance to win the Tour Championship given his -10 start and two shot lead on the next closest competitor, Cantlay (ignore the vig, trying to keep this simple). My numbers make his winning percentage roughly 16%, giving this line an 11% edge. While JT has shown success at East Lake, I expect his 72-hole score to be closer to -5 as it has 2 out of his 3 years playing here as opposed to his -11 in 2017.. We are also getting some recency bias here as JT is coming off an absolutely dominate performance. Last week JT routed the field off the strength of gaining 5.4 strokes putting, the second best putting performance since his win at the PGA back in 2017. One chink in his armor from last week? Off the Tee where he only gained 1.5 strokes on the field. Now, making up ground at East Lake can be difficult but if the putter reverts back to its previous form and he struggles to find the fairway, the window will be wide open for everyone from -4 and better to catch or pass the leader in the clubhouse.
Rory McIlroy +800 – Rory, a former winner at East Lake, seems a likely candidate to put together a low enough 4 days of golf to unseat JT. Coming in 2nd in my model, Rory is unsurprisingly #1 in SG:OTT during the 2019 season and also holds the top spot in SG: Ball Striking on the year. Given the demands of East Lake, Rory is the perfect fit Tee to Green to put pressure on Thomas. Rory has had a difficult time this year pairing a good putting performance with his usual ball striking this season and over his career he has failed to gain strokes putting on average per round on Bent or Poa Greens. His preferred surface? Bermuda, gaining an average of .15 strokes per round on the surface since his debut on Tour. Rory’s magic number for 72 holes here is -11, putting him at -16 for the Tour Championship and in a position to force JT and others to play extremely well in order to top him. Given his current form and comfort on Bermuda greens, I will gladly take him at 8/1.
1u Louis Oosthuizen over Sungjae Im (-115) and Marc Leishman (-110) – First, the strokes being spotted with this play won’t matter, matchups in this space are consistently laying -1.5. What matters more is Oostie is absolutely striking it purely, gaining 18! Strokes on Approach over his last 3 tournaments. He is always a wizard around the greens so if he happens to have the need to scramble, that tool is in his bag. On the other hand, Im and Leishman have been wildly inconsistent. Lets face it, Im is here because he has played pretty much every single tournament the has been eligible for in 2019 (respect that hustle!) and has raked up decent finishes in less than stellar fields coupled with a bunch of missed cuts. His current form is certainly nothing to get excited about, being in the bottom 3rd of the field in ball striking over his last 8, 12 and 24 rounds. As for Leishman, his ball striking numbers are even worse than Im, ranking in the bottom 3 in the field over that same time span. Leish has managed to mask his inability to hit it straight by some insane putting performances. When he fails to gain strokes putting he simply misses the cut and it will likely take an all world putting display to best Oostie considering how well the South African is hitting it. I will happily spot Im and Leishman a stroke to start and take the guy in substantially current form at basically a pick’em.
1u Jason Kokrak +100 over Bryson DeChambeau – The analysis here is very similar to above, Kokrak’s floor due to his current ball striking form is simply too high compared to where Bryson is at currently for him to be a dog. First Bryson. I don’t see how he cannot be distracted by the slow play controversy and his play of late certainly shows something is amiss. He comes in 2nd to last in my model this week due to his terrible finishes after having the 3M taken from him by Matt Wolff. He has failed to gain more than a stroke Ball Striking since and has finished MC, 48th, 24th, 48, in the lead up to the Tour Championship. Kokrak on the other hand has been absolutely solid of late, especially with the Driver, gaining an average of 3.2 strokes Off the Tee over his last 5 tournaments. I’m confident Kokrak will keep it in play at East Lake Off the Tee and while his short game will disallow him from making any real noise he should have no problem dispatching the out of form DeChambeau.
That is it for this week’s breakdown! Thank you for reading and as always look for my full card on Wednesday morning and feel free to shoot me any questions on Twitter @jmazzjd!