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Our European Tour expert Paul Williams is on a tare at the moment across 3 consecutive weeks. A 40/1 winner in Matt Wallace and a 33/1 runner-up in Lucas Bjerregaard (lost in a play-off) was followed-up last week by a 125/1 winner in Ashun Wu. It’s worth remembering that Paul is on Twitter@golfbetting and we’ll be covering off the European Tour events each week until the Dubai World Championship on our YouTube Channel and our Golf Betting System podcast available on Podbean, iTunes, Stitcher and numerous other podcast outlets.
Plenty of questions will be answered at East Lake Golf Club this week which hosts the 2017/18 PGA Tour 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. 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 in 2016, those from outside that coveted quintet can 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.
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, U.S. Open and Open Championship the reward. So congratulations to Patton Kizzire (Tour Champ debutant) and Aaron Wise (rookie and Tour Champ debutant) for booking their tickets to the biggest tournaments in 2019. They are joined by Bryson DeChambeau, Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari and Cameron Smith who, despite currently residing in the OWGR top 50, are making their East Lake debuts. The standard of players who have qualified for the Tour Championship in 2018 has undoubtedly taken a huge up-shift.
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 2018 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 Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Rose, Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas – 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 5, 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 course changes prior to the 2016 renewal saw 78 yards added to the 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 590 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-designs 2008 & 2015; Course Type: Mid-Score, Classical; Par: 70; Length: 7,362 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. 2017: 69.38 (-0.62), Difficulty Rank 31 of 50.
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 and Rees Jones re-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, old-school 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. 7 of the last 10 winners have been in the top 9 for fairways hit, but high Greens in Regulation numbers are also critical – nobody since Bill Haas in 2011 has won here at East Lake without being in the top 9 for Greens In Regulation on their way to victory. 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 continually ranks in the top-third in terms of hardest to hit fairways on the Tour. Ball-striking wise the last 8 champions here have ranked as follows: Schauffele, 3rd, McIlroy 3rd, Spieth 7th, Horschel 9th, Stenson 8th, Snedeker 5th, Haas 3rd and Furyk 3rd – so hitting both fairways and greens here is a prerequisite 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-half for scrambling difficulty on the PGA Tour. This is a course to be respected.
Winners: 2017: Xander Schauffele (-12); 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).
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 10 of my published predictor are Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Billy Horschel, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson and Bryson DeChambeau.
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 both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2017: Xander Schauffele 100/1; 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: 33/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 35/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for East Atlanta, Georgia, is here. Much of these FedEx Cup Playoffs have been played on soft golf courses. East Lake this week though should play a little more on the difficult side, with firm turf conditions and green complexes. The course has only received 8mm of rain in September, the last of which was over a week ago, so expect far firmer conditions, especially as no rain is forecast all week. Winds will also be low, with temperatures into the low 30 degrees Celsius. Expect typically humid conditions.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 8 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 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 8 winners of this event:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Xander Schauffele’s victory here 12 months ago broke a well established trend-line. Xander was a Tour rookie who won on his Tour Championship debut at a huge 100/1 – he was 24th of 30 in the betting market. Up until last year, the FedEx Cup itself had 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, whilst Bill Haas and Jim Furyk were in positions 25 and 11 respectively in the 2 years prior to that. 2016 had seen Rory McIlroy be the 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:
My selections are as follows:
Bryson DeChambeau 2pts EW 20/1 with Coral
Keeping this simple is often a great strategy in terms of delivering the winner. In Snedeker (2012), Stenson (2013), Horschel (2014) and McIlroy (2016) we have 4 from the last 6 Tour Championship winners who had finished in the top 6 at TPC Boston. Indeed, Stenson and McIlroy both won in Massachusetts and Horschel was leading standing on the 72nd tee. Extrapolate that to last year and Justin Thomas finished 2nd here at East Lake and that was with more than one eye on the overall FedEx Cup standings throughout, which of course ultimately he won. Thomas again was the winner at TPC Boston. So I’m on Bryson DeChambeau this week who won at both Ridgewood and TPC Boston earlier on in the Playoffs. I think the 3-time winner this season is very attractive at 20/1 – a price which is longer than Tony Finau with most firms and equal to both Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama. I’ll take that.
For me the positives this week on DeChambeau are too strong to ignore. Those victories at both The Northern Trust and Dell Technologies were mighty impressive. Sitting behind both World Number 1 (at the time) Dustin Johnson and 2-time 2018 Major winner Brooks Koepka at halfway in New Jersey, Bryson eventually won by a hugely impressive 4 shots in a week when he was under pressure to prove his Ryder Cup Captain’s Pick credentials. The following week in Massachusetts he then went on to shoot -8/63 on Saturday when paired with none other that Tiger Woods, who shot a pedestrian -3/68 in comparison. He then comfortably beat Justin Rose (1 shot behind entering the final round), Rory McIlroy, Tony Finau and Jordan Spieth (all 3 shots behind) to land another huge tournament by 2 shots. His nerve when in contention seems faultless and his sheer will to win marks ‘The Scientist’ out as a very special talent in my eyes. And like 7 of the past 8 winners here, he comes off the back of a ‘crafty’ downshift performance at the BMW Championship. DeChambeau may have finished 19th in Philadelphia but he still shot -9/131 over the weekend (T5 in the field) and was 1st for Driving Accuracy, 5th for Strokes Gained Off the Tee, 9th for Greens in Regulation and 3rd for Ball-Striking. RESULT: T19
Webb Simpson 2pts EW 28/1 with Paddy Power
As I did 12 months ago, I’ll put up Webb Simpson at the Tour Championship. 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. Kevin Kisner was right in the mix last year at 125/1 and finished T3 – his FEC rank was 18th; Ryan Moore came within a missed shortish range putt of winning this in 2016 at 50/1 – he ranked 14th in the FEC; Kevin Chappell was 15th and also made the 2016 play-off 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 28/1 who, at 11th in the FEC rankings, is very interesting this week.
The Players Championship winner back in May, Simpson has played some impressive golf in 2018, especially on Bermudagrass greens. 4th at Waialae, 5th at PGA National, 8th at Copperhead, 5th at Harbour Town and 2nd at Sedgefield; his 6th last time out was only his second non-Bermuda top 10 of the season, following on from a 10th at the U.S. Open. So this could well be the case of current form merging with course form as 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 (5th in my rolling 10-week Greens in Regulation tracker), plenty of greens (8th in my rolling 10-week Greens in Regulation tracker) and intriguingly putting brilliantly right now. He’s also a Zoysiagrass specialist as his 2 top-5 finishes here plus 3rd at TPC Southwind (2014) and 19th at Bellerive (August) indicate perfectly. Webb also loves Donald Ross designs as 8th (2011) and 6th (2018) at Aronimink plus 1st (2011), 5th (2014), 6th (2015), 3rd (2017) and 2nd (2018) at Sedgefield ably demonstrates over and above his pair of East Lake top-5s. Simpson might surprise this week on a course where patience is key. RESULT: T4
Bubba Watson 1pt EW 50/1 with Coral
My final bet of the 2017/18 PGA Tour season is Bubba Watson. As we know in golf betting, it’s all too easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater and I was all over Bubba at the BMW Championship. Unfortunately he was out of contention as early as Thursday night and naturally he wasn’t a popular man in the Bamford household that night. The BMW is always an event where you need to be up with the pace from the very outset, so an opening +1/71 totally destroyed his chances. Fact is though, as I pointed out in my BMW Championship Preview, Bubba is playing some great golf and the 50/1 about a 3-time winner this season is like nectar. Indeed at Aronimink over the weekend, his total of 131 shots was the equal of Fleetwood, Rose and McIlroy and was only a shot shy of shock winner Keegan Bradley as well as Billy Horschel and Webb Simpson. 9th for Strokes Gained Off the Tee, Bubba was also an improving 11th for Scrambling and 13th for Putts per GIR. When he has confidence with the driver and the short game, Watson is always a danger. 5th here in both 2012 and 2015, it’s interesting to note they were years when he won his first Masters (2012) and the Travelers Championship (2015), plus had half-decent form in the Playoffs. So I’m sticking with Bubba, who I think with little pressure on his shoulders can play very nicely this week in Georgia, where he’s thrived in recent years. RESULT: 29th
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel
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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 12:30BST 17.9.18 but naturally subject to fluctuation.