TOUR Championship Preview




 

The PGA TOUR is unveiling a shiny new format this week for the TOUR Championship.

They are introducing a points-based bonus system this week to determine the ultimate winner of the FedExCup Trophy. Number 1 in the FedExCup standings (Justin Thomas) will start the week at -10 this week while No. 2 Patrick Cantlay will start on -8 and it's a gradual decline down to 26th thru 30th which will begin at Even Par.

From a back-end standpoint, there isn't much that changes in terms of determining a FedExCup champion because they've aligned the system to mirror the old format in terms of the percentages that each FedExCup rank has to win. The only thing that annoys me a touch is the historical significance of a win this week. Justin Thomas isn't just handed a victory this week but he has a big leg-up to begin the week. You have to imagine that Tiger Woods' career win total would be in the 90s if the FedExCup (and this format) was around during his prime years.

The other aspect is the OWGR using the regular leaderboard to dish out their points. They already have plenty of flaws in their point distribution, might as well add another. It will be annoying to see different career win totals for individual golfers across the sites, though.

If we push all historical significance aside then I'm a big fan of the change. This makes for a great viewing experience since you'll know from the start where each golfer stands in the grand scheme of things. Thomas may start with a big lead but that could change dramatically after day one if he sleepwalks in round one. It also makes things fun from a DFS point-of-view because it's another element to factor into the decision-making process.

On top of the format change, they've also injected a boatload of money into the event. The winner will walk away $15 Million richer while seven-figure payouts will go as deep as the 8th-place finisher ($1.1 Million).

The Course

The format may be new but the course is still the same. East Lake Golf Club remains the host venue.

This Donald Ross design plays as a par 70 that stretches out to around 7,350 yards.

When you look at course widths, it sits in the bottom 10 on TOUR in terms of fairway width. Combine that with firm conditions and it typically becomes extremely tough to keep your ball in the fairways here.

It's a very easy course that will put plenty of wedges in your hand if you are hitting these zoysia fairways. However, that's no easy task, like we just talked about. The field averages around 54% of fairways hit at East Lake and the GIR Percentage after a missed fairway sits around 49 percent. Combine those two things with the fact it's a par-70 layout and it's easy to see the winning scores have landed between 7-under and 13-under for 11 straight years now.

Looking at the scoring environment, there are just two par 5s so there aren't a lot of eagles landed at East Lake. On the flip side, there are just a few water hazards in play so the number of double bogeys is also low. That means everything gets pushed into the birdie, par, or bogey bucket with roughly 98 percent of hole outcomes landed in that bucket at East Lake.

For grasses, the golfers will see zoysiagrass on the fairways while the rest of the course is bermudagrass. The greens are typically prepped at 12 feet on the stimp, at a minimum. When conditions allow it, they often play faster than that, with an average stimp of around 12.3 feet at this event since 2010.

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Justin Rose: "It's not a long golf course, but it's a course where it's tough to hit the fairways."

Gary Woodland: "You've got to drive the ball in the fairway here. The rough is so brutal, and the greens are so fast, it turns into a ball striker's paradise. If you drive it in play, you've got to find a way to keep the ball below the hole."

Justin Thomas: "If you drive it well, you have a lot of wedges. I think I had somewhere between 140 and 150 seven times today, so I mean, that's between gap wedges and pitching wedges a lot, and if you're driving it well, you can go out and shoot 5- or 6-under. It is difficult because the greens are so tough."

Jordan Spieth: "you have a lot of uneven shots into these greens, you have a lot of uneven lies and it creates more feel and I think that's better for me the less I'm thinking about my golf swing and trying to be perfect and more feeling ball flights off of uneven slopes in the fairways. And that's similar to Augusta and I think that's why I play well there even if I wasn't playing well going into it. The undulations on the green and in the fairway create a lot of a feel aspect that I enjoy."

Brooks Koepka: "Hit 8-iron, but other than that I don't think we're hitting much more than wedge in. So you can really take advantage of it if you put it in the fairway."

Overview: The big hitters talk about putting wedges in their hand but the overall theme remains on finding the fairway. The greens are fast and tricky which puts more emphasis on approach play and landing your approaches in the correct zones.

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:

Sedgefield CC (Wyndham)
TPC Sawgrass (PLAYERS)
Augusta National (Masters)
Muirfield Village (Memorial)
Sheshan International (WGC-HSBC)

We are looking for courses that host strong-field event or courses that have speedy greens as one of the key features.

The Weather

Thursday: Partly sunny with a 50% chance of storms. High of 92 degrees. Calm winds.

Friday: Cloudy with a high near 90 degrees. A 60% chances of showers/storms.

The early forecast suggests we'll need to dodge some storms this week as the storms continue to hold on the Satuday and Sunday forecast, as well. Hopefully the forecast clears up in the next few days.

Golfers to Watch

Justin Thomas
Fought through a winter wrist injury and spring putting slump to return to the winner's circle last week in Chicago. JT will begin the week with a two-shot lead over second place. He's one of the best on the planet when it comes to holding onto a lead. He's converted 4-of-6 times when holding onto a first-round lead or co-lead. Also converted 5-of-9 times when holding onto a piece of the 36-hole lead. Lastly, he's 6-of-10 when leading thru 54 holes. Going to be a tough man to beat this week but he'll still need to come out firing to set the tone.

Patrick Cantlay
Five of his nine best putting weeks have been recorded over the last four months. The ball-striking is always there so if the putter stays hot then there is no reason he shouldn't be contending on Sunday. He'll start the week on 8-under, just two off the lead.

Brooks Koepka
The big hitter talked about hitting mostly wedges and short irons into the par 4s this week but that hasn't produced results for him in the past at East Lake. He's lost strokes on approach in 9 of his 12 rounds played here. That's been one of the biggest areas of improvement for him in 2019, though, so perhaps this is the year that it finally clicks for him at East Lake.

Rory McIlroy
If they're handing out wins based on season-long merit then Rory deserves at least one more. He's put himself in position to win time and time again this season. He won at East Lake in 2016 but also has a runner-up finish on his Atlanta resume.

Jon Rahm
Probably the most consistent golfer in the world over the last few months and he's turned his weakness (bermuda) into a strength over the matter of just a few years.

Patrick Reed
Starts near the top of the board but his course history is alarming. He's lost strokes to the field in 14-of-20 rounds played with 10 of those rounds being -2 SG Total or worse.

Xander Schauffele
You could say the course fits his eye as he's WON and finished T7 in two trips.

Webb Simpson
Said this about the course two years ago, "I love tree-lined golf courses. I grew up in the Pinehurst area. I also love bermudagrass. I typically play better in the south, but if I can see a hole shaped by trees, I tend to drive it better." He's playing great golf so he should be one to watch closely this week.

Ranking the Field

1. Justin Thomas (-10)
2. Patrick Cantlay (-8)
3. Rory McIlroy (-5)
4. Brooks Koepka (-7)
5. Jon Rahm (-4)
6. Webb Simpson (-4)
7. Xander Schauffele (-4)
8. Dustin Johnson (-3)
9. Justin Rose (-2)
10. Adam Scott (-3)
11. Patrick Reed (-6)
12. Hideki Matsuyama (-3)
13. Rickie Fowler (-2)
14. Tony Finau (-3)
15. Tommy Fleetwood (-1)
16. Matt Kuchar (-4)
17. Paul Casey (-2)
18. Gary Woodland (-3)
19. Abraham Ancer (-4)
20. Sungjae Im (-1)
21. Brandt Snedeker (-2)
22. Bryson DeChambeau (EVEN)
23. Marc Leishman (-1)
24. Kevin Kisner (-2)
25. Chez Reavie (-1)
26. Louis Oosthuizen (EVEN)
27. Charles Howell III (EVEN)
28. Jason Kokrak (EVEN)
29. Lucas Glover (EVEN)
30. Corey Conners (-1)

Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our DFS Dish and Wednesday morning for the Expert Picks.

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