Nice to see Marc Leishman win last week at 45/1 after Kiradech Aphibarnrat (50/1) spoiled Paul's Sunday by throwing away the KLM Open when leading with 4 holes to play. However Golf Betting System is in great nick at the moment producing 2 winners in the past 3 weeks after Leishman and Porteous (66/1) at the Czech Masters.
Plenty of questions will be answered at East Lake Golf Club this week which again hosts the season-ending Tour Championship. The FedEx Cup Series culminates in Georgia with the top-30 in the standings arriving in Atlanta with a shot at the overall title. Since 2010 the winner of the Tour Championship has also scooped the overall FedEx Cup prize and the $11.5 million which comes with it. Naturally the top 5 in the standings control their own destiny, knowing that a win this week guarantees the overall title, but as Rory McIlroy proved 12 months ago, those from outside that coveted quintet can also triumph. You can read more here: what each player in the field needs to win the FEC.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Portugal Masters - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Tour Championship - Featured Bookmaker
For the fourteenth consecutive week on a PGA Tour event, Betfair Sportsbook have gone with an additional each-way place, this time paying 5 places each-way at 1/5 odds at the 30-man Tour Championship. Betfair have also just launched a brand new up to £100 of free bets promotion for new customers. You must be over 18, T&Cs apply:
• Up to £100 of Free Bets using promo code ZBBC01 - click here to claim
Qualifying for the Tour Championship is always a massive deal for plenty of players who don't reside regularly in the OWGR top 50 with invites to next season's WGC Mexico Championship, The Masters, US Open and Open Championships the reward. So congratulations to Patrick Cantlay (Tour Championship debutant), Tony Finau (debutant), Russell Henley, Xander Schauffele (rookie and debutant) and Kyle Stanley (debutant) for booking their tickets to the biggest tournaments in 2018. They are joined by Adam Hadwin, Brian Harman and Pat Perez who despite currently residing in the OWGR top 50 are making their East Lake debuts. Taking this angle to the extreme, World Number 5 Jon Rahm also makes his Tour Championship debut - we are witnessing something very special with the Spaniard.
With regards the FEC finale, the standings are now reset which theoretically gives every player in the field this week a chance of scooping the 2017 FedEx Cup Champion crown and the standalone $10 million winner's bonus. I won't even start to run through the scoring model, but suffice it to say that the top 5 players - namely Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Marc Leishman and Jon Rahm - all capture the title with a win this week at East Lake.
Course Guide: East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia first hosted the Tour Championship in 1998. Back then the tournament alternated every year with the Champions Golf Club in Houston, but East Lake has been the sole host since 2004. The course is a Donald Ross original which had a Rees Jones renovation in 2008 that included a change from Bentgrass to faster MiniVerde Bermudagrass putting surfaces.
This course tends to negate pure power and aggression, instead rewarding consistent ball-striking or excellent tactical play and putting from short-game experts comfortable on the putting surfaces. Driving accuracy around here actually means something with Bermudagrass rough that punishes on a set-up which features five 450+ yard par-4s.
The course is a traditional Par 70 layout with only 2 par-5s: The 6th is reachable for all and the closing 18th is reachable for the power hitters. Rees Jones-inspired changes prior to the 2016 renewal saw 78 yards added to course yardage with new tees on both the 16th and 17th par-4s. In addition the sets of 9 holes were reversed, with the round now finishing with the 600 yard par-5 rather than the traditional par-3 closer. Rees Jones inspired the changes on the new 18th with a larger tee box so that it may always be set up as a two-shot par-5 and a re-contoured landing area to prevent drives rolling into a water hazard on the right side of fairway. Plenty of work has been put in to ensure the chance of a more exciting finish.
East Lake Golf Club, East Atlanta, Georgia: Designer: Donald Ross 1913 with Rees Jones re-design 2008; Course Type: Technical; Par: 70; Length: 7,385 yards; Water Hazards: 3; Fairways: Meyer Zoysiagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass 2.5"; Greens: 6,200 sq.ft average featuring MiniVerde UltraDwarf Bermudagrass; Stimpmeter: 12.5 ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 70.42 (+0.42), Difficulty Rank 20 of 49 courses. 2013: 69.38 (-0.62), Difficulty Rank 20 of 43 courses. 2014: 70.26 (+0.26), Rank 20 of 48 courses. 2015: 70.38 (+0.38), Difficulty Rank 17 of 52 courses. 2016: 69.62 (-0.38) Difficulty Rank 27 of 50 courses.
East Lake Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for East Lake and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Donald Ross designs include:
Course Overview: East Lake is a long circa 7,400 yard, Par 70. The course's main defence is fast MiniVerde Bermudagrass greens which feature the Donald Ross trademark back-to-front pitch surrounded by tightly mown run-offs into collection areas. The green complexes are fast (12+ on the Stimpmeter) and contoured. Downhill putts are difficult to attack and players constantly talk about positioning approach shots below the pin. Plenty of green complexes are also long and thin, making finding the putting surfaces tricky. East Lake is a traditional golf course that up until now hasn't been overpowered by brute force and it has a definite Florida feel to it after weeks of Up-State Bentgrass and Poa Annua green action.
Driving accuracy undoubtedly helps around here with fairways surrounded by trees and gnarly Bermuda rough. The course also features quirky Meyer Zoysiagrass fairways which many players claim promotes flyers. 6 of the last 9 winners have been in the top-7 for fairways hit, but high Greens in Regulation numbers are even more important as 4 of the last 7 winners were in the top 2 across GIR% category on their way to victory. Comfortable Bermudagrass putters Jordan Spieth and Bill Haas were the outlying Greens in Regulation performers of recent winners, finishing 9th and 11th in that category respectively. Since the 2008 Rees Jones re-design, Henrik Stenson holds the tournament winning lowest total with -13/267 in an event that featured softened greens on the Sunday.
East Lake is one of those rare tests on the PGA Tour where accuracy from the tee needs to be respected, especially on a course which ranked as the 6th hardest to hit fairways on the Tour across season 2015/16. In terms of ball-striking, the last 7 champions here have ranked - McIlroy 2nd, Spieth 7th, Horschel 9th, Stenson 8th, Snedeker 5th, Haas 3rd and Furyk 3rd, so hitting both fairways and greens here is a pre-requisite for victory. That solid core of play both with tee shots and approach shots is magnified on the basis that East Lake always ranks in the top 15 or so for scrambling difficulty on the PGA Tour.
Winners: 2016: Rory McIlroy (-12); 2015: Jordan Spieth (-9); 2014: Billy Horschel (-11); 2013: Henrik Stenson (-13); 2012: Brandt Snedeker (-10); 2011: Bill Haas (-9); 2010: Jim Furyk (-8).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the John Deere Classic / Scottish Open and includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: McIlroy 13/2; 2015: Spieth 9/1; 2014: Horschel 25/1; 2013: Stenson 16/1; 2012: Snedeker 40/1; 2011: Haas 45/1; 2010: Furyk 20/1; Average: 23/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Atlanta, Georgia is here. Some serious rainfall (87mm) fell here last Monday and Tuesday and that's likely to make fairways a little softer than organisers would want, making the course potentially play even longer than its yardage. With some afternoon thunderstorms forecast across Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we could see a situation where greens are receptive to a degree. Wind will not be a feature, but temperatures look to be reaching feel-like numbers of 30 degrees Celsius across the 4 tournament days, aiding the course to dry if no rain appears.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 6 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how East Lake has played in recent years and what specific skills it requires:
Rory McIlroy: "I actually thought with the way they switched the nines, it's going to be a bit of a slog because you've got your first par 5 on the 6th hole, and then you don't have the par 5 again until the 18th. So you have to play a lot of good golf to make birdies. Fortunately, I did. I hit some fairways on the front nine and made some putts. Yeah, I think the flow of the golf course has gotten more difficult. Obviously, you're playing the same amount of holes, but the way you're playing the holes just, it makes the flow of the golf course a little harder, I think. I think that's why you're not seeing so many low scores. It's a tough golf course. You've got to hit fairways. But once you get it on the fairway, you have chances to score. Yeah, like any golf course, if you hit fairways and you hit greens, it's not that difficult, but when you start to get yourself out of position, especially they've let this Bermuda rough just get up a little bit, and it just takes all control out of your hands with your second shot. So I've only hit basically half of the fairways this week. When you do that, you're going to struggle. But I have been aggressive off the tee. I've been hitting driver quite a lot. There was some holes where I was hitting drivers where Paul was just hitting a 3 wood. But I feel like I've been driving the ball really well the last couple of weeks and feel confident with that club. So I'm going to keep hitting it."
Jordan Spieth: "I like to come to a place that I look at as very similar to Augusta National. I think the layout, the feel, the slopes, it reminds me a lot of it. I said it from after the first time I played Augusta, and then came back here last year, said, wow, this actually is somewhat similar. Just by the look of it. Obviously the greens are different and the bunkers are a bit different, but it has a very similar look and layout in my mind. And I really like this place. I like this place. I played solid two years ago. I know how to attack this golf course. I've been here before and attacked it the right way. This Bermuda can get a hold of you, you got to play it the right way, you got to be very careful about where you're leaving the ball. And I believe on these greens, that I can get back to the way that I've been putting and that I believe that I should be able to putt because these are the type of greens I grew up on. So I feel very comfortable."
Brandt Snedeker: "This set of par 3s that we play at East Lake is probably the toughest set of par 3s we play all year on tour. I think all four of them are ranked in the top nine toughest holes on the golf course which we don't see very often. Most important element here is hitting the fairways. If you don't hit the fairways here, you can't be aggressive. You can't be aggressive if you put the ball in bad spots and you make bogeys. But the green complexes here are so severe. They're probably the second most severe we play all year compared to Augusta. That's where it's going to be won or lost this year is where you play around the greens. Hardest hole every year is 16, 17, 18, that stretch of holes. Those three holes always play the most difficult, I think, just coming down the stretch because so much can happen. 17 is a really tough par 4. Tough tee shot, tough second shot. And 18 is an iconic par 3, the way it is. Always a tough finish. It's tough coming down those few holes, it seems like. And the guys that play those holes the best can end up winning."
Henrik Stenson: "It's still kind of important to hit the fairways and you leave yourself the right path. It's crucial to be underneath the hole around here because even with a bit of rain and so on, you still get a lot of slick putts if you're above the hole. It's one of those courses, I think, if you're on the wrong hole, you're trying to attack too much, it can come back and bite you straight away. It's got some real long holes, some tough holes. The greens are really slick if you're coming down the hill. So it's key to keep the ball underneath the hole. So good approach play is going to pay off for sure. You know, I didn't grow up on Bermuda. So it might not be my best surface to pitch from and so on. So to hit a lot of greens is going to be crucial to do well. I don't think the scoring has been that low here in the past either. I think it's a golf course that kind of keeps the scoring pretty much under control."
Jim Furyk: "A lot of the defence of this golf course really is the Bermuda rough. You have to hit fairways. Some of them are very thin and very difficult to hit. 16 comes to mind. And then also I'd say the severity of the greens. They're very quick. And they have a lot of slope from back to front and I hit a lot of putts today where I had 20 footers for birdie and really was putting extremely defensive because I was above the pin on the wrong side of the hole. And it's tough to stay patient. You got a short iron your hand, whip one in there 15, 18 feet behind the hole and you realize it's really not a great opportunity for birdie. And it's similar to the style of greens I grew up on, pitching very severe from back to front. But it's tough to make putts because you have a lot of putts that have a lot of break to them."
Chris Kirk: "I'd say this course and Boston are probably the most similar as far as it's a lot of drivers and it's a long golf course and not a whole lot of wedges in. So it's going to favour guys that are hitting their drivers real well and obviously putting well. These greens, like I said, are in perfect shape. They are very, very tricky to read with the grain, and the ball doesn't generally goes with the grain, but not always. So it can be despite how perfect they roll, they can be tough."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 7 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave (where applicable) and winning score since 2010. For full first round leader stats click here.
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
The FedEx Cup itself has been won by the Tour Championship tournament winner here every time since 2010. Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Billy Horschel, Henrik Stenson and Brandt Snedeker were all in the top 6 of the FEC standings across the last 5 renewals whilst Bill Haas and Jim Furyk were in positions 25 and 11 respectively in the 2 years prior to that. 12 months ago, Rory McIlroy was he first FEC winner since Bill Haas to not control his own destiny when arriving in Atlanta.
Some further interesting trends for the Tour Championship include:
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
I'd be going against my whole train of thought that I've had since the FedEx Cup Playoffs started if I didn't back Texan Jordan Spieth this week in Atlanta. Yes he's the favourite, yes he's a short price, but in my mind he captures the FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship this week. 2nd here on debut as a rookie in 2014 and the winner here in 2015, East Lake has always been one of those courses which certain players simply 'get'. Spieth is certainly in that camp and despite all of the top 6 in the FedEx Cup standings having legitimate chances in Georgia this week, I think the World Number 2 has all of the tools he needs at his disposal to capture the FEC title for the 2nd time in 3 seasons.
When asked in Chicago what he likes about East Lake, Spieth replied: "East Lake and Augusta remind me a lot of each other. You have a really well designed golf course where the fairways slope against the ball flight that you need off the tee and then the greens remind me of each other with the slope, the speed and the bunkering around them.
East Lake has a lot more rough which is very different from Augusta and the greens aren't quite as severe, fast but I just like the layout of it. I like the shots that it makes you play off the tee and things into the green you can be bold or you can play safe but with the green shapes when you play safe you're left with a tough two-putt. So, it's a very much a risk/reward type golf course, kind of sneaks up on you on risk/reward. The excitement from 5 really -- well, the old No. 5, which is now 14 playing such a massive role in the finish of a tournament on probably the hardest par-3 we play all year given when it is now and what tournament it's at, it's certainly adds a lot to it with 18 as well."
2nd at Glen Oaks, 2nd at TPC Boston and a fast-finishing 7th at Conway Farms last week where he finished with a bogey-free -6/65, Jordan has the kind of momentum recent winners of the FEC have had. Spieth only made 4 bogeys all week, was 3rd for Greens in Regulation and his scrambling was as good as we have seen since the Open Championship. He tops my 10-week Greens in Regulation tracker and he's the Number 1 in this week's Published Predictor Model. And I also stick with my theory that his motivation will be 100% this week as he still sees winning the PGA Tour Player of the Year award as a huge goal. Again asked about it on Sunday in Chicago, Spieth elaborated by saying, "For me if I go out next week - not only win the FedEx Cup, I think I have to win the tournament next week to be Player Of The Year or at least have a chance to be Player Of The Year and that's really - that's our MVP, that's the most important award." With Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas not firing at Conway Farms, I'm happy to take Spieth for a second week running. RESULT: T7
It's not rocket science I know but if momentum, course experience and the ability to win big tournaments mean anything this week, I think Justin Rose is a decent bet in a world where both Jason Day and Jon Rahm are shorter prices. My mind goes back to Augusta Sunday when Justin Rose was in the middle of the 13th fairway with a 2-shot lead and Sergio Garcia was taking a penalty drop. The tournament was at his mercy and we were on-board at 25/1. In the end you have to wonder if Rose was not only playing Garcia, but also the golfing gods that day and his play-off defeat certainly hit Justin hard in the aftermath, despite his best denials. However 10th at Glen Oaks, 10th at TPC Boston on a layout he struggles on and 2nd last week at Conway Farms highlights that Rose has momentum that only Spieth and Rahm can match.
Whilst I wonder about Rahm on Bermudagrass greens, I have no hesitation in adding Rose to my betting slip this week as his record at the strategic East Lake is excellent. Jordan Spieth in his comments above notes that he thinks East Lake and Augusta have the same feel and twice Augusta runner-up Rose has finished 2nd (2012), 6th (2013), 4th (2014) and 2nd (2015) on his last 4 visits to the Tour Championship. This comment from Rose in an interview in 2012 backs-up the theory: "This is the kind of golf I do enjoy. I like tests like this. I typically like it when it's 10‑under par, it's a really great week. Birdies are possible, but you have to grind for your pars. I feel like that challenge suits me mentally and suits my game. I've been feeling good about my game for a long time, all year, actually, to be honest with you. There are just a couple of areas that haven't been as sharp as I'd like. Those areas have turned around this week. When I putt half decently, I get up the leaderboard."
6th for Fairways Hit, 1st for Greens in Regulation, 1st for Scrambling, 12th for Strokes Gained Putting and 2nd for All-Round (following on from 4th in Boston) at Conway Farms are the kind of numbers which highlight that Rose is ready to grab his first title since the Olympics 13 months ago and at 8th in the FedEx Cup standings Justin will mentally feel under no pressure whatsoever. East Lake is always a test where tee-to-green prowess prevails and with potentially soft conditions in play for a segment of the tournament, I will happily take Rose who's certainly on a roll. RESULT: T10
I will finish the 2016/17 PGA Tour season with Webb Simpson. Always the sort who's a true "horse for the course", it's noticeable that the Tour Championship is often contended for by players ranked in the mid-teens when it comes to FEC standing. Ryan Moore came within a missed shortish range putt of winning this 12 months at 50/1 - he ranked 14th in the FEC. Kevin Chappell was 15th and also made the Playoff 12 months ago and this trend runs through to the likes of Danny Lee (19th), Justin Rose (12th), Jordan Spieth (13th), Luke Donald (15th), K.J. Choi (13th) and Jim Furyk (11th) since 2010. So I like Simpson at 50/1 who at 16th in the FEC rankings is very interesting this week. 3rd at Sedgefield, 6th at Glen Oaks and 9th last week at Conway Farms since the 20th August, Webb is playing some great stuff right now and the North Carolina native has performed well here in the past. 5th in 2012 and 4th in 2013, Simpson has always been a prime performer on Par 70 formats and it's noticeable that Webb is hitting fairways and intriguingly putting brilliantly right now. 2nd and 7th across my 10-week Driving Accuracy and Putting Average tracker, Simpson might surprise this week on a course where patience is a key. RESULT: T13
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel